Exercise and Sleep

Sleep and exercise both have many benefits to our total well-being. Each provide necessary qualities to maintain our body’s homeostasis. This is why getting the right amount of exercise and sleep is crucial to living a healthy life. These key activities have a bidirectional relationship meaning that the two impact on one another. Exercise can alleviate sleep-related issues and improve our sleep quality. On the other hand, good quality sleep can possibly lead to higher levels of physical activity.

Many studies have concluded that exercise has a generally positive result on sleep.

How Engaging in Physical Activity Leads to Better Sleep?

Exercising regularly is shown to lead to a better quality of life. It can reduce the risk of disease, improve physical function, and curb weight gain. Studies show that moderate to vigorous exercise reduces the amount of time it takes to fall asleep. Decreasing the time it takes to fall asleep allows for more sufficient sleep. Additionally, regular exercise can reduce daytime sleepiness. Exercise has been shown to decrease daytime sleepiness and help stave off daytime naps which can upset your regular sleep schedule. In some cases, exercise has eliminated the need for prescribed sleeping medications.

Indirect Effect of Exercise

Exercise can also improve sleep quality indirectly. Since college students experience high level of stress before exams, a study was conducted to find if exercise helped alleviate the stress induced anxiety students were experiencing. At the end of the study, it was concluded that exercise reduced the level of test-related stress they felt. Since stress causes poor sleep quality and insomnia in some cases, exercise has been recognized to ease the tension caused by stress.

Another benefit of exercise is weight loss or maintenance. Obesity causes 60% of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) cases. OSA is a condition in which people periodically stop breathing in the middle of their sleep, but weight loss has been shown to reduce these symptoms significantly.

What Do the Surveys Say?

Multiple studies and surveys have been completed on the topic of exercise and its effect on sleep. The overwhelming consensus is that exercise has an generally positive result on sleep. The National Sleep Foundation has conducted many studies on this topic as well. In 2003, The National Sleep Foundation conducted the Sleep in America Poll where they asked participants ages 55-84 about their exercise habits. 52% of participants stated that they exercised habitually whereas 24% said they exercised less than once a week. That 24% experienced more sleep-related issues such as a shortened amount of sleep, fragmented sleep, and sleep disorders. Once again in 2013, the National Sleep Foundation conducted another poll; but this time on those between the ages of 23-60. 76-83% of participants who exercised reported a good sleeping schedule whereas this number dropped to 56% for those who didn’t exercise.

The Right Time to Exercise

There is some debate as to when is the right or best time to exercise. Some researchers argue that, in accordance with traditional sleep hygiene, it’s no good to engage in intensive exercise in the 3-hour period before bed. The reason behind this stance is that physical activity can lead to an increased heart rate, a rise in temperature, and an adrenaline rush. These combined factors keep your body from relaxing and entering early stages of the sleep cycle. On the other hand, one survey found that the majority of people exercising at 8pm or later fell asleep quickly. In fact, they enjoyed a deep sleep and did not experience any lingering effects.

Other studies have yielded results that support both sides of the argument. What can be concluded is that exercising before bed isn’t necessarily harmful but you want to avoid exercising within the hour you plan to go to sleep.

The Impact Sleep Has on Exercise

As stated previously, exercise and sleep have a bidirectional relationship. But the effect sleep has on exercise hasn’t been studied as closely as the contrary. Based on what little studying has been done, researchers generally agree that those with less sleep engage in less physical activity. Those who have sleep disorders are especially prone to a sedentary lifestyle. At the same time, it hasn’t been conclusively proven that better sleep leads to an increase in physical activity. This is a case in which correlation may not prove to be causation.

However, some studies have found that the quality of sleep can perhaps predict physical activity levels. One study in particular discovered that a 30-minute increase in sleep onset led to a minute decrease in exercise duration.


Clearly, exercise is key to our sleep. It can improve it either directly or indirectly. Although sleep may not have the same exact impact on exercise, the two still go hand-in-hand. We should all be encouraged to develop good exercise and sleeping habits as it can prove beneficial in the long run.