Most people know well the connection between regular restful sleep and their mental, emotional and physical wellbeing. And yet restful sleep is fast becoming an endangered phenomenon. That’s because we live in an era where stress is nearly as pervasive as air. But there is hope. If you are one of those who find good sleep evading you night after night, the latest research has found a simple, cost-effective solution to your woes. It’s called exercise.
We’re sure you can recall at least a few instances where you were dead tired and drifted off to sleep effortlessly, only to wake up the next morning, fresh as a daisy. A good work out produces the same effect. This doesn't mean you must start pumping iron at the gym to sleep well. Light physical activities, like walking or jogging can serve this purpose equally.
Sleep exercise connection
In the recently released study, David Cloud, CEO of the National Sleep Foundation [NSF], said, “For millions of people who want better sleep exercise may help.”
The NSF study observed 1,000 individuals in the age group of 23 – 60 for a period of two weeks. These individuals self-categorised themselves into the four categories offered by the NSF. ‘Vigorous exercisers’ [18 per cent] were those who engaged in activities which required hard physical effort such as running, cycling, swimming or competitive sports. ‘Moderate exercisers’ [25 per cent] engaged in activities that require more effort than normal such as yoga, T’ai chi and weight lifting. ‘Light exercisers’ [48 per cent] engaged in walking and the fourth group were ‘non-exercisers’ who did not do any form of physical activity [9 per cent].
The results reveal that vigorous, moderate and light exercisers are significantly more likely to say than non-exercisers, “I had a good night’s sleep” every night or almost every night. Also, more than three-fourths of exercisers say that their sleep quality was very good or fairly good in the past two weeks, compared to slightly more than one-half of non-exercisers. The phrase, ‘sleeping like a baby’ seems apt here since babies play and move around all day and enjoy sound sleep at night.
What could be stopping you from exercising
It is important that we use up the energy that we collect in our body by eating food. When the stored energy is not used up, we tend to feel heavy or unable to experience good sleep.
A widely employed excuse for not exercising or engaging in any physical activity is that we have too many ‘at your door-
step’ and ‘just-a-click-away’ services that don’t require us to spend any physical energy. One of the perils of the 21st century is also the advent of online shopping. Until now, shopping was one thing that required us to step out of our homes and get some movement but with online shopping we seem to be gradually losing this reason too.
Lack of exercise may also be a major contributor to the agony of sleep related illnesses, the commonest one being sleep apnoea. Christopher Kline, PhD, NSF says, “People with sleep apnoea are often overweight and exercise must be part of the treatment. The poll data suggests that the risk of sleep apnoea in exercisers is half that of non-exercisers.”
In another study, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine  has suggested that moderate exercise aids in releasing bodily tension, which in turn, contributes to a drop in body temperature and hence helps people suffering from insomnia fall asleep and stay asleep for a long duration.
And now for the most pertinent question. How does one make time for exercising?
Adding a mere 10 minutes walk to your daily routine can do you significant good and then, slowly, you may raise the time limit as per your convenience.
These 10 minutes can be squeezed in by ditching your cab to your workplace, taking the stairs to your house, or a morning/evening walk—anything that pleases you.
The reward of the effort will be the sweet sleep you get, night after night.
Some practices you can follow for a good sleep
- Eat a light dinner and try to keep a gap of a minimum of two hours between your dinner time and bed time. If you feel hungry, have half a glass of warm milk before sleeping.
- Do not exercise right before your bed time.
- Choose calming colours in your bedroom for the bed sheets, pillow covers and curtains.
- Do not expose yourself to too much light while going to bed; preferably put your phone away from your bed.
- Take a warm shower before you hit the bed, it relaxes your muscles.
- If you are going through a stressful time , remind yourself at bedtime that with a good night’s sleep you can look at issues with a new perspective. As you exhale, release the tensions and worries.
- Create a bedtime routine, go to bed and wake up at a fixed hour.
This was first published in the April 2013 issue of Complete Wellbeing.
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