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Improve Your Sleep: Exercise & Sleep

Find it difficult to exercise because you are too tired? Or is exercise making it too hard to sleep at night? In this week’s mail we focus on the often complex relationship between sleep and exercise. We bust four sleep myths that will help your overall level of exercise. And for those of you with a hectic schedule we've managed to condense this wealth of information into just four key points. We've even thrown in a self-help guide at the end to help you get the sleep you deserve!

Is exercise actually good for sleep?

The simple answer is Yes. Sleep acts as a physical stressor to the body. The brain compensates for this stress by increasing deep sleep which improves cognitive functions during sleep and helps things like Rapid Eye Movement (R.E.M – is the stage of the sleep cycle in which you dream, it is the heaviest part of your sleep and is fundamental to feeling rested).

Exercise also strengthens and stimulates the heart and lungs, increasing the amount of oxygen available to the brain and ultimately enhancing cognitive function. This isn't something that will happen overnight. But a consistent exercise pattern followed by a consistent sleep pattern can increase your sleep quality by up to 15%.

How Long Before Exercise?

This is a little complicated – One section of people exercise any time, day or night, and the physical endurance is enough to tire both body and mind into a deep relaxing sleep. For others it can be a bit trickier. Exercise wakens them both physically and mentally, leaving them restless throughout the night.

So what is best?

Would you believe it is all about temperature? As the onset of sleep sets in your body temperature actually decreases. The temperature drop sets off a trigger that lets your brain know it’s time to sleep.

But what does any of this have to do with time? Your body temperature during light or vigorous exercise naturally increases. The high temperature stays consistent for a few hours meaning the sleep cycle trigger isn't activated. Sleep specialists recommend a 4 hour break between exercise and sleep.

But what about those who sleep fine 1 or 2 hours after exercise? The key is to know what best suits you. If late evening exercise does not affect your sleep pattern then you should continue with your routine.

What Happens to Your Body at Night After Exercise?

Throughout sleep your body goes through a number of physiological changes. Your skin, muscles and even blood all perform differently than when you are awake.

But what effect does exercise have on your body as you sleep?

It’s a common misconception that your muscles grow and strengthen as you exercise. This is completely false. Your muscles actually develop between your exercise regimes and primarily during sleep. As you work out your body is actually being broken down. As a means of dealing with this breakdown your body increases its growth hormone production, which repairs muscles and actually makes them stronger!

Exercise also helps your heart get a well-deserved rest. During sleep your heart rate and blood flow will decrease overall. A rigorous exercise helps the flow of oxygen which helps your heart settle into a regulated rate.

What’s More Valuable: 1 Hour of Sleep or Up Early to Exercise?

Is getting up early to exercise worth it? Or will that extra hour in bed keep you focused throughout the day? The answer depends on a few key factors.

1) How many hours of sleep do you get? Despite contrary belief there is no set amount of hours that will work. Everybody is different; some people genuinely need 10 hours as much as some people only need 4. The average is 7-9 but may not necessarily be what suits you best.

2) How often do you exercise? Maintaining a regular amount of exercise is essential to keeping healthy. If you don’t work out your quality of sleep will suffer as well. If the only time you have to work out is in the morning then it will be worth it.

3) How many hours of natural light do you get per day? This may sound crazy but the sun naturally replenishes our vitamin D levels which revitalises the oxygen in our blood. This improves cognitive functions and helps us fall into a deeper sleep. If you find you are not outside enough a 20 min run in the morning could make all the difference.

Self-Help Guide: Learn to Relax Before bed With Controlled Breathing.

Learning to relax before bed is one of the most important aspects to getting a good night’s sleep. Performing these simple breathing exercises will help put both your mind and body at ease and ensure you get that well deserved snooze.

  • Breathe in through your nose and hold for one second, then exhale through your mouth.
  • Then breathe in through your nose, hold for two seconds, then exhale for two seconds through your mouth.
  • Do this up to 5 seconds in the same way, all the time focusing on your breath as it gets deeper and deeper.
  • If other thoughts come into your mind, notice them, let them go and then bring your attention back to your breathing.
  • You can also visualise your breath like waves crashing in on the sand - coming in, and going out.

This is a great technique to relax your body and therefore your mind which will help you to get to sleep and it's better than counting sheep!!

Next week we'll be talking about the role of diet in our quality of sleep.