The best exercises for improving your sleep

Did you know that simple stretches and exercises could be the difference between a poor and a good night’s sleep?

Experts have explored the relationship between fitness, movement and sleep for years now, with current studies strongly suggesting a bidirectional relationship between our exercise choices and our sleep quality. In other words, moderate exercise during the day (not immediately before bedtime) can help you sleep better, and not getting enough sleep can lead to lower levels of physical activity.

But when it comes to sleep, not all exercise is created equal. Some exercises promote better, higher quality sleep than others, and understanding more about these exercises can help you rest easier.

Strengthening exercises

Strength training, or resistance exercises, are those which focus on building muscle strength throughout the body, including lifting weights, working out with resistance bands, and bodyweight movements like push ups and sit ups. Completing regular sets of strength-focused repetitions can help you look and feel stronger over time.

Research has shown that regular resistance exercises can improve sleep quality, with one 2018 study published in Sleep Medicine Review concluding that strength training can act as an effective intervention in improving sleep quality. Strength training can also help to lower your risk of anxiety and depression, both of which are common factors associated with sleep disorders like insomnia.

Aerobic exercise

Aerobic exercise – also known as cardio – is another popular form of fitness, and is intended to build your heart rate, raise your breathing and improve blood pressure. As such, it can greatly reduce your risk of heart disease.

Aerobic exercises differ in intensity, with moderate exercises including brisk walking, bike riding and water aerobics, and vigorous exercises including running, lap-swimming, mountain biking or playing sports like basketball.

When performed regularly, aerobic exercise can improve sleep quality and reduce daytime sleepiness when you’re feeling tired. Studies have also shown that moderate aerobic activity can decrease the severity of sleep-related breathing conditions like sleep apnoea. What’s more, sleep experts at Howard County General Hospital in the United States concluded that the effects of aerobic exercise on sleep are similar to those of sleeping pills.

Yoga and stretching

Focusing on breathing, meditation, strength-building and posture improvement, yoga has been shown to lower stress levels, help with weight management and reduce aches and pains.

It can also help to improve sleep quality. While the link between yoga and sleep has not been extensively explored, many studies analysing the relationship have concluded that practising yoga can result in better sleep. A 2013 study published in the Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine Found that yoga can improve sleep quality in elderly people, while a 2020 study published in BMC Psychiatry found that yoga could reduce insomnia levels in women.

A systematic review of sleep studies published on Google Scholar, MEDLINE, PubMed and more concluded that just 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day can alleviate anxiety and help you sleep better at night.

Gentle yoga stretches are often encouraged as a good way to wind down both the body and the mind in the run-up to bedtime. Not only does this help to alleviate physical tension, but it also encourages you to slow down your mind and prepare yourself for sleep. Stretching is a great alternative to watching television or scrolling through social media in the hour or so before going to sleep.

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