Do you struggle to sleep on the days you skip your morning workout? Or does insomnia strike if you've ended your day with a hectic HIIT session instead of a yoga class? Turns out there is a reason for it. According to a new meta-analysis by Concordia researchers published in the journal Sleep Medicine Reviews, the link between exercise and sleep is a fairly complicated one. The study assessed data from 15 published studies to see how a single session of intense exercise affects young and middle-aged healthy adults in the hours before bedtime.
It found that a combination of factors “interact to enhance or modulate the effects of exercise on sleep". Some of these include exercise timings, a person's baseline level of fitness, the chosen type of exercise—cycling is best for sleep patterns according to the study—and the internal circadian rhythm of of individuals, among others. Accounting for all this, the study found that exercise can help improve sleep quality and duration. So how can you ensure that you get the best possible sleep? Here's what you should do.
Now, on average, thirty minutes of moderate exercise is all you need for better sleep. The trick is to stay consistent. It is better to do several short workouts over a week than a very long session over the weekends.
If you’re a morning person, it is ideal that you workout in the morning; you are less likely to skip your workout that way. Besides, exercising too late in the evening can keep you up at night. Another big plus? Research indicates that people who exercise in the mornings end up having the best quality of sleep.
Exercising outdoors during daylight hours is a great way to get in some Vitamin D, essential for regulating your circadian rhythm. So try to plan a long walk, run or ride a few times during the week, if possible. If you are an evening person, ensure that you finish your session at least two hours before going to bed. Since exercise releases endorphins and raises your body temperature, working out too close to bed time can cause insomnia.
For some reason, if late night is the only time you get to work out, stick to workouts of low or moderate intensity: a hatha yoga session, a gentle stroll or some pilates. Some studies show that gentle exercise helps you sleep better. So, if you are struggling to fall asleep, try some stretching before bed.
Choosing between working out and sleep is a terrible situation to be in, and one that you shouldn’t be making. But if you’re struggling to get out of bed after a weekend bender, just skip your workout session. Intense exercise on a sleep deficit is the worst thing you can do for your body, making it prone to fatigue and injury.