The recommended number of hours you should be snoozing: Seven hours per night at least, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But are you actually hitting that number?
If not, one of the best things you can do — aside from stop scrolling social media before bed — is to exercise. And yet, being physically active might be the last thing you want to do when you’re tired. Research, however, shows that it can perk you up, defray fatigue, and help you nab better sleep in the future. In other words, do that workout today, and your future self will thank you. Ahead, we’re breaking down exercises for better sleep (hint: there’s something for everyone).
How Exercise Affects Sleep
Exercise is great for your sleep, leading to longer sleep times and better sleep efficiency, a measure of the ratio of time one spends asleep in bed (versus awake), according to a review in Advances in Preventive Medicine. Researchers think that several factors may be at play: exercise may help regulate circadian rhythms, can physically tire you out for sleep later, and may also counteract anxiety and depression (both of which lead to poor sleep), notes Cleveland Clinic.
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5 Exercises For Better Sleep
Good news, any type of physical activity — whether it’s walking, running, lifting, yoga, or dance cardio — will prep your brain and body for better sleep ahead. But before you get started with any exercise, check in with your body. It’s a good idea to choose the type of movement that feels good and doable for you at that moment. For example, after a poor night’s sleep, you might not feel physically up for or motivated to go on a long run — and that’s completely fine. Instead, participating in yoga might feel better. That said, any of the following workouts can be included in your good-sleep arsenal:
Aerobic exercise triggers feel-good chemicals called endorphins and increases the amount of deep sleep you get, notes Johns Hopkins Medicine. Vigorous exercise may also decrease the risk of developing anxiety or depression, notes the Anxiety & Depression Association of America.
Tips for Running
Aerobic exercise, like running, can be invigorating, so it’s recommended to do it earlier in the day, at least one to two hours before bedtime. But if you love a late-night jog, try pairing it with a calming evening stretch routine to support your sleep (and tight muscles)!
#2 Deep Breathing
If you lay awake at night and can’t drift off to sleep, your body and brain may be in a state of “hyper-arousal.” Meaning, your stressed “fight-or-flight” sympathetic nervous system is active, while your rest-and-digest parasympathetic system is not. The idea is to flip the two states, as stimulating this rest-and-digest system will calm you down. Deep breathing can be an effective exercise to help you do just that, thus helping you relax and fall asleep.
Tips for Deep Breathing
Lay in bed on your back. (It may help to gently place your hands on your stomach.) Slowly and deliberately inhale, filling your belly with air. Then slowly exhale. Repeat for as many breaths as you need.
Before bed, going into a nice downward dog or resting in a child’s pose can help you prepare for sleep. In fact, a 2020 review and meta-analysis on 19 studies, found that 16 of the trials concluded that yoga improved sleep quality in women compared to a non-active control group. It may be the mindfulness component of yoga that increases melatonin levels and decreases arousal to help you calm down, which leads to a more restful night. One to try tonight: Child’s pose.
Tips for Child’s Pose
This is a great posture to call on any time you need to ground down and quiet your mind. New to child’s pose? Follow these instructions!
Step #1: Kneel on the floor, sitting on your knees.
Step #2: Lean forward to place your forehead on the floor. Your butt should stay on your heels. Arms should be above your head.
Step #3: Slowly move your arms down by your sides so that your fingertips are by your toes. Hold for as long as feels good and comfortable.
Don’t undermine the benefits of walking for fitness! Sometimes a good walk is all you need to clear your head, which in turn can support your sleep. In fact, research in Sleep Health shows that walking regularly over four weeks bettered people’s sleep quality. Women in that study who reported logging more steps during the day said that they had better and longer bouts of sleep.
Tips for Walking
Grabbing a friend to walk with, tuning into a podcast you love, or listening to an audiobook can help fire up the motivation to get out there for a daily walk. Ramp up by aiming to walk a certain number of steps further than yesterday (for example: 1,000 extra steps today) and slowly increase over the weeks until you’re in a good rhythm.
#5 Strength Training
Compared to people who report doing no resistance exercise (such as with free weights or body-weight exercises like pushups, lunges, and squats), those who do any type of strength training are less likely to say they get poor or very poor sleep, finds a 2020 study that looked at nearly 24,000 adults. While researchers aren’t exactly sure why, they note that strength training improves cardiometabolic health, mood, and physical function, each a factor that can better sleep.
Tips for Strength Training
When it comes to sleep, research is mixed on if the timing of your strength training session matters. Some show that it doesn’t matter when you do it, while others show that earlier in the day is better. With that said, there is research that has found strength training 1.5 hours before bed actually leads to more deep sleep, too. Remember: everybody is different. So naturally, different routines will work better for some than others! If your schedule allows, experiment with the timing of exercise that’s best for you. Notice that a late-night workout keeps you up later? Try to move it up an hour or two and see if that makes drifting off easier.
Any type of exercise will help you get better sleep. The key is keeping up with regular physical activity or movement that you enjoy doing. Ready to get started? Download the FitOn app to gain access to unlimited free workouts and meditations.