Get fit for better sleep: the link between exercise and sleep

exercise and sleep

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This is a sponsored post from Tempur, although it’s all sound advice that we would give ourselves.

For anyone that has experienced poor sleep, exercise is a great natural sleep aid. Here, we asked the experts at Tempur to explain the link between exercise and quality sleep and provide tips for getting fit in 2021.

Tobin James, MD at Tempur UK, says: “If your sleep routine is all out of kilter, exercise is a sure-fire way to ensure better sleep. So find your ‘new you’ by starting with the basics. Good quality sleep can solve so many other issues and kick-starting a fitness regime will help you achieve the restorative rest required to help you face the day-to-day.”

exercise and sleep

The link between exercise and sleep

Why is sleep so important?

Good quality sleep is crucial for several reasons. Sleep enables our bodies to repair and heal, it boosts our outlook and mood, productivity and performance, relationships, mental and physical health, and allows us to think, work and function at our best. Someone who is sleep-deprived will quickly become irritable and lose their ability to concentrate. At its most serious, sleep-deprivation can cause long-term health problems and can increase the likelihood of obesity, heart disease and diabetes[1].

What is the link between exercise and sleep?

Regular exercise can influence how deeply we sleep and for how long. A good fitness regime also helps reduce the risk of sleep disorders such as sleep apnoea and restless leg syndrome, and is a healthy way to feel more naturally tired in the run up to bedtime.

Keeping active also helps reduce stress, anxieties and manage depression, subsequently reducing our tendency to lay awake at night or toss and turn due to worries.

How much exercise do I need?

NHS guidelines advise that adults should aim for 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous activity every week[2], with a mixture of strength training (lifting weights) and cardio, such as a brisk 20-minute walk. Children and teenagers should be physically active for at least 60 minutes a week. The more exercise we can all do every day, the better.

When should I exercise?

Early morning and afternoon exercise helps reset the sleep-wake cycle by raising body temperature slightly, then allowing it to drop and trigger sleepiness a few hours later. It can be especially helpful if you are able to exercise outdoors and let your body absorb natural sunlight during the daytime hours. Exposure to more light during the day and less light at night is critical for healthy sleep patterns because it helps to calibrate the body’s natural internal “circadian” clock.

What if I can’t spend hours at the gym?

Just start slowly, especially if you’re new to exercise, recovering from illness or injury, or have low fitness. Don’t overdo it. Start off with gentle jogging and alternate between brisk walking, jogging and rest time.

Be sure to warm up and stretch properly to avoid aching muscles the next day. As your fitness increases, you’ll be able to exercise for longer and scale-up the intensity.

But exercise bores me!

Then you need to mix it up! Running on a treadmill can get boring quickly, so keep your routine varied and interesting to make sure you don’t lose motivation. Try a regular fitness class or working out with friends so it’s harder to drop out at the last moment.

Look for classes in your local area and try different activities; swimming, cycling, dance, competitive sports, hiking and yoga are all great options and by trying lots of different activities, you’re sure to find something you enjoy.

But I don’t have time to exercise!

You need to make fitness a part of your daily routine. Fit in exercise around your lifestyle and into your daily routine. If you’re a naturally early riser, head to a morning class. For night owls, an evening session is better suited.

You can also slot exercise into a working day by hitting the gym or a nearby class for 30 minutes during your lunch break, or just by taking a brisk walk. Try walking or cycling to work or getting off the bus or train a few stops earlier to increase your step count. Small steps can make a big difference.

Exercise makes me feel energised, not ready for bed!

Then it’s time to cool off. Remember that exercise can sometimes make you feel more alert and awake when attempting to get to sleep, so leave at least an hour between exercising and getting into bed, as this allows the stimulating hormones produced during exercise (adrenaline and cortisol) to drop to normal levels.

Your body temperature drops after exercise, and this can make it easier to nod off as it replicates the temperature drop of your body when it’s preparing to sleep.

I never get a good night’s sleep, exercise or no exercise

Adults need a minimum seven hours sleep per night, and this applies when exercising too, especially after a hard workout or using weights. Good quality sleep is crucial for muscle repair, allowing the body to recover and rebuild, so it’s important to choose a mattress that supports your body, relieves press points and aids a restorative sleep following exercise.


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