Is it true that exercise improves your sleep?

Whenever I had a reason not to exercise (injured wrist, holidays, exams), I found myself getting sleepier during the day. It took me a while to realise the correlation between pumping iron and my energy levels. I can just hear myself now – “How can I be so tired? I’ve done nothing all day…”. Turns out, it’s actually a sciency thing – exercise does improve sleep. And, better quality sleep leads to an increase in energy during the day, too.

A bidirectional relationship

Sleep and exercise have a bidirectional relationship. Meaning, those who sleep poorly are more likely to exercise less, even though exercising more is shown to improve sleep. You’d think that the more you relax during the day, the more energy you would have and the better you would sleep. But the opposite is actually true. A few months of consistent, moderate – high aerobic exercise can significantly improve sleep quality and reduce daytime drowsiness. It helps to increase your slow wave sleep – the deep, rejuvenating kind. I know it may seem hard to exercise when you feel really low energy, but start slow and work your way up. Start that positive sleep-exercise cycle.

Implementing an exercise regime

For me, in order to maintain regular exercise, I’ve found that I need two things. The first: a consistent routine. Once I decided my preferred time of day to workout (based on trial and error), I chose three days in the week that worked and went on those days at that time. Now, I don’t even think about whether I want to go or not, I just do it. Why? Because it’s part of my routine and it has become a habit. You choose a day and time that works for you and carve out space for it.

The second: exercise that I actually enjoy doing. I love lifting weights at the gym. It makes me feel strong, powerful, and confident. I also love playing team sports – plus, this ensures that I have to turn up and exercise because of a training and game day schedule. Make sure that exercise is fun and enjoyable for you – if it’s not, then it will be much harder to commit to it in the long-term. If you don’t like lifting weights or playing sport, there are so many other options out there – running, boxing, spin class, yoga, pilates, tennis, swimming, horse riding, rock climbing.

Better sleep

If ever I’ve had trouble sleeping, it’s because I was overthinking. This may not be true for everyone, but it’s hard to rest when your mind is crowded with thoughts. There are a few things that have helped me to sleep well. The first: I’ll say it again: a consistent routine. Your body has its own clock – and you can change when it feels sleepy. Making sure you go to sleep at the same time every night (give or take 30 minutes) is important. Changing into ‘night clothes’ is important. Dimming the lights is important. These are all things that signal to your body that it is time for sleep.

The second: journalling before bed and meditation. Meditation is more of a long-term solution, but will benefit your sleep a lot if you have the patience. Journalling, on the other hand, is something you can do right before you sleep on any given day. Writing down to-do’s, ideas, events that have happened / are about to happen that make you feel anxious – all of this can help to create a sense of permanence. Your mind then feels comfortable to let go of it (as it’s now written down).

The third: this is a very personal one – but as a last resort, I put sport replays on YouTube and listen to that. Puts me straight to sleep. I have no idea why, or how, but the sound of commentators, yelling players, and umpires blowing whistles wipes me out. I think it’s conditioned – I used to spend a lot of Sunday afternoons in winter curled up on the couch, falling asleep to the sound of the AFL playing in the background. For you, it doesn’t have to be sport, it could be anything. Relaxing music, some ASMR if you’re into that (I love it), or just tune into your own breathing.

Regardless of how you exercise, or how you sleep, it is true that the two share a relationship. Exercise really does improve sleep.


Kait x

Cover photo by Cottonbro Studio