Getting home after an intense workout and crashing on your bed or the couch is one of the most satisfying feelings. But in which way does exercise influence your sleep pattern? Which effects does exercise have on sleep and vice versa? What is the link between sleep and exercise?
Effects of exercise on your quality of sleep
According to Sleep.org (source), as little as 10 minutes of aerobic exercise a day (such as walking or cycling) can greatly improve your quality of sleep. Physical activity improves both the quality and the duration of your sleep, which makes you wake up feeling well rested and able to focus better during the day.
Apart from the obvious reasons this happens (a workout makes you physically more tired and reduces your stress levels), exercising raises your body temperatures slightly. As your body temperature drops slightly when you are sleeping, the inevitable cooldown from your raised body temperature tricks your body into thinking it’s about to fall asleep (and will increase your feeling of sleepiness).
Aim for at least 150 minutes of exercise a week
A new study suggests that the minimum amount of exercise for these increased effects is at least 150 minutes of exercise a week on a regular basis (don’t exercise for 150 minutes on one day of the week, but spread it out over the different days). People who get at least 150 minutes of exercise a week, sleep significantly better and feel more alert during the day.
A nationally representative sample (of US citizens) of more than 2600 men and women was used for this study. The consensus was that 150 minutes of moderate to intense exercising a week provided a 65 percent improvement in sleep quality. The participants also felt less sleepy and more focused during the day. Similar results were also found for having leg cramps while sleeping (68 percent less likely) and having difficulty concentrating when tired (45 percent decrease) (source).
Long term effects
There is one very important thing to keep in mind when reviewing these results though. Don’t expect these changes to happen overnight. These improvements do not happen instantaneously, but take place after a prolonged period of exercising frequently. Noticing a change in your sleep “performance” might take several weeks or even months. A similar 16-week study’s focus group experienced no significant improvements in their sleep rhythm or cycle after the first two months of the study, but eventually wound up sleeping as much as an additional 1,25 hours per night more than their non-exercising counterparts after the full 16 weeks (source).
Effects of sleep on your exercise performance
So we’ve established that working out regularly improves the overall quality and duration of your sleep. But do the effects work both ways? Does sleeping better actually improve your exercise performance?
As important as exercise is for your cardiovascular condition and performance, sleep might be just as important for your performance. Most adults require between 7,5 and 9 hours of sleep a night. If you fail to sleep for this amount of time on a regular basis, you are limiting your motivation, energy levels and your body’s ability to recover from exercise (source).
In order to improve your performance, you at least need to have the motivation to start your workout. Sleep deprivation makes you feel lazy and less motivated, and therefore makes you less likely to even start your workout. Less sleep also impacts your concentration and memory, which makes it harder to stay focused.
Effects on your metabolism
Not getting enough sleep also influences your body’s metabolism. Sleep deprivation slows down your metabolic rate, decreasing the speed at which your body burns calories. It also decreases your body’s levels of leptin (a hormone responsible for making you feel full) and increases your levels of ghrelin (which increases your appetite and makes you want to eat more) (source).
Muscle and bone repair
Your body’s recovery speed after a workout is also limited by a lack of sleep. Your body releases growth hormone while you sleep, which helps strengthen your bones and muscles. This is particularly limiting if you focus on strength training, as your muscles will take longer to heal and grow at a slower pace. But as every type of exercise strains your muscles, the rate of muscle repair also influences all other types of exercise.
The link between sleep and exercise
As explained above, quality of sleep and frequency of exercise influence each other greatly. So when you are planning your next workout schedule, make sure to also focus on the amount of sleep you are able to get on a daily basis. Your target should be to get at least 150 minutes of exercise a week (which equals to about 4 One Stop Fitness workouts). So what are you waiting for? Select your desired workout type and level from the menu above and start improving both your cardiovascular condition and quality of sleep today!