Does A Lack Of Exercise Affect Your Sleep Habits?

We know, we know, you've heard it before: exercise is good for you. According to MedlinePlus, regular physical activity can lower your risk of heart disease, diabetes, bone density loss, and some cancers. Exercise can also help you maintain a healthy weight, improve cognitive functioning, and reduce stress.

Despite knowing all the benefits, it can still be hard to stick to a workout routine if your hectic life has you routinely running on empty. At the end of a long day, you might feel more called to hit the sheets than the gym. And according to a Health Digest survey, you wouldn't be the only one. In the survey, more people chose sleep than exercise as their preferred form of self-care.

The desire to snooze, rather than go for a run or take a Pilates class, might be driven by people's lack of sleep. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that over a third of American adults don't get enough sleep on a regular basis. Moreover, up to 70 million Americans experience a sleep disorder every year (per Cleveland Clinic).

But what if exercising more was actually the key to better sleep?

The connection between lack of exercise and insomnia

Insomnia is a sleep disorder that interrupts healthy sleep patterns, making it hard to fall asleep or stay asleep throughout the night (per Cleveland Clinic). Up to half of the adult population experiences some symptoms of the disorder, while 10% to 15% are estimated to experience chronic insomnia that regularly disrupts daily life.

To fall asleep quicker, some people may turn to medication and supplements. However, a short workout could be enough to help many insomnia sufferers drift off to sleep more easily. One 2010 study published in Sleep Medicine found that aerobic exercise improved sleep quality in older adults with chronic insomnia. A 2021 study published in Frontiers in Psychiatry echoed these findings, establishing a correlation between regular exercise and sleep quality. Even for those without a sleep disorder, exercise can improve sleep habits by lowering stress and anxiety, adjusting circadian rhythms, and promoting deeper sleep (per Sleep Foundation).

How to exercise your way to better sleep

Regular workouts can boost your sleep habits, but be patient if you don't notice an improvement right away. According to Cleveland Clinic, it can take up to a week to notice better, deeper sleep.

Until then, optimize your exercise routine with your sleep schedule in mind. To reap the benefits night after night, it's best to be consistent, so find a workout that you enjoy doing regularly. WebMD recommends aerobic workouts (such as power walking or biking), strength training, yoga, and stretching for better sleep.

Johns Hopkins Medicine notes that there's some debate over what time is best to exercise to fall asleep quicker at night. However, they suggest doing aerobic activities at least one or two hours before bed. Ideally, reserve vigorous workouts for earlier in the day, and keep light or moderate exercises like yoga and stretching as part of your evening wind-down routine (per Healthline).