Question: How do I continue to improve my sleep with exercise?

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MWi Hack: Exercise can relieve stress, reset your circadian clock, reduce sleep disorder symptoms, and improve the quality of your sleep.

MWi Summary:

  • Regular exercise can help improve overall sleep quality by reducing stress, establishing a solid sleep-wake cycle, relieving symptoms of sleep disorders, enhancing sleep quality, and making it easier to fall asleep.
  • Exercise releases endorphins that can limit sleep quality disturbances, reduce daytime sleepiness, and enhance slow-wave (deep) sleep.
  • The timing of exercise (morning, afternoon, or evening) doesn’t significantly impact sleep quality, but vigorous exercise within an hour before bedtime may affect total sleep time.
  • For long-term sleep benefits, adults should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity and two days of muscle-strengthening activities per week.
  • Intense workouts may lead to muscle fatigue and increased sleepiness, requiring more quality sleep for recovery.

Regular exercise is an excellent way to help improve your overall sleep health.

According to the U.S. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, quality sleep can help boost your overall mood, reducing stress and lowering your risk of serious health conditions, like diabetes and heart disease.

If you’re having trouble getting a good night’s rest, revamping your exercise routine might help you sleep better.

Reasons why exercise can improve sleep

Here are five reasons why exercise may improve your sleep health.

Relieves stress

When stressed, your body releases more stress hormones than necessary. This can impair the quality and duration of your sleep.

According to a 2021 research review, physical activity, like taking a brisk walk or doing high intensity interval training (HIIT), may reduce your cortisol levels. Cortisol is known as the stress hormone.

And evidence suggests that the higher the intensity of your workout, the greater the impact on cortisol levels. Lower cortisol levels mean less stress, potentially leading to better sleep.

Establishes a solid sleep-wake cycle

Your circadian clock, or sleep-wake cycle, tells your body when it’s time to fall asleep and wake up. When something interrupts your circadian rhythm, it’s possible to develop a sleep disorder like insomnia.

Authors of a 2019 review suggest that adjusting your workout schedule to fit your circadian rhythm may help support your body clock and alleviate sleep disturbances.

Helps relieve sleep disorder symptoms

If you’re already dealing with some kind of sleep disorder, regular exercise might help reduce your symptoms.

A 2021 review indicates that regular physical activity improves sleep patterns in adults with insomnia and obstructive sleep apnea symptoms.

Improves the quality of your sleep

Working out can also enhance your sleep quality.

According to a 2020 randomized controlled trial, HIIT may improve sleep quality, including total sleep time, sleep efficiency, and wake-after-sleep onset for middle-aged adults with low physical activity levels.

Sleep efficiency is the ratio of total sleep time to the time spent in bed. Wake-after-sleep onset is the number of minutes you spend awake after falling asleep.

Makes it easier to fall asleep

Strenuous activity may also increase your need for sleep and make it easier to get shut-eye.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the pressure to go to sleep, known as the homeostatic sleep drive, builds up the longer you stay awake. Once you go to bed, the pressure decreases, reaching lower levels after a night of quality sleep.

Exercise can also increase your body’s need for sleep. Physically demanding workouts can build your homeostatic sleep drive, making you less likely to spend time staring at the ceiling trying to fall asleep.

How exercise can help you sleep better

Here’s how moderate and vigorous intensity physical activity may positively affect your sleep.

Releases endorphins

Stress and pain trigger your brain to release endorphins. These hormones alleviate pain and induce feelings of pleasure.

According to a 2020 survey of 1,242 respondents from Wuhan, China, exercising may trigger the release of endorphins, which may limit sleep quality disturbances.

A 2020 study involving 80 participants with chronic insomnia indicates that regular physical activity, like aerobic exercise, releases endorphins and may prevent and ease sleep problems.

Reduces daytime sleepiness

Excessive daytime sleepiness, or hypersomnia, occurs when you fall asleep several times throughout the day. Hypersomnia can happen alongside other sleeping disorders, making good sleep a challenge.

According to a 2018 randomized controlled trial with 131 older adults, exercising might improve sleep quality and reduce hypersomnia.

Researchers found that participants who performed a combination of aerobic, strengthening, balance, coordination, and flexibility exercises over 12 weeks reported reduced daytime sleepiness and better sleep quality.

Enhances slow-wave sleep

According to a 2021 study, exercising vigorously for 1 hour in the evenings might enhance your slow-wave sleep phase, improving overall sleep quality.

Slow-wave sleep, or deep sleep, is the deepest phase of non-rapid eye movement (non-REM) sleep. Non-REM sleep is the quietest and most restful phase of sleep. Getting non-REM sleep can help with muscle and bone repair and strengthen your immune system.

Does the timing of exercise matter?

Typical wisdom says that working out before bed can mess with your sleep. But evidence suggests exercising timing doesn’t necessarily influence how well you sleep.

A 2019 review and meta-analysi  suggests that evening exercise doesn’t disrupt sleep quality. But rigorous evening exercise an hour or less before bed may affect your total sleep time.

How much exercise do I need to get to improve my sleep?

Evidence suggests that getting at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity daily can help improve sleep quality.

For long-term sleep health benefits, guidelines recommend adults get 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity and 2 days of muscle-strengthening activity every week.

If 30 minutes per day of working out seems too demanding, try breaking up your workouts into smaller chunks.

You might need more sleep after hard workouts

Vigorous physical activity can leave you feeling more tired than usual.

According to a 2017 review, you may experience muscle fatigue after intense exercises at some point during a workout. Fatigue can leave you feeling overwhelmingly tired. Muscle fatigue lowers your energy levels, which can enhance sleepiness.

Tough workouts might take more out of you and increase your need for quality sleep.


Sleep is essential for optimal health. Sleep disorders and stress are just a couple of factors that might affect how well you sleep. Regular exercise is one way to boost your sleep quality.

There’s no right time to work out. Whether you exercise morning, noon, or evening doesn’t matter. Instead, focus on getting at least 30 minutes of physical activity per day in a way that makes you feel good.

If you’re starting from scratch, talk with a healthcare professional about starting a safe exercise program.

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