Common sense says that when you’re physically tired, you’ll get to sleep more easily. But what else is going on? Why does a nice walk after dinner help you snooze?
First of all, make that an early dinner. Most experts say that strenuous exercise right before bed has the opposite effect—your body systems remain revved-up for a few hours after a vigorous workout. But apart from taking care with your timing, the chorus is clear: move your body, well and often, and your insomnia could disappear. Here’s why.
1. It lowers your thermostat.
When you exercise, your body heats up. When it cools down, that drop in temperature is a biological cue for sleep. That’s why a good early-evening stroll contributes to doziness and relaxation as you wind toward bedtime. (The same mechanism explains why a hot bath before you hop in bed is helpful for many insomniacs.)
2. It cheers you up & calms you down.
Both depression and anxiety contribute to insomnia and restless sleep. When you’re troubled by sad ruminations or beset with fears, it’s much harder to release persistent thoughts and drop off. Regular exercise is very strongly associated with improving both depression and anxiety—while it also lowers your general level of arousal.
3. It resets your body clock.
We’re circadian creatures. Humans know from day and night, and in most cases, we naturally accumulate more readiness to sleep the longer the day goes on. But if your biorhythms are off because of a major life transition, jet lag, a wakeful child, or you’re out of sync with your work schedule—exercise can help to even out your sleep cycle. It’s particularly important to be exposed to bright light first thing in the morning, so get outdoors early.
4. It reduces reliance on medication.
A relaxed, well-exercised body seldom needs chemical help to get to sleep. More-intense daytime workouts plus a moderate walk in the early evening are ideal. Tired muscles crave rest, and if your mind is willing to follow your body’s cues, you’ll have less need for knockout potions. A meta-analysis of studies of older adults with sleep problems found that those who exercised regularly fell asleep more quickly and used less medication.
Bottom line? If you haven’t been exercising, start now and stick with it—studies show that people who maintain a regular exercise schedule for four to 24 weeks show significant improvements. Their insomnia eases and their overall sleep quality is better, too.
Work out regularly and sleep well—on a sublime natural mattress. It can’t hurt to be extra-comfortable while you coax your weary self to sleep.