You need exercise for your muscular, skeletal, and cardiovascular health. Whether you’re running or swimming, that physical exertion is good for more than just your muscles.

As it turns out you need it for sleep too. It has some powerful benefits to ease your way into deep sleep. While exercise won’t solve all of your sleep problems, it can deepen and lengthen your sleep cycle so you can get a full seven to nine hours every day. 

Fatigue Prepares the Body for Sleep

Exercise increases fatigue, making you more tired and ready for sleep. It also increases the amount of time your body spends in slow wave sleep. The slow wave sleep stages are those in which the body releases human growth hormone to trigger muscle repair. This same hormone burns fat and boosts the immune system. The more time you spend in these stages, the more time your body has to perform these vital functions.  

A 2010 study found that a consistent exercise program can successfully change sleep patterns. This particular study was conducted among older, sedentary adults who suffered from insomnia. Over the course of 16 weeks, they participated in regular exercise while receiving information about good sleep habits.

Regular exercise reduced the symptoms of insomnia, improved moods, and boosted energy levels. The results also suggested that structured exercise activities like classes or exercise groups were more successful than individual programs. 

Feel Good, Sleep Better

Exercise also causes the body to release endorphins. Endorphins are powerful neurotransmitters that communicate with other parts of the brain. They affect your pain perception, feelings of euphoria, appetite, and immune response. There are many triggers for the release of endorphins, and exercise is one of them. 

The runner’s high, for example, comes from endorphins. That high can benefit your sleep by making you feel happier and more content. Exercise is a natural stress reliever. For these reasons, regular exercise is also an important part of battling feelings of anxiety and depression. Exercise can also act as a distraction from stressful problems, build confidence, and give you a chance to get out of the house and actively socialize. 

How to Build Habits that Improve Your Sleep

Exercise alone isn’t going to have you knocked out the minute your head hits the pillow. You also need good sleep habits to support a full sleep cycle. 

  • Make Your Bed Work for You: Your mattress should support your weight and preferred sleep position. It should also relieve and support any medical conditions or pain points. If you have shoulder or low back pain, find a mattress that relieves pressure on these areas. If you’re a stomach sleeper, look for a model with a firmness that prevents the hips from sinking into the mattress and putting extra stress on the lower back. 

  • Plenty of Time Outside: Sunlight suppresses sleep hormones. Adequate time in the morning sun regulates your sleep cycle so that sleep hormones are fully prepped for release at night. 

  • Predictable Bedtime: Your body is designed to follow routines and patterns. A predictable bedtime trains your body to release sleep hormones at the same time every day, which can help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.  

 Exercise benefits your body in many ways, including better sleep. Make it a part of your routine, and you’ll be building a lifestyle that will support your health for years to come.

- Mary Lee is a researcher for the sleep science hub. She specializes in sleep's role in mental and physical health and wellness. Mary lives in Olympia, Washington and shares her full-sized bed with a very noisy cat.