It probably doesn’t surprise you to learn that exercise helps your sleep patterns, gets you to sleep faster, and…exercise even helps you get deeper, more restful sleep by resetting your sleep cycles! I mean, it doesn’t get much better than that, right?
So, why does exercise help? Well, first off, it promotes “good stress” in the body that tires you out, while reducing your “bad stress” by releasing endorphins.
And yeah, you might have already known exercise does that, but you probably didn’t know that exercise promotes good stress and minimizes bad stress in the brain, too! It makes the hippocampus light up. The hippocampus is responsible for “remembering” our stress, so we can deal with it better next time. Basically, every single time our hippocampus is active, our brain is learning to minimize its stress response.
…I didn’t mean to make this article about how exercise reduces stress because I already wrote about that! But, yes, we’re activating the “stress learning” part of our brain when we exercise, without activating another part of the brain called the amygdala, which releases way more cortisol. Cortisol messes up the connections between your neurons, and also screws up your sleep!
But, that’s the part of the brain that’s normally activated when we get stressed out. (Like, when we’re running late for work, or the kids won’t stop talking! 😉 ) So every time we exercise, we make our body deal with stress better, and use a different part of our brain to do so!
So that’s one reason why exercise helps us sleep better at night (less cortisol overall in our bodies), and as a double whammy, why it’s so beneficial for our brains. Bringing down stress is always a good way to get some shut-eye!
Need more reasons…?
The “good stress” of exercise tires our brain out in a good way so that it gets more stage 4 REM sleep! This makes sense because back in the cavepeople days, they needed to get down to the deep, restorative stage of sleep quickly, so they could get up and exercise some more the next day!
A study done a few years ago showed that exercisers are 65% less likely to self-report daytime tiredness than non-exercisers (who the researchers made sure had no other health conditions that might be a factor in their tiredness). Another study showed that, while the effects of exercise took a few weeks to start kicking in, it leads on average to over an hour more of quality sleep!
Yep, our modern sedentary lifestyles give us all sorts of problems, and it looks like that’s the case for sleep, too.
Okay, so we’ve established that exercising helps you sleep better at night, great!
But you may be wondering, is there a best time to get your workout in? Is exercising in the morning better than exercising at night, especially if you get that awake “buzz” post-exercise?
Beachbody actually answered this question, and while it’s commonly thought that exercising at night might make it harder to sleep, for most people it turns out that any energizing hormones have “chilled out” an hour or so after your workout, so you’ll sleep like a baby after all!
Like I said in another article, sleep is super, SUPER important, but if you want to sleep better at night you need to take a step (literally) to reduce your stress and get into REM sleep…Which means, you need to exercise your way to some great shut-eye!!