Exercise has many health benefits including boosting your energy throughout the day, improving your mood by decreasing anxiety and depression, and helping combat health conditions and diseases like high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.
It also can do wonders for your sleep.
Think of exercise and sleep as co-dependent on one another. Exercise helps you sleep better, and better sleep makes it easier to exercise.
Let’s dive in to see how exercising may help you get the replenishing, deep sleep that your body so desperately craves.
What is your circadian rhythm and why is it important?
The circadian rhythm is your body’s physical, emotional, and behavioral changes throughout a 24-hour period. Typically, your circadian rhythm is interacting with light and dark, like waking up when you see sunlight, and getting sleepy when the sun sets. Think of it as your body’s natural clock telling you when it’s time to sleep and when it’s time to get out of bed and start your day.
Around bedtime, the hormone melatonin is released to make you feel sleepy and tired. As the light around you decreases, so does your body temperature to signal to your body that it’s time to go to bed.
In the morning, the release of melatonin stops and your body starts to feel more awake and alert. That alertness lasts throughout the whole day until your body starts to release melatonin again as you approach nighttime.
The circadian rhythm affects your hormone release, digestion, and body temperature. Things that can throw off your circadian rhythm include looking at your phone before bed, jet lag, eating too close to bedtime, and having no set bedtime.
What does your circadian rhythm have to do with exercise?
With exercise, we’re mostly focusing on the body temperature aspect of your circadian rhythm. When your body is getting ready for sleep, your core temperature drops and the hormone melatonin is released. If your core temperature is higher, then chances are you’re going to be more alert and awake.
When you exercise, your core temperature increases, that is, if you complete a moderate-intensity workout that gets you sweating. After the workout, your body starts to cool down and recover, and your core body temperature decreases.
According to a 2014 study, regular physical activity, about three hours per week, can help regulate your body temperature. This means a more consistent decrease in body temperature when bedtime approaches and an easier time falling asleep. Still, you have to do your part to help your body out and this means having a consistent bedtime, putting your phone away 30 minutes before you go to bed, and working out at the right time during the day.
What time of day should you be exercising?
A lot of us hear that the morning is the best time to work out, and while it certainly is beneficial to work out in the morning, there are other times throughout the day that you can squeeze in physical activity without it disrupting your circadian rhythm.
In a study done by Shawn Youngstedt, he took 101 participants and had them work out at varying times throughout a 24-hour period from 1 a.m. to 10 p.m. He found that participants who were working out at 7 a.m. or between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. did not have any issues with their circadian rhythm being disrupted. They actually felt more alert during the day. But for the participants who were working out between 7 p.m. and 10 p.m., their sleep schedules were delayed and they were alert later in the day. This disrupted their circadian rhythms, making it harder to fall asleep.
So, when choosing a time to complete a workout, here are some things to keep in mind. Working out in the morning helps wake you up, especially if you do something outdoors in the natural sunlight. If you are a morning person and like waking up early, then this is a really good time for you to get your sweat on.
Working out in the later afternoon between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. is going to be the sweet spot where you will feel most awake, alert, and at your strongest. If you need to work out at night, then try to end your workout at least two hours before your bedtime so you can allow time for your body temperature to decrease and for the melatonin to kick in.
Find a time that works best for you and stick to it. The key here is consistency. Completing multiple workouts throughout the week will get you sleeping better and feeling your best.