As a 25 year old, self-confessed lover – nay, admirer – of sleep, I’ve never really had any major problems with paying the land of nod a visit, be it at 3 in the morning, or briefly at 4 in the afternoon.
I have friends that suffer from insomnia, and others that still wouldn’t be satisfied after a 14 hour sleep, but I can’t say I’ve experienced either extreme. A bad break up caused some sleepless nights, and a case of jetlag when I returned from Mexico had my body clock in all types of time zones, but on average, I sleep well. I aim for around 7-8 hours a night; more makes me happy, less makes me sad.
But it’s not always as simple as that, and this is where exercise plays a huge part.
- Dreams – sometimes I dream so extravagantly and vividly, i wake up feeling tired from the 36 hour labour I ‘experienced’ giving birth to a non-human baby, or running away from the Italian mafia trying to shoot me in Selfridges. How our brains can conjure up this stuff up, I think, is fascinating. But it can be equally as terrifying and/or sad. Because of this, you can wake up from a 9hour sleep feeling exhausted, simply because your brain hasn’t had time to stop thinking.
- Hormones – everyone has them, some more than others, and they affect EVERYTHING and change on a daily basis: what we eat, how we behave and especially how we sleep are all side affects of the hormones in our bodies changing from day-to-day. Cortisol (the ‘stress’ hormone) is the main one I’m sure everything is thinking of, and can affect sleep more so than you may realise. Find something that always calms you down, and be sure to follow that routine when you feel like stress is getting the better of you.
- Worries – that big presentation at work next week, the imminent interview for your dream job, a zombie apocalypse to end the world, whatever it is you’re worrying about (I’m not here to judge) you’ll find your sleep will be affected most by things playing on your mind. Try to write things down to lighten the load on your mind.
- Lifestyle – ever had those knock out sleeps after having a few too many glasses of wine, only to wake up and realise you’ve had the WEIRDEST dream? While I’m not condoning over drinking, I’d be lying if I said the times I fall asleep the fastest isn’t after I’ve had a drink. The downside, as I pointed out, is the dreams that come with it. But your general lifestyle will affect your sleeping pattern; hands up if you’re one of those people that have a weekday sleep cycle, and then a completely different weekend sleep cycle! Try to avoid this, or if you can’t, minimise the extreme.
- Sleeping TOO much – what spawn of Satan decided this was a thing?! Unfortunately, this does have detrimental effects on your body; I tend to suffer from headaches and a constant daze throughout the day as though I’ve only slept for a couple of hours. Avoid this by getting into a good sleeping routine and set alarms if you go to bed earlier than usual
I don’t have a medical degree, but I’m going to take a wild stab in the dark and say you sleep better when you’re tired *takes bow and awaits Nobel prize award*
When I go to the gym, I will never JUST do cardio. Sometimes I don’t do any, other days I’ll do a 20 minute bike ride and then a half an hour swim. I just listen to my body and do what I think it needs more of. I will always do one upper body workout and one lower body workout a week; I may incorporate cardio into that, or cover most of my cardio on a different day.
I am currently training for Tough Mudder which is in May and am hitting the gym 4 times a week for around 1-2 hours a time. I’m finding I am sleeping SO much better. When I say better, I don’t simply mean when I get into bed I’m KO’d in less than 30 seconds, I am referring to how well I actually sleep. I find I don’t wake up, or toss and turn, and I tend to dream less. Remember what I said about dreams preventing you from completely switching off? I find exercising allows me to sleep with a clear mind and wake from an undisturbed sleep feeling refreshed.
If I’ve had a bad day at work or have things playing on my mind, the first thing I will do is hit the gym. The same applies if I’m not sleeping well – I assume I’m not tired enough and therefore tire myself out physically (instead of mentally, which can often happen with work & life) to help me sleep better. 9 times out of 10, it works. Trust me on this one; if you search for tips on how to sleep better, or how to beat insomnia, I’m sure exercising for around 20-30 minutes daily will be in the top 5 suggestions.
Here are my top tips on how you can use exercise, and your daily routine, to sleep better:
1. Get your sweat on – to increase your quality of sleep, increase the amount of sweat during your workout. Incorporate some cardio into your workouts if you’re not currently, if you don’t want to do cardio, do longer workouts in the gym on the exercises you are doing. If you don’t go to the gym, go for walks or runs outside. Instead of getting the bus, walk. If you already walk, try speeding up the speed you walk.
2. Do less, more – instead of hitting the gym twice a week for an hour, try splitting up your workouts to 30 minutes every day.
3. Exercise outdoors or during the day – the sunshine, fresh air and daylight can help to lift your mood and regulate the body-temperature rhythm which can make it easier to sleep
4. Avoid exercising before bed time – surprisingly, exercising within 2-3 hours of going to bed can actually make it harder to sleep. Your muscles, heart and brain are still functioning highly and you can find yourself unable to sleep when you get into bed
5. Keep your heart rate up – Stick to exercises that will maintain a high heart rate for around 20 minutes
The relationship between sleep and exercise is so complicated, that these tips may not help. I hope they do, though! Happy sleeping 🙂