Physical Activity & Sleep: How Sleep Affects the Body | Sleep Foundation (2022)

How it improves sleep, additional health benefits, and why timing is crucial

Physical Activity & Sleep: How Sleep Affects the Body | Sleep Foundation (1)

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Danielle Pacheco, Staff Writer

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Heather Wright, Pathologist

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Exercise is essential to your overall health and wellbeing. Even small amounts of physical activity can improve your mood and cognitive function, alleviate anxiety, and decrease your risk of diseases and other medical conditions. Studies have also found that physical activity helps people sleep better. That said, how, how much, and when you exercise will affect your sleep in different ways.

Additionally, a good night’s sleep is important for those who exercise regularly. Sleep allows your body to recover from the previous day. Getting enough rest after a workout strengthens your muscles and tissues, which can help you avoid fatigue and exercise-related injuries. Conversely, poor sleep may lead to lower physical activity levels during the day.

Does Physical Activity Help You Sleep Better?

Numerous studies have explored the link between exercise and sleep, and most conclude that certain types of physical activity improve sleep quality and duration. Interestingly, other forms of exercise can decrease sleep quality and prevent us from getting enough rest.

The best exercise to improve sleep largely depends on how old you are. For instance, some studies have found that moderate exercise training over the course of several weeks can improve sleep quality and duration for adolescents, whereas vigorous exercise during the same timespan has been shown to decrease sleep duration for some teens.

Regular exercise can help healthy adults sleep better. While acute physical activity can have a small effect on sleep quality and duration, regular, moderate exercise can extend sleep duration, improve sleep quality, and decrease sleep onset, or the time it takes to fall asleep.

(Video) Sleep 101 - Sleep And Physical Activity

For adults with sleep disorders, exercise needs may be a bit different. One study found that moderate resistance training and stretching exercises are beneficial to people with insomnia. Similarly, subjects who participated in moderate aerobic sessions reported decreased sleep onset, fewer waking episodes during the night, longer sleep duration, more sleep efficiency, and less overall anxiety.

Other Health Benefits of Physical Activity

In addition to helping you sleep better, regular exercise also provides the following benefits:

  • Improved Endurance: Certain aerobic activities can increase your heart and breathing rates, which is important for healthy cardiovascular, respiratory, and circulatory function. Endurance exercises include running or brisk walking, swimming, and cycling.
  • Stronger Bones and Muscles: Weightlifting and other strength-building exercises can increase your muscle mass. For older adults, physical activity also keeps bones and joints in good shape. This can counteract the loss of bone density, which naturally occurs with age, and decrease the risk of a hip fracture during a fall.
  • Increased Balance and Flexibility: Balancing exercises like tai chi make it easier for you to walk on uneven surfaces and reduce your risk of falling and injuring yourself. Yoga and other stretching exercises help your body remain limber.
  • Weight Management: Exercising allows you to burn the calories you consume from eating and drinking. The right amount of exercise depends on your body type, since some people require more physical activity to burn calories. However, 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity five times per week is recommended for most people.
  • Reduced Health Risks: Regular exercise can decrease your risk of a wide range of diseases and medical conditions. These include cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes, and some types of cancer. Physical activity can also reduce your risk of mental health disorders like depression and anxiety.
  • Longer Lifespan: People who exercise for roughly 150 minutes per week are 33% more likely to outlive those who don’t exercise. Keep in mind that you don’t need to overdo it on physical activity in order to be healthy. Even small bursts of moderate to vigorous exercise can benefit your overall health.

When Should You Exercise?

The timing of your workout is crucial to sleep. Aerobic workouts in the early morning have been shown to improve sleep quality to a greater extent than the same workouts in the afternoon or evening. Exercising in the morning has also been linked to more time spent in slow-wave sleep. A daytime walk lasting 10 minutes or longer can also improve your sleep that night.

A good rule-of-thumb is to avoid strenuous exercise within three hours of your scheduled bedtime. Working out late in the day can raise your body temperature, which in turn may impact sleep onset and how well you sleep. Some studies have even concluded that high-intensity workouts within an hour of bedtime can negatively affect sleep time and sleep efficiency.

