“There is a lot of new, exciting research that shows exercise does improve sleep,” says Robert S. Rosenberg, D.O., a board-certified sleep medicine practitioner and the medical director of the Sleep Disorders Center of Prescott Valley in Arizona.
Here’s the newest thinking on why moving your body works so well to help you get a better night’s rest.
Exercise prompts deeper sleep
- When scientists looked at the brain waves of exercisers versus non-exercisers during the night, they found that those who work out experience more slow wave sleep
. Why? It’s during slow wave sleep that you produce the most growth hormone, says Rosenberg, which is needed to repair muscle tissue that’s broken down when you exercise..
Breaking a sweat changes body temps
- Physical movement causes your core body temperature to rise. As you cool down, that body temp drops, too. “This drop in body temperature is one of the body’s signals that it’s time to sleep
,” says Rosenberg. This is one theory behind the new research that shows those who exercise within two hours of bedtime sleep better than those who don’t exercise
Working out blisses you out
- Anyone who’s ever experienced a “runner’s high” or that post-yoga glow understands that exercise almost always results in an improvement in mood—and research has finally proven why. “We always used to talk about exercise-induced endorphins—those feel-good hormones that lift our spirits,” says Rosenberg. Now, scientists have measured something called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), one of many nerve growth factors in the body that has been associated with both improved mood and cognitive function. Studies show that exercise boosts BDNF levels, which lifts your spirits and wards against depression. So, if you chalk your sleep issues up to feeling down or ruminating about the darker aspects of your life, a good sweat session may go a long way toward easing your blues—and helping you snag a better night’s rest as a result
Exercise makes you less anxious
. Ever notice how you sleep like a baby when you’re on vacation? Odds are, it has something to do with the reprieve from your daily stressors, such as a demanding boss or never-ending to-do list. Turns out regular exercise can mitigate this ever-present, low-grade stress enough to help you get more Zzz’s. Sleep specialists have known for a while now that exercise stimulates the creation of new brain cells. Now, research is showing that those new neurons are actually more resistant to stress than the older ones. It’s almost as if the positive “stress” of exercise preps the body to be able to better handle stress in other forms, says Rosenberg. What’s more, the stress-relieving effects of exercise seem to last through the night.
Fitness helps sustain all-day energy
- Moving your body doesn’t just help you count fewer sheep. Research shows it can also boost alertness during the day.One study published in the journal Neuroscience Letters found that study participants experienced improved mental alertness and reaction time during periods when they were exercising regularly versus times when they were sedentary