healing foundations

Stress Management

Sleep and Exercise

Kristina Wong, WellTheory Health Coach

How Does Exercise Impact Sleep?

Exercise and movement are important not only for our physical health but our mental health. Moving our bodies is a good tool for reducing and managing stress and any kind of stress will delay our bedtime by activating cortisol and that includes exercise.

Experts disagree as to when is the optimal time to workout. Some people seem to have no issue exercising late in the day and going to bed but often those people are night owls. While it can be very individual, a starting guideline is to avoid exercising within four hours of bedtime. This allows your body temperature to drop and for cortisol levels to decline as well which prepares you for sleep. For example, for a 10:00 pm bedtime, working out at 4:30 pm is optimal. It gives adequate time for your parasympathetic nervous system to take over, for stress hormones to subside, and for your body temperature to drop - all preparing you for a great night’s sleep.

A study done by Collier et. al. found that morning exercise (7 am) had the best impact on sleep quality and quantity as measured by shorter time to fall asleep, fewer awakenings, less time spent awake during the night, and more time in restorative, deep sleep. Not only was sleep positively impacted, but also blood pressure was lowest during the night with the morning exercise.

But, my workout is a relaxing, yoga/meditation practice that I do later in the evening! If your exercise/movement does not raise your stress hormones and body temperature, and it also prepares you for bed, GO FOR IT!

Above all, be mindful of your autoimmune symptoms. Sleep is paramount. We no longer sacrifice sleep to exercise. At times, if we’re stressed and we need that reset, we’ll wake up 30 minutes earlier to get in a workout because we know that will help to reduce our stress, burn through some stress hormones and help us sleep better that evening. There are no hard and fast rules that work for everyone. Listen to your body and see when exercise and what type of exercise helps you to feel your best.

Take Action

If you haven’t yet, set a goal to go for a short walk within 1–2 hours of waking up. It can be as short as a walk to the mailbox or as long as a leisurely stroll around the neighborhood.

If this is already part of your routine, where can you optimize your movement to support higher quality sleep? Do you need to work out earlier in the day, or try a less intense form of exercise?

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