Exercise And Sleep - Is There A Connection?

exer and sleep

There is a direct connection between exercise and sleep quality.


Exercise and you’ll sleep better. People often say that, and sometimes it’s seemed to be true for me, but is it? Can it actually be observed? Quantified? Exploited?

I was comparing sleep metric results (using Sleep Cycle) with a friend recently and noticed that it seemed that, on days when I had exercised, my sleep patterns had deeper troughs than days when I didn't. (the deeper the troughs on the graph, the deeper the phase of sleep, and the higher the quality of sleep generally) This seemed to be consistently the case when I looked back through my nearly 800 nights of collected sleep data. I also knew that she exercised rather frequently and had deep troughs in her charts most of the time. The wheels in my mind began to turn…

I hadn't exercised in about ten days at that time, which is rare for me, and had noticed that my sleep charts were consistently not showing very deep sleep. I wondered: could my lack of exercise be connected to my shallower sleep cycle patterns?

I wanted to find out, so I conducted a simple experiment. This took place over a holiday weekend when I had elected to stay home and do some chores, writing, and generally take it easy, so my days preceding the test nights were essentially the same. I already had data for the first night and I spent the second day essentially the same as the first. However, I also went to the gym for about 1/2 hour of weight lifting followed by a 3 mile hike/run. That night, I slept close to the same amount of time as the night before, just over 8 hours with about a 30 minute difference in total time in bed, and very similar scores that are just 4 points apart.

As you can see from the charts below, the second night’s chart (On the right, when I exercised during the day) had MUCH deeper sleep troughs than the prior night, indicating a far deeper and better quality of sleep:


chart exer 1 chart exer 2

You can also see that I fell asleep and descended directly into this very deep sleep cycle where I stayed all night. This is a very optimal sleep pattern and far better than that of the prior night.

Bottom line: Exercise seems to have a very positive impact on sleep. Even given the same conditions and score, after exercise your quality of sleep can be much better than without it. If you think about it, this makes a lot of sense. Our not-so-distant distant ancestors spent their days getting a lot of exercise looking for and hunting food, and came home to sleep at sundown. For thousands of years. All of us have this evolutionary heritage, and it evolved to a point of perfection that got us here today. We were made to exercise during the day, and sleep at night. It’s a simple formula, and it can be exploited to improve our sleep and overall health.

Going forward, I will be monitoring closely how this relationship varies with number of days exercised per week, recovery time allowed, and other factors. Until then, try to get some exercise if you want to sleep better!






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