For years, research has credited physical activity with helping people sleep better. However, most of our knowledge regarding the relationship between exercise and sleep has been based on studies with participants who did not have problems sleeping. This led researchers at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University to examine the effects exercise has on people struggling with insomnia.
How Does Exercise Help Us Sleep?
Exercise temporarily raises our temperature. About 30 minutes of aerobic activity will keep your temperature elevated for four to five hours. Eventually, your body temperature will begin dropping, lower than it was before you started exercising, which helps your body sleep. This is one reason some experts recommend working out in the early evening rather than closer to your bedtime.
Additionally, as part of our body's physiological response to exercise, neurotransmitters such as endorphins, serotonin and dopamine are released. They help us relax and improve our mood, which is the reason physical activity is credited with relieving stress, anxiety and depression, three common causes of sleepless nights. Moreover, many cases of insomnia are tied to a hyper-arousal of the nervous system, which is like an ongoing fight-or-flight stress response that creates a feeling of being too wired to sleep even though you are exhausted. Exercise, specifically aerobic activities like walking and cycling, burns cortisol (the hormone released during the stress response) and eases the stress response which allows for better sleep.
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