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By Karen Alexander, Oncology Wellness Specialist


Can Exercise Improve your Sleep?

Exercise is a primary prevention tool against chronic health conditions, while sleep plays a vital role in our physical health and mental well-being. Getting enough quality sleep makes a difference in our day, our productivity, our mood, and the way we get along with others. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it’s estimated that nearly one-third of adults sleep less than the recommended seven hours per night that is needed to maintain optimal health. Chronic sleep deprivation increases the risk of developing physical and mental illnesses and increases the risk of car accidents.

Sleep consists of two broad stages: non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.

NREM: About 75 to 80 percent of sleep is NREM sleep, or most profound sleep. During this sleep stage, the body repairs tissues, builds bone and muscle, and strengthens the immune system. As we get older, we sleep more lightly and we get shorter time spans of sleep which makes it difficult to get enough quality deep sleep.

REM sleep: REM sleep first occurs about 90 minutes after falling asleep and, as we age, we sleep less during this stage. Most dreaming occurs during REM sleep, and our arm and leg muscles become temporarily paralyzed to prevent from reacting to our dreams. The purpose of REM sleep remains unclear, but memory consolidation requires both non-REM and REM sleep.

For years, studies have shown the beneficial effects of exercising on sleep quality.

According to the National Health Interview Survey 2015, over half of adults failed to meet the federal Physical Activity Guidelines, which says that adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity and should perform muscle-strengthening exercises on 2 or more days each week.

The type of physical exercise (aerobic, resistance or interval), the duration of the exercise protocol (acute or chronic) and the time it’s practiced (morning, afternoon or evening) may alter your sleep pattern. Some studies suggest that exercise improves sleep-enhancing effects when practiced in the morning or the evening rather than later at night.

A study published last year compared the effect of 12 weeks of yoga versus aerobic exercise (running on a treadmill) on the sleep quality of women with Type 2 diabetes. Results showed that yoga exercise was more effective in improving sleep quality in comparison with aerobic exercise.  Another study developed in an elderly population found that both aerobic and anaerobic exercise performed for ten weeks improved sleep quality and increased sleep efficacy.

In summary, any exercise is better than no exercise. Both intense and regular exercise have beneficial effects on total sleep time, sleep efficiency, and sleep quality regardless of the type of activity.

Below are five tips, besides exercising, to improve your sleep:

  1. Stick to a sleep schedule and practice a relaxing bedtime routine.
  2. Avoid afternoon naps.
  3. Noise can disturb your sleep, so put your phone on airplane mode.
  4. Keep your room anywhere between 65 F to 75 F.
  5. Consider using blackout curtains or eye shades.

Have a wonderful weekend!

Karen Alexander, BSND, MSCN

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