Yoga and other stretching exercises may be more suitable evening exercises, as they promote feelings of relaxation and can improve sleep quality. Alternatively, you can alleviate physical tension before bed using progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, and other relaxation techniques.

To learn more about physical activity and sleep, please visit the guides listed below.

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About Our Editorial Team

Physical Activity & Sleep: How Sleep Affects the Body | Sleep Foundation (5)
Danielle Pacheco

Staff Writer

Danielle writes in-depth articles about sleep solutions and holds a psychology degree from the University of British Columbia.

Physical Activity & Sleep: How Sleep Affects the Body | Sleep Foundation (6)
Heather Wright

Pathologist

MD

(Video) The brain benefits of deep sleep -- and how to get more of it | Dan Gartenberg

Dr. Wright, M.D., is an Anatomic and Clinical Pathologist with a focus on hematopathology. She has a decade of experience in the study of disease.

References

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FAQs

How does physical activity affect your sleep? ›

Research Shows Exercise Decreases Insomnia

Recent research indicates that exercise decreases sleep complaints and insomnia in patients. The effects of aerobic exercise on sleep appear to be similar to those of sleeping pills.

How sleep affects immunity sleep Foundation? ›

Sleep is an important period of bodily rest, and studies indicate that sleep plays a crucial role in the robustness of our immune system. In fact, sleep contributes to both innate and adaptive immunity. Researchers have found that during nightly sleep, certain components of the immune system rev up.

How does lack of sleep affect physical activity? ›

A Lack of Sleep Affects an Athlete's Performance

A lack of sleep also increases irritability and risk for anxiety and depression. Physically, a lack of sleep increases the risk for many medical concerns, including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, kidney disease, and stroke.

How does sleep affect your daily life? ›

Research suggests that sleep plays an important role in learning, memory, mood, and judgment. Sleep affects how well you perform when you are awake—both your daily work and athletic performance. The amount of time you sleep as well as the quality of your sleep are both important.

What affects quality of sleep? ›

External factors, such as what we eat and drink, the medications we take, and the environment in which we sleep can also greatly affect the quantity and quality of our sleep. In general, all of these factors tend to increase the number of awakenings and limit the depth of sleep.

What are the 4 stages of sleep? ›

During an ideal night's sleep, your body has enough time to go through four to five 90-minute cycles that sample different phases of sleep as the night progresses. In general, each cycle moves sequentially through each stage of sleep: wake, light sleep, deep sleep, REM, and repeat.

What are the most common causes of sleep problems? ›

Common causes of chronic insomnia include:
  • Stress. Concerns about work, school, health, finances or family can keep your mind active at night, making it difficult to sleep. ...
  • Travel or work schedule. ...
  • Poor sleep habits. ...
  • Eating too much late in the evening.
15 Oct 2016

What is sleep in fundamental of nursing? ›

By Iris Dawn Tabangcora, RN. Sleep is one thing that is universal to people. It is a human need and in fact, humans spend a third of their lives sleeping. It is vital for optimal psychological and physiological functioning. Sleep is essential to conserve energy, prevent fatigue, and to restore the mind and the body.

Why sleep is so important? ›

Contrary to our quiet physical state, the brain is very active during sleep, carrying out many important functions. Sleep is essential to every process in the body, affecting our physical and mental functioning the next day, our ability to fight disease and develop immunity, and our metabolism and chronic disease risk.

What happens if you don't sleep? ›

A number of chronic health conditions may be affected by not getting enough sleep on a regular basis. These include high blood pressure, diabetes, heart failure, coronary heart disease and some cancers. You may also be more likely to have a stroke. You're at greater risk of injury.

How does sleep affect your brain? ›

Sleep is important to a number of brain functions, including how nerve cells (neurons) communicate with each other. In fact, your brain and body stay remarkably active while you sleep. Recent findings suggest that sleep plays a housekeeping role that removes toxins in your brain that build up while you are awake.

