With the increased awareness of the importance of sleep quantity and sleep quality there’s been a rise in interest in natural methods of improving both. Exercise has been recognized as one of the most effective methods of getting better sleep, but many people have been put off by the warnings that exercise should be separated from bedtime by several hours. With busy work schedules, kids to take care of, classes to attend and a number of other obligations, it is often difficult for people to find time to exercise during the day.
The concerns that have been voiced by sleep experts have largely centered on the fact that working out raises the body temperature and increases what is known as the sympathetic system, both of which would be counterproductive – the idea was that late night exercise would energize the body too much to allow it to easily fall asleep. But a new study released by the National Sleep Foundation throws that conventional wisdom aside, indicating that exercising close to bedtime is just fine.
The study followed 1,000 people and asked them questions about their habits, including whether they exercised and at what time, whether they slept well, and how long they slept. The researchers had anticipated that early morning exercisers would be shown have the best sleep quality and quantity and the least likelihood of waking up the next morning feeling fatigued or un-refreshed, and that was the case. But they were surprise to find that those who exercised in the evening had no difference in their sleep quality and quantity from those who did not exercise at all. Regardless of whether their exercise was moderate or vigorous, most evening exercisers felt that their activities did not in any way impact their sleep quality or that it improved it.
Closer analysis of the study’s results show that many of the assumptions that have previously been made about exercising close to bedtime have simply been wrong. Though the increase in activity does elevate the body’s core body temperature, that temperature drops quickly, and can have the same type of effect that a warm bath or a cup of hot tea does before bedtime, inducing sleep. Similarly, the results of a good workout are often a decrease in anxiety a lowering of blood pressure and a reduction in muscle tension. All of these benefits are most evident approximately two hours after exercise. This means that a workout session two hours before turning in may actually be the most potent sleep aid of all.
The impact of the study on the advice that health care provides give their patients has should be immediate. With exercise being a proven benefit not only for sleep quality but also for overall health, being able to recommend exercise of all kinds at a time that is more convenient holds significant promise.