Exercise and sleep

Exercise can help you sleep better, and good sleep can help you exercise better. It's the great circle of life. Fitness app, niix.fit tells us how to get the most out of exercising, with a view to helping you sleep better.

Can exercise help you sleep better?

Physical activity has been scientifically proven to help you with a better quality of sleep. Working out can contribute to more sound and restful sleep and actually increases time spent in a deeper sleep, the most physically restorative sleep phase. Deep sleep helps to boost immune function, support cardiac health and control stress and anxiety. 

Being physically active requires you to exert large amounts of energy, helps you feel tired and ready to rest at the end of the day, meaning your sleep is likely to be longer and better quality. Stress is a common cause of sleep problems, including difficulty falling asleep and sleeping restlessly during the night.

Exercise is a fantastic remedy for anxiety and other mood disorders. Just ten minutes of moving your body can stimulate anti-anxiety responses and studies have shown that non-exercisers are the sleepiest but have the highest risk for sleep apnoea and poor sleep.

Does exercising at night keep you awake? 

As with coffee, some people can drink a mug before bed and not feel the effects at all, nodding off easily. However, as a rule of thumb, night time coffee overload or a high-intensity cardio or strength workout right before bed is not encouraged if you have experienced difficulty sleeping post-workout.

If this is you, you should at the very least, give your body one hour post exercise to wind down and re-fuel before sleeping. Exercise after all, raises your body temperature, triggers cortisol production, increases your heart rate, which in turn releases endorphins and can often leave us feeling energised.

Research has shown however, that those who have exercised at any time of the day, sleep better than those who have not exercised at all. So, if your only time is before bed, do it. Getting in some exercise is almost always better than no exercise at all. 

Is it good to stretch as soon as you wake up?

Yes. After a good few hours of lying in the same position it is important when you wake to give your body a good stretch. Stretching is your body's way of getting your circulation going and encouraging flexibility and mobility through your muscles, joints and to the brain.

Morning stretches can help counteract the negative postural positions we tend develop during our day (slouching in front of our laptops which results in tight chest muscles, long spinal extensor muscles and shortened hamstrings and hip flexors). Following a short morning stretch ritual can leave you feeling more energised and mobile as you head into the rest of your day.

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Does sleep affect your running? 

Many studies have seen that runners have a higher perception of effort for a given level of exercise, thus sleep deprivation makes everything feel harder. Although some studies indicate physiologically lack of sleep does not necessarily effect performance, the body does not like to be pushed when tired. Sleep deficiency tends to affect the brain and the nervous system more than the heart, lungs and legs which allows performance to be sustained during short periods of sleep. 


Lack of sleep over extended periods, however, can affect your immune system while causing substantial hormonal imbalances, causing fatigue. This can ultimately negatively affect your running performance. Lack of sleep can also affect a person's ability to regulate their body temperature while running. The body’s ability to produces sweat to cool us down while we exercise can be hindered if not functioning correctly, causing tiredness, dizziness and leave you feeling very lethargic. Having a consistent sleep schedule (the same bed time and wake up time) each day can positively affect your running performance providing you are getting enough sleep (as near to eight hours as possible). Having said that, a few days of broken sleep is unlikely to affect your overall performance.

How much sleep should a runner get? 

The physical stress of running means you should seek more sleep than someone who does little physical activity. This is because your body needs to recover from the strenuous movements it has gone through - this process only kicks in when we sleep. These all important hours in bed can also be key to avoiding injuries…allowing tendons, muscles, bones and ligaments time to recover and avoid exercise stress related injuries. On average research suggests that adults should aim for seven to eight hours of sleep a night. Elite athletes are encouraged to sleep for eight to ten quality hours. 

How many hours of sleep do you need to recover from a workout? 

While high intensity exercise and running is likely to increase your need to sleep over time, the exact amount is unclear and down to your own body and how quickly it recovers. You know your body best, if after a hard training day or days you tend to wake up feeling groggier and more fatigued with aches and pains than normal, it is likely that you need more rest.  Aiming for those seven to eight golden hours are advised as the minimum to allow your body to kick start the recovery process and be able to continuously train and perform throughout the week. 

Is it okay to sleep after exercise? 

Sleeping allows our body to repair and restore our muscles, bones and tissue from the strain we put on them during the day. If you’re a late night exerciser, it can be good to start that recovery process sooner than later, however many people feel extremely energized and uplifted after a workout, especially runners and those who engaged in aerobic activity.  That energy comes from an increase in your cortisol levels, the stress hormone. In turn, your nervous system turns on, which is the exact opposite of what happens when you go to sleep. These higher stress levels make it more challenging to sleep restfully which is why it is recommended to take at least an hour to wind down before sleeping post exercise.  Exercising also increases the body temperature which at night time, normally drops to prepare the body for sleep. If you the evenings are the only time to workout, the benefits do far out way not exercising at all but do be mindful of taking some time to relax prior to hitting the sack.

Sleep Expert, Nicke Philips, shares her small tips that can make a huge difference to your sleep. Give them a try and see how you get on.