Young adults who exercised vigorously before bed ended up getting better sleep than their peers who reported less strenuous evening activity, a new study found.
The results, based on sleep patterns during a single night, go against the usual advice to avoid being too active before bed.
“We believe that the present study has the potential to shed light on the issue of whether evening exercising should be discouraged,” Serge Brand of the University of Basel in Switzerland and his colleagues write.
“The findings may also have practical implications, since, for most employed adults and parents, evening hours often provide the only opportunity for exercise,” the researchers add.
They studied 52 Swiss high school students who were an average of 19 years old and played sports two or three times per week.
The participants followed their normal routine on the day and night of the study, including playing sports for 65 to 90 minutes in the evening and ending about one and a half hours before their usual bedtime.
A number of sleep studies have discovered that daytime exercise promotes better sleep. Even walking 1 mile as an older adult can help your sleep cycles, although doctors recommend 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week or 75 minutes of intense exercise. While many people argue they are too tired to exercise, this may be a vicious cycle. Without exercise, your sleep cycles may not be deep enough to promote a restful sleep to provide enough energy for your daily routine. You can choose the type of exercise that works best with your routine. When, where and how you exercise can affect your sleep cycles. It is a good idea to plan your workout routine according to these rules, or implement new relaxation routines. Read more to find out how to sleep better with exercise.
Increase your aerobic exercise by 20 to 30 minutes. This is the type of exercise that gets your heart rate going, but is moderate enough to allow you to breathe heavily but still keep up a conversation. You can choose fast walking, swimming, jogging, cross-country skiing, biking, dancing or using an elliptical machine.
Studies also show that yoga and Tai-Chi have a similar effect of increasing blood circulation and lung capacity. They have been shown to positively affect sleep cycles.
Sleep studies showed that people who engaged in regular aerobic activity secreted more growth hormones, which help you to repair your body’s systems and heal more quickly.
Exercise in the late afternoon or early evening. Although you may already feel exhausted during this part of the day, exercise at this time may energize you for a few minutes, get you excited for dinner, but use up your remaining energy stores. This energy release can cause you to have deeper sleep.
Many people prefer to exercise in the morning because it helps them to wake up and be energized for the day. This is still beneficial, especially if you get outdoors in the sun. Sunlight has been shown to help your sleep cycle adjust so you are energized in the sunlight and more tired at night. However, you may choose to do your more intense activity in the morning and then take a 20 to 30 minute walk in the evening, especially if you are a high-energy person.
Exercise in the late afternoon raises your body temperature. During the remaining few hours before bed, your body temperature will lower to a rate that’s ideal for sleep.
Before going to bed, students rated their mood and hunger levels and filled out a questionnaire that was designed to evaluate how vigorously they had exercised. That night they used a device that measures sleep patterns, called a sleep-EEG.
Brand’s team found that students who reported more exertion during sports fell asleep faster, woke up fewer times during the night and slept more deeply than those who had exercised less vigorously.
Higher levels of exertion were also linked to increased tiredness, better mood and less hunger at night. The same was true when students repeated those ratings the next morning, according to findings published in Sleep Medicine.
The results jibe with another recent study that found people who exercised in the evening reported sleeping just as well as those who didn’t.
Dr. Phyllis Zee, who studies sleep patterns at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, called the new findings “interesting.”
“As (the researchers) pointed out there have been other studies to show that exercising in the evening - perhaps not as close to bedtime as in this study - was not detrimental to sleep,” she said.
“One of the reasons why sleep is deeper, at least acutely, after more vigorous exercise is that sleep is also for energy balance and metabolism,” she said. “And therefore what you’ve done is increase your metabolic need for sleep.”
Zee said the current study had some limitations, which were acknowledged by the authors.
For instance, the study only enrolled young, healthy adults, so it’s not clear that the results would be the same for older adults.
“This is a very specific group,” Zee said. “This group in general does not tend to suffer from insomnia as much - that tends to be in the older groups.”
She added that because the study only covered one night of exercise and sleep, the findings might look different over time.
“I would imagine that if you did that every night that you’re more likely to actually delay your sleep time a little bit,” she said.
Still, Zee said it’s better to exercise at night than to not exercise at all, especially for people who don’t have sleep problems.
“People who do have trouble falling sleep should still be cautious about exercising too close to bedtime,” she said, as getting the body and brain going could make it more difficult to get to sleep.
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