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Get Moving to Start Snoozing

Do you feel like you have tried everything to help improve your sleep and you are still struggling? If you aren’t exercising regularly, this could be the key. If you are exercising regularly, your day-to-day routines might be disruptive to your sleep. Many factors contribute to how well we sleep, so understanding how different factors impact your sleep quality can go a long way toward improving the overall quality of your sleep.

Activities and routines prior to sleep can have a profound impact: minimize your use of screens 1-2 hours prior to bed, limit alcohol consumption, and avoid a heavy meal. These are just a few of the subtle, yet significant, changes you can make in the evening to aid in improving your sleep quality. Other than adjustments to your evening routine, regular physical activity is also highly correlated with improved sleep quantity and quality. Exercise helps stabilize mood and decrease anxiety, which can help you fall asleep faster and aid in the quantity of slow-wave, or deep sleep, which is the most restorative phase of sleep.  

The timing of exercise is equally important. According to sleep scientist Matthew Walker, exercising too close (approximately two hours) to your bedtime can actually have adverse sleep effects (Aubrey and Walker). So if you go to bed at 10 pm, try not to exercise past 8 pm to optimize your sleep. As far as the type of exercise, if you want to help your sleep, moderate-intensity aerobic activity is the way to go. Anything that gets your heart pumping a bit faster, but you can still talk throughout the activity, is considered moderate-intensity. Think brisk walking, using an elliptical, or biking. 

Additionally, exercise and sleep have a bidirectional relationship. What exactly does that mean? Well, while studies initially looked at the benefits of exercise to improve sleep, it turns out that improving your sleep can increase your motivation to exercise. The better your sleep is, the more likely you are to exercise the next day. If you exercise that day, it is more likely your sleep will improve. It's a win-win.

Studies have shown that as little as two hours of exercise a week can help improve sleep, but the key is consistency. One week of exercise won't dramatically change your sleep. Matthew Walker spells out the benefits of consistency nicely, "If you add that up week after week, month after month, decade after decade, it's like compounding interest on a loan - that it really starts to sort of increase and become quite voluminous in terms of a long-term escalating impact" (Aubrey and Walker). Make an exercise plan, and stick to it. That doesn't seem like much given the benefits for you: better sleep, less anxiety and depression, and a decreased risk for multiple diseases. 

Regular exercise and quality sleep are both key components of health and wellbeing. Knowing that they are mutually beneficial to each other will hopefully help motivate you to begin improving both. If you are ready to feel more rested AND more fit, then it’s time to get moving! 

Aubrey, Allison, and Matthew Walker. “Do This Today To Sleep Well Tonight.” NPR, NPR, 25 Mar. 2019,

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