Exercise Improves Sleep

May 4, 2020

Sleep – it’s great, right? Everyone loves those nights when you get a solid 8 hours of decent sleep and I feel fairly confident in saying no one loves those nights where you toss and turn or just straight-up cannot sleep. Sleep is one of those things we know we know we need but most people don’t really understand how important it is. Sleep is something greatly appreciated and sought after by some, but by others, it is seen as an inconvenience. Considering we spend about a third of our lives asleep, it is important to understand the basics and how sleep quality can affect our health.

What is sleep?

Sleep is considered a behavioural state but there is still a lot of speculation as to what science occurs in our brain and our body when we do sleep. We do know that sleep is broken into two broad categories, both of which we experience multiple times through the night.

1. REM = rapid eye movement (more dreaming and body movement)

2. Non-REM = which includes light sleep and slow-wave sleep, where we move into a deeper sleep


So, what happens when we sleep?

When we’re asleep, our body restores, or heals, allowing us to conserve energy and improve brain function. Some genes that are associated with restoration and metabolic pathways (chemical processes in cells) that restore our body’s health, are only switched on while we sleep. Sleep also promotes the formation of memory and learning. This is thought to occur in the deeper stages of sleep, which is why quality is important!

How much sleep do I need?

Quality is just as important as quantity. The National Sleep Foundation has recommended the following in terms of appropriate sleep duration for varying age groups.


NEWBORNS (0-3 months) – 14-17

INFANTS (4-11 months) – 12-15

TODDLERS (1-2) – 11-14

PRE-SCHOOLERS (3-5) – 10-13

SCHOOL-AGE (6-13) – 9-11

TEENAGERS (14-17) – 8-10

YOUNGER ADULTS (18-25) – 7-9

ADULTS (26-64) – 7-9

OLDER ADULTS (65+) – 7-8

How does exercise help?

It has been shown that exercise can increase the quality of your sleep. There is some speculation on the best time of day to exercise however studies have shown that exercise promotes increased sleep efficiency and duration, regardless of the type and intensity of the exercise (Kline, C. E., 2017). The improvements are particularly prominent in relation to those with chronic conditions (Archer, T., 2018).

So, how much exercise should you be doing to improve your sleep?

Some people have different exercise tolerances and capacity. The recommended guidelines for exercise each week are:

Aerobic – accumulating 150-300 minutes of moderate intensity (intensity where you could talk to someone next to you but not break out into song)

Strength – two sessions per week working large muscle groups such as legs (sit to stands, lunges), arms (push ups, tricep dips) or core (crunches, plank).

Does this sound overwhelming or unachievable? Please do not stress! We want to emphasise the importance of just moving and starting somewhere. Here are some tips:

  • Break down 30 minutes to two 15-minute walks – in the morning and then again in the afternoon
  • Add in some strength exercises along your walk
  • Increase your distance or intensity when you feel more comfortable

Not sure where to start? Feel free to ask us! Bodyfit have Exercise Physiologists. Not sure what an Exercise Physiologist does? Well, they use evidence-based exercise interventions and movement, as well as education, to improve health and well-being in anyone! Whether you need some help getting started, chronic disease management or prevention, injuries, pain, or weight management, we are here to help.

J. Millar (AEP)



Kline, C. E. 2017. The bidirectional relationship between exercise and sleep; American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine.

Archer, T. 2018. Sleep benefits of physical exercise, University of Sweden, Department of Psychology.