Exercise Helps Ready the Body for a Good Night’s Sleep

Late afternoon activity helps jump start the body’s temperature for sleep

DAYTON, Ohio (February 17, 2014) – Exercise isn’t just for those who want to drop a couple of pounds – It’s also a great way to ensure a good night’s sleep for those struggling to get enough shut eye.

The National Sleep Foundation’s (NSF). 2013 Sleep in America poll showed a compelling association between exercise and better sleep. Self-described exercisers polled by the foundation reported better sleep than self-described non-exercisers even though the two groups slept the same amount of hours. Studies have shown that exercise not only helps individuals fall asleep faster, but also improves their quantity and quality of sleep, the foundation said.

“Exercise does improve sleep,” said Pamela Werner, MD, a Premier HealthNet physician with Miami Valley Primary Care. “Good sleep is one of the benefits of exercise and there are two main reasons for that. First, exercise affects our body temperature and, second, exercise increases our endorphins (chemicals released in the brain that help reduce pain).”

A person whose body experiences a healthy wake-sleep cycle will naturally drop in temperature as they near bedtime. It is the natural process the body goes through to transition into sleep. Exercise triggers an increase in body temperature, and the post-exercise drop in temperature may promote falling asleep. Studies have shown that those who experience chronic insomnia –difficulty initiating or maintaining sleep or awakening too early in the morning – may actually be able to shift or improve their wake and sleep cycle depending on what time they exercise during the day, the NSF said.

“The latest studies have shown that individuals can have the greatest benefit from exercise if they do it in the late afternoon,” Dr. Werner said. “Some people think that if they exercise in the late evening it will wear them out and they will be able to sleep better when in fact it has the opposite effect. You are actually raising your body temperature too close to bed while ramping up your muscles and heart rate. The best thing to do is exercise no less than three to four hours before bedtime so that your body can cool down and you can experience the benefits of exercise.”

Chronic insomnia is the most common sleep disorder among adults, the NSF said. Of the handful of studies that have been performed, all suggest that exercise significantly improves sleep of people with this disorder. The good news is that these studies have also shown that one late afternoon walk may be able to positively impact one’s sleep later that night. Similar results have been found for studies that examined the effects of long-term exercise on sleep in adults with insomnia. In these studies, after four to 24 weeks of exercise, adults with insomnia feel asleep more quickly, slept slightly longer, and had better sleep quality than before they began exercising, the NSF said.

Health care experts universally endorse sleep, exercise and nutrition as the building blocks for good health. Today’s society places many demands on people and they often sacrifice sleep to fit it all in to their schedule. But sleep is vital because it has a direct impact on both mental and physical health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. said there is a correlation between unhealthy sleep patterns and chronic diseases such as diabetes, obesity, heart disease, depression and early death.

Dr. Werner encourages her patients to not become discouraged by reality, but to try their best to get good sleep, exercise on a regular basis and eat a healthy diet.

“The body needs sleep,” Dr. Werner said. “The recipe for a totally healthy individual is going to include a good night’s sleep – which is seven to nine hours – regular exercise, and a healthy diet. The truth is, however, when someone exercises they feel so much better.”

For more information on sleep or to find a Premier HealthNet physician near you, visit www.premierhealthnet.com/doctor.

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