Words: Dean Zweck
Establishing a regular sleeping pattern is particularly difficult, especially with the darker days and nights . Fortunately, simple lifestyle changes such as introducing exercise to your daily routine and increasing your activity levels can help to improve this.
For those who are struggling to switch off after a day of working remotely and being stuck indoors, these exercises can help you to drift off at night and also regulate your sleep
HOW DOES EXERCISE AID SLEEP?
When you exercise, your body breaks down energy stores, works muscles to the point of fatigue, and takes our body outside its resting normal state. As you expend energy, your body will feel physically tired due to the stresses placed upon it through training. Your central nervous system also loses its ability to recruit and activate muscle which causes muscle fatigue, therefore making you feel tired.
Whilst it’s important not to over-exert yourself, it is normal to feel a sense of physical fatigue after exercising and this will help you to feel ready for sleep in the evening. Furthermore, an increase in your level of physical activity will also increase the amount of time spent in deep sleep, which is the most physically restorative phase of sleep. This restorative phase of sleep enhances regeneration & repair, both physical and hormonal. Studies have found that frequent aerobic exercise, for periods of 30 minutes or more, can improve sleep quality and reduce excessive daytime sleepiness for people with insomnia. Another physical benefit of exercising is that frequent aerobic activity can help to regulate and improve breathing – research has shown that moderate intensity aerobic exercise can reduce the symptoms of sleep-disordered breathing conditions, such as obstructive sleep apnea.
There are also wellbeing benefits of exercise that can help you to get to sleep, as the endorphins released during physical activity can improve your overall mood and help combat low mood and stress, which could be interrupting your sleep.
WHEN SHOULD I EXERCISE TO HELP SLEEP?
There is no evidence that exercising in the evening will have a negative impact on your sleep, however it’s a good idea to leave at least two hours between intense physical aerobic activity and going to bed. This allows time for your body to reach its normal resting state post exercise (homeostasis) whilst also helping to protect your bedtime routine.
What’s most important is that you work out at a time that best suits your daily routine and you feel most motivated. Map out your day to ensure that some form of physical activity, whether that’s an intense HIIT work out or leisurely walk, is incorporated into your day. Slow paced exercises which place an emphasis on breathing, such as yoga, can be a great addition to your evening schedule and will help you to relax just before bed. Try lighting a few candles and turning out the room lights so you can really relax into the movements.
WHAT EXERCISES ARE BEST TO HELP SLEEP?
Whilst any form of physical activity will contribute towards a better night sleep, there are some exercises that are particularly effective in helping people fall asleep:
Yoga does not only have a multitude of physical benefits, such as strengthening muscles and improving mobility to name a few, it can also aid our wellbeing. This popular practice relieves physical tension whilst calming your mind by encouraging relaxation, through muscle tension and relaxation, deep stretches and targeting breathing.
A study by Total Fitness found that 1 in 3 millennials feel less stressed and anxious after practicing yoga – so if you are experiencing feelings of stress or anxiety in the evening, this form of exercise is a great way to get a better night’s sleep. There are plenty of free yoga classes available online including meditative yoga classes which incorporates elements of meditation into the physical practice and is a great option for the evenings.
Built up of intense exercises and a fast pace, HIIT workouts are a fantastic way to tire out your muscles and help prepare you for the deep sleep your body needs.
As many of us are spending the entire day at home and at our desks, HIIT workouts are a great way to get the blood pumping and aerobic system working, which is important for your overall heath. There are plenty of online HIIT classes you can follow, or simply create your own circuit: choose your 5 favourite aerobic exercises, such as burpees, jump squats, and mountain climbers. Do each exercise for 30 seconds with a 10 second active rest between, then repeat 3 times.
WALKING AND JOGGING
A brisk walk is the perfect way to get some fresh air and work your muscles. A great form of exercise for people of all fitness levels and experience, the impact a brisk walk can have on your body is not to be overlooked – 30 minutes of brisk walking will burn between 100-300 calories.
In addition to this, the change of scenery will provide stimulation and a much needed break from screens, which can be disruptive to our sleep.
If you’re finding that your favourite walking route doesn’t tire you out much, then try increasing the duration of your walk or switching up the tempo to a mid paced jog.
Although swimming is difficult to do whilst leisure centres and gyms are closed, it is a fantastic exercise to consider taking up in the future if you want to improve your sleep schedule.
Swimming is a high-intensity exercise that engages all the muscle groups in your body, including the large muscles in your shoulders, chest, quads and abdominals. Using all these muscles means that a lot of energy will be expended whilst swimming, so your body will need plenty of time (and sleep) to repair and recover. What’s more, our bodies also use up energy trying to maintain a warm body temperature whilst we swim – this leads to a greater fatigue than other high intensity forms of exercise.
DEAN ZWECK is the Product Development Manager at leading health club brand, Total Fitness http://www.totalfitness.co.uk