Working Out Can Improve Your Sleep—Here’s How!

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You know that breaking a sweat is good for your heart, your mind and your waistline. But it can also help you catch more Z’s. According to a poll from The National Sleep Foundation, 83% of vigorous exercisers said they snooze well compared to just 56% of non-exercisers. “Activity promotes healthy levels of many hormones and other chemicals in the body, which in turn may promote healthy sleep,” explains Michael Grandner, PhD, MTR, director of the Sleep and Health Research Program at the University of Arizona College of Medicine.

So when should you workout? Experts used to believe that doing so too close to tuck-in-time could affect your sleep. Today, they refute that. “Some recent research suggests that exercising before bed does not impact sleep as much as we once thought it would,” explains Fitbit Sleep Advisor Allison T. Siebern, PhD, consulting assistant professor at Stanford University Sleep Medicine Center and director of the Sleep Health Integrative Program at the Fayetteville VA Medical Center in North Carolina. “It really depends on the person.” Instead, the best time to sweat is what works well with your schedule. After all, in our go-go-go world, “we get so little opportunity that the benefits of exercise almost always outweigh the negative effects of doing it at less than optimal times,” explains Grandner.

How can you sync your sweat sessions and your sleep? Read on…

Find YOUR optimal workout time

If your schedule allows you to choose between morning or night, ask yourself if you’re a morning person or a night owl. Then, pay attention to how you sleep when you exercise in the AM or PM and see if one is more alerting than others. “If it takes more than 30 minutes to fall asleep, then dial your exercise back. Otherwise, you are OK,” says Grandner.

Don’t over do it

Most of us think if a little of something is good, more is better. But that’s not the case when it comes to working out and snoozing. “People who do more than an hour of vigorous activity (the kind that makes you really sweat) every day do tend to report more sleep problems, so that may be too much of a good thing,” explains Grandner. Instead, keep your workout to an hour and/or do it at a more moderate intensity.

Land in Lotus Pose

“Our study showed that people who get a lot of their activity from yoga were more likely to get 7-8 hours of sleep than people who get no activity and even more than people who get most of their activity from walking,” explains Grandner. Experts suspect it may be yoga’s mind-mellowing effects that result in better sleep or its deep breathing techniques. “Tension is a signal to your brain to be on alert ( a fight or flight response) and this can override your sense of sleepiness,” explains Siebern. “When one is in a more relaxed state, this sense of sleepiness is not masked as much.”

Give yourself some time to chill

Although exercising at night won’t keep you up, you should  “allow for a window of time – about 30-60 mins – prior to bed to wind down with a more relaxing activity,” says Siebern. This can include reading a book, meditating, taking a bath or pretty much anything that calms your body. It’s also important to give your mind a time-out so jot down your worries and To Do’s to get them out of your head before you turn in.

Fuel right

Of course, it’s key to stay hydrated while you break a sweat. But be aware that excess water before bed can lead to midnight trips to the bathroom, says Grandner. Also, though you may want a post-workout snack, make sure it’s a light one. A snack before bed can be a good thing, but heavy meals and too many calories can make it harder to fall asleep, cautions Grandner.

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13 CommentsLeave a comment

  • thanks for the tips to help me sleep better. I have been reading more. If I workout and then read a book in bed, I usually fall asleep within a few pages.

  • Hi all I work night shift full time manage to take my dog out for walks do my workout and still cannot sleep properly any suggestions please

    • I work rotating 12 hour shifts every 8 weeks, currently on nights. Tips I have developed for sleeping are, blue blocking screens, whether with an app, or some glasses (search these). Do not exercise after work (ie. the morning), but rather, work out before work. Try to expose yourself to the least amount of sun as possible during the morning hours before you go to bed. I once read of a sleep doctor who wore super dark sunglasses to drive home after night shifts. Use good shades in your room, and/or eye coverings (they sell many different types). Use a fan or some other white noise in your bedroom to help drown out any noise. I don’t move much and can listen to my phone via headphones. They sell bluetooth versions that won’t strangle you. YouTube has hundreds of videos that assist in sleep, try to find one that relaxes you. I hope one of these tips might actually help. (Big tip from someone who rotates shifts, Nyquil or benedryl works for the swap, around 1 week only and only for working shifts. I don’t take it for off shift days and only for a week or less. I get migraine if I don’t sleep well enough, so sometimes, I need help)

    • Hi… I’ve worked shifts for years days and nights! Try walking the dog in the morning then a warm bath and book. Try your workout when you get up.

  • Thanks for the tips. My question is I use a walker sometimes to exercise is that as good as walking without the walker.

  • I am a 65 year old female who does a WalkFit class almost daily and always gets my 10,000 steps a day. I usually get up to go to the bathroom around 6, then go back to bed for an hour or two. The new update is stopping my sleep at 6, not counting my last hour(s). Can someone tell me what I am doing wrong. This was not a problem until recently.

    • Check under Account > Sleep > Target Sleep Schedule.

      If it falls outside your sleep schedule it doesn’t always log out unless it exceeds two hours. If you manually log it in it does accept it but the analysis doesn’t show up unless it’s at least three hours.

  • I noticed that it doesn’t log outside the parameters set either which is disappointing. During the week I have a fairly set sleep and wake time, however, when I know I’m off then I vary to enjoy social events or watch a movie etc. I’ll go to bed & wake up later than on a work night. It would be better if the Fitbit would be a more accurate tracker of the bodies response.

  • hi!! thanks for the information. i have question regarding sleep schedule………….will my sleep schedule effect on my body weights?

  • My Fitbit shows so much ‘restlessness’ during my 8 hours of ‘sleep’ that I only average 4-5 hours of true ‘sleep’ per night. Have never used yoga before, but this article is sending me that direction. Thanks ….

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