The US organisation National Sleep Foundation conducted a poll of adults between the ages of 23 and 60 to learn about people's sleeping habits. They found that people who exercised regularly were much more likely to report sleeping well every night. They were more likely to fall asleep easily every night, and less likely to wake up during the night. In contrast, over 60% of respondents who didn't exercise said that they rarely slept well on work nights, and were much more likely to report symptoms associated with insomnia.
Other studies have given even more concrete evidence that getting a good amount of exercise can have a positive effect on how well we sleep. At Stanford University, researchers found that middle-aged to older people could fall asleep around 15 minutes earlier and sleep about 45 minutes longer after 16 weeks of adding regular, moderate exercise to their daily routine. Another study conducted between older people who had significant trouble sleeping suggested that insomniacs might not see the positive effects of exercise on their sleeping habits straight away, but would start to benefit in the longterm if they kept exercising regularly.
As well as exercise tiring out the mind and body and leading to better sleep, sleeping well means that you will have more energy during the day and feel more motivated to exercise, as well as generally feeling more alert, productive, and happy. So, if you're already getting in the hours at the gym, keep it up! But if not, here are some tips for how to start introducing exercise into your routine:
- It's best to exercise vigorously, but light exercise is still better than nothing. If you haven't got much free time or want to start with something small, try going for a short walk every day.
- While exercise is important, it should never come at the expense of your sleep, so don't let the time you spend exercising take away from time you should be spending in bed. If you really struggle with insomnia, then try to avoid exercising very close to the time you want to go to sleep.
- Make sure that you shower after exercising so that you're comfortable when you go to bed. You can also wind down by taking a bath and listening to some relaxing music.
- Remember, exercise should be fun! If a gym workout or a team sport isn't for you, then try out different things so that you can find an activity that you really enjoy and that you'll find easier to add to your routine.