To sleep well, let’s expend energy!

Sleep hygiene

Sleep is often the first casualty of our busy days. Yet, it is one of the pillars of our well-being. There are many ways to improve it, and, we often overlook it, but exercise can be an excellent facilitator of restful sleep. Let’s take a look at the links between physical activity and sleep to sleep well.

Physical activity serving sleep: moving well to sleep well

The amount of physical activity and exercise practiced during the day is a key ingredient for promoting peaceful and high-quality sleep. The more physically active the body is throughout the day, the greater the likelihood of being able to manage stress, fully relax in the evening, and therefore fall asleep easily. In fact, a 2013 opinion poll conducted in the United States with 1000 participants found that 76 to 83% of respondents reported better sleep quality when they had engaged in physical activity during the day. Additionally, according to a 2011 study involving over 3000 individuals aged 18 to 85, engaging in 150 minutes of exercise per week would alleviate drowsiness for 65% of them.

By regularly exercising, we improve our capacity to utilize oxygen, and when we breathe better, we sleep better. Regular physical activity also conditions the heart. The daily heart rate slows down, blood circulation is facilitated, and blood pressure decreases. This adaptation allows the body to rest more effectively. Sleep becomes deeper, and the transition between sleep cycles and phases becomes smoother and more regular.

Furthermore, physical activity triggers a significant release of endorphins by our brain. Endorphins are neurotransmitters (messengers of our nervous system) that have a structure similar to that of morphine and provide us with a sense of well-being and relaxation.

However, it’s important to avoid intense physical activity in the 2 to 3 hours before bedtime. Intense or prolonged physical activity promotes the secretion of adrenaline, which keeps us awake. Additionally, body temperature rises, which is incompatible with falling asleep. The body also produces cortisol, the stress hormone. Cortisol and melatonin, the sleep hormone, are inversely related.

What activities should I do to sleep well?

In any case, it’s important to adapt physical activity to one’s health condition, as well as to personal preferences, budget, and amount of free time available. If experiencing back pain or joint issues, high-impact practices should be avoided. For those with children, family activities like biking, rollerblading, or hiking can be chosen for the weekend. It’s also worthwhile to inquire about local sports facilities. This might be an opportunity to discover a new sport, especially if it’s easily accessible, which can be highly motivating. If our schedule demands evening activities, it’s advisable to opt for relaxing activities practiced at low intensity and for a short period:

  • Fast walking, moderate-intensity running
  • Yoga, which incorporates breathing techniques and various postures to increase blood flow to the brain, promoting regular and restful sleep patterns
  • Tai Chi, which consists of precise and slow movements. Studies have shown that Tai Chi can help individuals suffering from insomnia by promoting relaxation

If it’s challenging to find enough time for regular physical activity, one can try to incorporate brief moments of physical activity into daily routines, such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator, parking the car further away, or moving the printer farther from the desk at work.

Sleep serving the athlete

If physical activity has a real impact on sleep, it is also true that sleep is of paramount importance for athletes. A lack of sleep or poor sleep quality will naturally result in fatigue and a decrease in motivation, both detrimental to athletic performance as well as overall well-being. Moreover, what is also crucial is that poor sleep quality will compromise the recovery processes: inadequate tissue regeneration, decreased immune and hormonal function, and susceptibility to injuries.

Researchers also suggest that deep sleep improves athletic performance. It is during this stage that growth hormone is released. Growth hormone stimulates muscle growth, repair, bone strengthening, and fat burning. Sleep is also essential in the learning process. Thus, newly acquired skills during training may be less well assimilated if the following nights are short or poor.

We have seen how closely linked sleep and physical activity can be, in both directions. However, let’s not forget that while physical activity is a great ally of our sleep, it should not be the only one. Nutrition, stress management, sleep environment, are all significant avenues for improving sleep.

By Ella Ödman, nutritionist specializing in micronutrition, Efficium center, and Genève Servette Hockey Club