September 3, 2015 | Comments (0)

On Your Mark, Get Sleep – Go!

Who hasn’t heard about the health benefits of exercise? You’ve heard it a million times: Walk, jog, get to the gym, do yoga — whatever it is, just do it.

But you’ve probably also faced obstacles to getting regular exercise, whether it’s being overworked, under-motivated, over-scheduled, or simply exhausted by the myriad demands on your time.


Sleep Power, Not Willpower

What if there was something besides willpower — or in addition to willpower — that could help you exercise? When it comes to exercise and a healthy lifestyle, perhaps it’s not so much about willpower as it is sleep power.

Sleep begets exercise, exercise begets sleep. Research clearly demonstrates that people who get regular, sufficient sleep are more likely to engage in physical activity, and physical activity leads to quality sleep. With both sufficient sleep and physical activity contributing to healthy weight management, the combination adds up to a win-win situation and a formula for a healthier, happier life.


The Foundation of Health

Researchers and health-care providers unanimously endorse sleep, diet, and exercise as the very foundations of good health. And the beauty of the sleep component is that it seamlessly complements diet and exercise — meaning that all efforts to comply with dietary and exercise guidelines are significantly easier with sufficient sleep.


Exercise to Sleep

A 2013 poll from the National Sleep Foundation found that people who exercised regularly were significantly more likely to report sleeping well than those who were not physically active. According to David Cloud, CEO of the National Sleep Foundation, “Exercise is great for sleep. For the millions of people who want better sleep, exercise may help.” NSF poll task force chairman Dr. Max Hirshkowitz adds, “If you are inactive, adding a 10-minute walk every day could improve your likelihood of a good night’s sleep. Making this small change and gradually working your way up to more intense activities like running or swimming could help you sleep better.”


Get Up and Go

Research has demonstrated the complementary relationship between exercise and sleep:

  • One study published in 2014 demonstrated that a single, moderate-intensity aerobic exercise session improved sleep quality in older women.
  • In a study of chronic insomniacs, acute, moderate-intensity aerobic exercise appeared to reduce pre-sleep anxiety and improve sleep.
  • In one study of 43 adults published in 2012, exercise training improved several aspects of daytime functioning in adults with obstructive sleep apnea, including sleepiness, depressive symptoms, and mood.
  • The results of a 2011 study showed long-term, moderate aerobic exercise resulted in significant improvements in sleep, quality of life, and mood in individuals with chronic primary insomnia.
  • Research published in 2014 found that yoga Improved sleep and quality of life in a group of older adults with insomnia.
  • In a study of 118 men and women between the ages of 60 and 92, participation in a six-month, low-to-moderate-intensity tai chi exercise program improved self-rated sleep quality.


Flipping the Script: Sleep to Exercise

Not only does exercise have beneficial effects on sleep, but research indicates sleep has beneficial effects on exercise. A 2013 study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine suggests improving sleep may actually encourage exercise participation. Sufficient sleep makes us more likely to exercise the next day, while poor sleep can lead us to exercise less.

In a study of 119 chronic-pain patients, study subjects participated in more physical activity following a better night of sleep. Improvement in nighttime sleep may serve to promote daytime physical activity in this population and others. In a related study, Stone et al. found maintaining recommended sleep throughout the week is associated with increased physical activity in children.

Since sufficient sleep has been known to improve mood, outlook, motivation, and energy, why not let sleep prime you for that much-needed exercise?


Timing Isn’t Everything

The link between the timing of exercise and sleep varies from person to person. While some people prefer early morning workouts, others prefer evening or nighttime workouts. According to one analysis of the 2013 National Sleep Foundation Sleep in America Poll results, evening exercise is not always associated with worse sleep. So don’t give up on the benefits of exercise if you prefer a 6:00 p.m. trip to the gym instead of a 6:00 a.m. trip. Experiment with different timings to see what works best for you.


Just Do It

So if your willpower is in need of a boost, see if some sleep power doesn’t do the trick.  On your mark, get sleep, and exercise — and watch your quality of life improve.

Talk with your healthcare provider about the best exercise program for you, and see a sleep specialist for sleep problems. A comprehensive listing of sleep specialists can be found at



National Sleep Foundation Poll Finds Exercise Key to Good Sleep.

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Terry Cralle, RN, MS is the national spokesperson for the Better Sleep Council, and is a passionate advocate and educator for sleep health and wellness. As the co-founder of a sleep disorders center in Charlottesville, VA, she holds the designations of Certified Clinical Sleep Educator and Certified Professional in Healthcare Quality. Terry provides sleep health and wellness consulting services to sleep clinics, schools, universities, corporations, and employee wellness companies. She is also an associate editor for the Journal of Lung, Pulmonary and Respiratory Research, as well as a frequent lecturer, speaker, and author on sleep issues.

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