According to Sue Masemer, MS, sleep is usually not the primary reason that leads people to seek out exercise programs at the LiveWell Fitness Center, but that doesn’t mean that sleep isn’t related to overall fitness.
“Our clients often aren’t aware of the significant connection between quality sleep and exercise, and how great of an impact poor sleep may be playing in derailing their fitness efforts,” said Masemer.
Although the science of how exercise helps you sleep better is not fully understood, researchers do believe that it may have to do with temperature changes in the body that occur during and following exercise. The body’s temperature normally increases slightly as the day progresses and starts to decreases in the evening. It is assumed that this decrease in temperature may signal the body that it is time to sleep.
“The idea of exercising to gain more energy is somewhat counter-intuitive to people,” said Masemer. “After becoming more active, people often find that they have more energy throughout the day and actually feel more sluggish when they aren’t physically active. Consistent exercise has been shown to lengthen, deepen and improve the overall quality of sleep.”
Tips on how to incorporate exercise into your day to achieve a better night’s sleep
- Figure out what suits your body best. As a general rule, people are usually encouraged to avoid high-intensity exercise within two to four hours of going to bed. This may make it more difficult to sleep as well as not allow the body enough time to cool itself down. Research suggests that for most people exercise in the late afternoon or early evening may work best for sleep enhancement. The key is to remember that exercise at any time is better than not exercising at all and you need to determine what works best for you with your sleep schedule.
- Give yourself time. For people with significant sleep issues, it may take months to establish a quality sleep pattern. The benefits of exercise may not be seen right away, but they are there. Work with an exercise professional to determine the type and intensity level of an exercise program that works best for you.
- If you can’t sleep, try gentle movement. If you suffer from insomnia and restlessness, you can try getting up and doing some light stretches, gentle yoga, or movement such as tai chi or qigong. Try this in a dimly lit place so that you don’t over stimulate your body.
- Winter months are difficult for many. Really listen to your body. Try to think in terms of 10- to 20-minute blocks of exercise instead of half-hour or hour-long timeframes. Know that the benefits of exercise are cumulative. Research has shown that three, 10-minute activity sessions spread throughout your day are as effective as one 30-minute session.
- Discover the hidden benefits of exercise through a fitness profile. At the LiveWell Fitness Center, a fitness profile includes a health history including complete muscular strength, flexibility, body fat and muscular endurance tests, along with a cardiovascular fitness assessment to establish ideal exercise levels and heart rate. The power of exercise is evident even during the assessment, as many people will discover that it is much easier to meet their goals and health needs when it is approached safely and is customized to meet your lifestyle. The results from a fitness profile are helpful to determine the best fitness plan for you, which may help you with sleep issues.
Sue Masemer, MS, is an exercise physiologist and manager of the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing’s LiveWell Fitness Center. To make an appointment or learn more about the programs and services offered by the LiveWell Fitness Center, call 612-863-5178.