Does exercise make you sleep more? ›

The more active you are, the more your body pushes you to sleep at night. “Activity increases your sleep drive,” Dr. Drerup says. But don't push yourself to exhaustion with every workout.

How does sleep affect happiness? ›

You probably know firsthand that sleep affects mood. After a sleepless night, you may be more irritable, short-tempered, and vulnerable to stress. Once you sleep well, your mood often returns to normal. Studies have shown that even partial sleep deprivation has a significant effect on mood.

What causes loss of sleep? ›

Common causes of insomnia include stress, an irregular sleep schedule, poor sleeping habits, mental health disorders like anxiety and depression, physical illnesses and pain, medications, neurological problems, and specific sleep disorders.

What is a good sleep efficiency? ›

Sleep efficiency is the percentage of time spent asleep while in bed. It is calculated by dividing the amount of time spent asleep (in minutes) by the total amount of time in bed (in minutes). A normal sleep efficiency is considered to be 85% or higher.

What type of sleep is best? ›

Scientists agree that sleep is essential to health, and while stages 1 to 4 and REM sleep are all important, deep sleep is the most essential of all for feeling rested and staying healthy. The average healthy adult gets roughly 1 to 2 hours of deep sleep per 8 hours of nightly sleep.

What stimulates sleep? ›

Melatonin is a hormone that is naturally released in the brain four hours before we feel a sense of sleepiness,” Gamaldo says. It's triggered by the body's response to reduced light exposure, which should naturally happen at night.

What is deep sleep called? ›

Deep sleep, also called slow-wave sleep5, occurs in the third stage of non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep. During deep sleep, electrical activity in the brain appears in long, slow waves called delta waves6.

Why is it harder to sleep as you get older? ›

As you age your body produces lower levels of growth hormone, so you'll likely experience a decrease in slow wave or deep sleep (an especially refreshing part of the sleep cycle). When this happens you produce less melatonin, meaning you'll often experience more fragmented sleep and wake up more often during the night.

How much sleep does an 80 year old need? ›

Sleep and Aging

Older adults need about the same amount of sleep as all adults—7 to 9 hours each night.

Why do I keep waking up at 3am? ›

You wake up at 3am because this is the time you shift from a deep sleep into a lighter sleep. If you turn in at 11pm, by three in the morning you're mostly out of deep sleep and shifting into longer periods of lighter sleep, known as REM.

What are the three stages of sleep? ›

What Happens During Non-REM Sleep?
  • Stage 1: Your eyes are closed, but it's easy to wake you up. This phase may last for 5 to 10 minutes.
  • Stage 2: You are in light sleep. Your heart rate slows and your body temperature drops. ...
  • Stages 3: This is the deep sleep stage.

What are the principles of rest and sleep? ›

The '5 Principles' encourage people to Value, Prioritise, Personalise, Trust, and Protect their sleep.

What is sleep and rest in nursing? ›

Sleep is a specific state of consciousness that occurs on a cyclic basis. It is a period of rest and recuperation for the body and the brain. The amount of sleep an individual may require depends on age, lifestyle, personality, environment and state of health. The need for sleep usually becomes less as we age.

Why you should sleep before 11pm? ›

The pre-midnight sleep seems to bring about the most powerful repair to the brain and body,” she says. “It sets the body into a good rhythm thereafter. In my experience, people who go to bed before midnight tend to have better daytime routines and are more likely to eat healthy and exercise regularly.”

Why is sleep and rest important? ›

Having good quality sleep and regular rest breaks can have many benefits for both our mental and physical wellbeing. Good sleep boosts our immune system, emotional resilience and helps us deal with anxiety. It also helps us to feel more positive and make better decisions.

How much sleep is important? ›

How many hours of sleep are enough for good health?
Age groupRecommended amount of sleep
3 to 5 years10 to 13 hours per 24 hours, including naps
6 to 12 years9 to 12 hours per 24 hours
13 to 18 years8 to 10 hours per 24 hours
Adults7 or more hours a night
2 more rows

What are 4 tips for sleeping better? ›

Tips for Better Sleep
  • Be consistent. ...
  • Make sure your bedroom is quiet, dark, relaxing, and at a comfortable temperature.
  • Remove electronic devices, such as TVs, computers, and smart phones, from the bedroom.
  • Avoid large meals, caffeine, and alcohol before bedtime.
  • Get some exercise.

