The link between sleep and exercise

The Link Between Exercise And Sleep

January 22, 2014 by Michelle

I have a sleep problem.  I didn’t always, but it’s gotten worse over the past year or so.  Sometimes I have a hard time falling asleep, mostly because I’ve caught a second wind around 8pm, though I could have fallen straight asleep at 4pm.  More typically, I sleep just fine until about 2am then wake up and can’t fall back asleep for hours.

Needless to say, a poor night’s sleep – especially when the alarm goes off less than an hour after I finally fell back asleep – makes me crabby and less productive.  And of course, I’m even more tired the next night, which continues the cycle.

I’ve always known that once I wake up, I have a hard time falling back asleep.  I’ve learned to never stand up if I wake up or I’m sunk.  I keep water next to my bed so that I can get a drink easily, and I’m lucky that I at least don’t have to get up to go to the bathroom.  I can only sit there for so long with my eyes closed, so I keep my iPad filled with books next to me, knowing that reading will often help me get tired enough to fall asleep again by distracting my mind and stopping it from racing.

I don’t always have trouble sleeping, however, though it took me a long time to figure out any sort of pattern.  It finally sank in at the beginning of the month.  After winter break when everyone was home and my schedule was thrown off (though the wee ones made sure I still woke up at the same time – how I spawned two morning people, I have no idea), I finally started sleeping better.

Why?  Winter break was awful, and it wasn’t a stress situation.  What changed once everyone went back to school and my life was back to normal – or as normal as it gets?  I was able to get back to the gym.  And on the days when I exercise hard, I sleep better at night.  The days when I can’t make it to the gym are the ones where I struggle more with sleep.

How did I never figure this out before?

It isn’t foolproof.  I still struggle with sleep some nights even after I’ve exercised, but it’s definitely less frequent (if you know of my love for spreadsheets, it won’t surprise you that I charted this the past few weeks).  I know I have a sleeping problem, and at some point I’ll probably have to do something about it, but I want to do my best to work on it myself and find solutions where I can.

And exercise?  Exercise is a huge link.  Of course, when you exercise makes a huge difference, too.  I head to the gym in the morning once the wee ones get on the bus for school.  Getting the hard work out of the way early in the day tends to be the best for sleep – at least for me.

When I work out hard at night, I have to make sure it’s at least two or three hours before I’m planning to sleep, as it takes my body that long to wind down.  On the flip side, if I do yoga at night, I can come home and fall straight into bed.  The more calming exercises help to reset me prior to bed, and I’ve found that even if I’m not doing a yoga class before bed, if I do just a few breathing exercises and vinyasas, that also helps me sleep.

Not that I needed any more incentives to head to the gym, but this?  This is a pretty powerful one.  What is your sleep secret?

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