How exercise can help you sleep

Exercise can have a positive impact on your sleep quality, if done correctly. Physiologist Michael Dymond explains.

Lifestyle factors can significantly impact your sleep, and exercise is no exception. The link between exercise and sleep, however, is not as simple as you may think.

Simply using more energy through exercise isn’t guaranteed to help you drift off. Only a careful balance of exercise throughout the day will help you to achieve a quality slumber.

30 minutes a day

Daily exercise can help to use all of the energy you've stored from eating and so can help you sleep. It’s widely understood that performing around half an hour’s exercise a day is enough to help you to drift off in the evening. But the intensity of exercise and the time that it is performed is equally as important as the duration.

Five hours before bedtime

Because exercise can cause a spike in adrenaline, which keeps your body in an alert state, you should end any strenuous exercise around five to six hours before going to bed in order to aid sleep. Similarly waking up early to go to the gym could be depriving you of vital sleeping hours. So find a time that suits you, that you’re likely to stick to, but bear in mind the effects your choices may have on your sleep.

Moderate intensity, not high intensity

While not conclusive, some studies into the effect of exercise on those who suffer from chronic insomnia have shown that moderate-intensity aerobic exercise like walking or swimming can reduce the time it takes to fall asleep and increase the length of sleep, compared to no exercise. Meanwhile vigorous aerobic exercise such as running or lifting weights had no effect. So if sleep is your ultimate goal, consider incorporating some moderate intensity exercise, as well as any additional higher intensity fitness into your day.

Last updated Thursday 23 March 2023

First published on Friday 25 November 2016