Does exercise make you sleep more? ›

The more active you are, the more your body pushes you to sleep at night. “Activity increases your sleep drive,” Dr. Drerup says. But don't push yourself to exhaustion with every workout.

Does exercise at night affect sleep? ›

They found that not only did evening exercise not affect sleep, it seemed to help people fall asleep faster and spend more time in deep sleep. However, those who did high-intensity exercise — such as interval training — less than one hour before bedtime took longer to fall asleep and had poorer sleep quality.

Do you need more sleep if you exercise? ›

In fact, people who exercise may need more sleep than their inactive counterparts — especially when they exercise at a high intensity. “Since the role of sleep is to restore the body's energy supply, it's intuitive that the more high-intensity [the exercise], the more sleep you require,” says Dr.

Why do I not sleep well after exercise? ›

Dehydration and body temperature.

If you can't sleep after exercise, the most common cause is likely to be dehydration, which makes it difficult to lower your body temperature and also raises your heart rate – ultimately resulting in less sleep.

How does sleep affect your brain? ›

Sleep is important to a number of brain functions, including how nerve cells (neurons) communicate with each other. In fact, your brain and body stay remarkably active while you sleep. Recent findings suggest that sleep plays a housekeeping role that removes toxins in your brain that build up while you are awake.

What are the benefits of physical activity? ›

Being physically active can improve your brain health, help manage weight, reduce the risk of disease, strengthen bones and muscles, and improve your ability to do everyday activities. Adults who sit less and do any amount of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity gain some health benefits.

What's the best time to sleep? ›

Research suggests the ideal time to go to sleep is 10 p.m. But you should focus more on having a consistent schedule and routine when it comes to hitting the hay.

What are the benefits of exercising at night? ›

6 Benefits of a Late-Night Workout
  • It Boosts Your Muscle Strength. ...
  • You Can Focus Better. ...
  • You'll Have More Energy Than You Think. ...
  • It Can Help You Sleep Better. ...
  • You'll Be Less Stressed. ...
  • The Next Day Will Be Incredible.

What is the best time of day to exercise? ›

“Exercising at 7 a.m. or between 1 and 4 p.m. helps your circadian clock to 'fall back' in time, making it easier to wake up earlier,” Heisz says. If you need to train your body to wake up later in the morning, try working out between 7 and 10 p.m. “The best time to exercise is when you can fit it in,” Arciero says.

Why sleep is so important? ›

Contrary to our quiet physical state, the brain is very active during sleep, carrying out many important functions. Sleep is essential to every process in the body, affecting our physical and mental functioning the next day, our ability to fight disease and develop immunity, and our metabolism and chronic disease risk.

Which is healthier sleep or exercise? ›

Both sleep and exercise are key components of a healthy lifestyle and shouldn't be pitted against each other, Dr. Czeisler said. Sleep is important for workouts, he noted, reducing the risk of injury and allowing muscles to recover from exercise.

Does sleep help your body heal? ›

While you're sleeping, your immune system releases a type of small proteins called cytokines. If you're sick or injured, these cytokines help your body fight inflammation, infection and trauma. Without enough sleep, your immune system might not be able to function at its best.

Videos

1. Sleep & You: Nutrition, Physical Activity & Sleep
(CF Morale and Welfare Services)
2. The Importance of Sleep and Physical Fitness to your Mental Health During COVID-19
(Edith Cowan University)
3. Why Sleep is Important for Brain Health | Webinar
(American Brain Foundation)
4. How lack of sleep affects health and tips for a good night's rest
(CBS Mornings)
5. The Role of Sleep and Exercise in Brain Health
(Michigan Medicine)
6. Getting a Good Night’s Sleep: How Sleep Affects Our Mental and Physical Health; Sleep Apnea
(University of California Television (UCTV))

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