In addition to the heart and health benefits of exercise, a fitness routine can improve sleep in a few ways. Physically active people find it easy to fall asleep and stay asleep longer, increasing sleep quality. Carving out that time for a workout can make a big difference, and here are some ways that it can help the sleep cycle.
First of all, the sleep cycle is divided into two segments: non-rapid eye movement (NREM) and rapid eye movement (REM). There are three, some say four, stages in the NREM segment of the cycle where sleep starts light and goes to deep sleep. REM is the lightest sleep of the cycle, and the eyes dart back and forth and up and down during this cycle for no proven reason. Some believe it has to do with dreams because REM is the portion of sleep where most dreams occur. Each cycle of Stage One in NREM all the way through REM lasts between 90 and 110 minutes before starting over.
Physical activity increases the amount of time spent in the deep sleep stage of the sleep cycle, which is the most physically restorative phase. The deep sleep stage boosts immune function, supports cardiac health, and controls stress and anxiety. Hanging out in deep sleep a little longer is great for feeling rested and has some health benefits too.
Exercise also causes the body to expel more energy, which makes the body more tired. This means you fall asleep easier, and your body keeps you asleep to rest and repair a little longer. An easier and longer sleep will make you feel rested and ready to tackle a new day.
Though exercise can help lull you to sleep and keep you asleep for longer bouts of time, it should not be done three to four hours before bedtime. Working out makes you feel energized and raises internal body temperature. Both of these things will keep you awake rather than put you to sleep, so avoid strenuous exercise within the four-hour window of bedtime. Yoga or light stretching, however, calm and relax the mind and body and can be done before bed.
A routine of physical activity has the ability to tire the body into a quick, long-lasting sleep that stalls for an extended period of time in the deep sleep portion of the sleep cycle. By making fitness a present part of every day, you are exercising your way to better sleep.