Sourced from Sleep Diplomat: Professor Matt Walker PHD

Matthew Walker is Professor of Neuroscience and Psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, and Founder and Director of the Center for Human Sleep Science. He has been featured on numerous television and radio outlets, including CBS 60 Minutes, National Geographic Channel, NOVA Science, NRP and the BBC.

Dr. Walker’s research examines the impact of sleep on human health and disease. His research examines the impact of sleep on human brain function in healthy and disease populations. To date, he has published over 100 scientific research studies.

Does exercise have an impact on the quantity and quality of your sleep?

The National Sleep Foundation’s annual poll found that individuals who exercised frequently (defined as three times or more a week) reported sleeping with a higher quality than those who exercised less than once a week.  Exercise has also been shown to increase the release of endorphins, which can improve mood and promote feelings of relaxation, both of which can contribute to better sleep.

Exercise has been shown to lead to longer sleep duration in both healthy individuals and those with sleep disorders, and it may also lead to improved sleep efficiency. In addition to these benefits, exercise may also lead to deeper stages of sleep and a decrease in the number of awakenings during the night.

It’s important to note that the relationship between exercise and sleep is not a one-size-fits-all scenario. The intensity, duration, and timing of exercise can all impact its effect on sleep. It’s important to pay attention to your own body and its unique needs when it comes to finding the right balance of exercise and sleep.

Relationship between sleep and exercise.

More specifically, does daytime exercise change the stages and types of sleep? Deep sleep is critical for various functions, so anything that can increase it is desirable. Older adults have an inherently difficult time generating deep non-REM sleep; however, a study showed that the amount can shoot up by 40% following a day with modest exercise. Moreover, it indicated that participants’ cognitive functioning was significantly sharper following that night of exercise-enhanced deep sleep.

Exercise in healthy young adults also stimulates a lush increase in deep non-REM slow brainwave activity, up to 50% in the first part of the night. However, that exercise must be more vigorous to see a consistent, substantive, increase in deep non-REM sleep.

Ultimately, studies teach us that regular exercise has four persistent benefits, 1) improving sleep efficiency, 2) an increase in the amount of sleep achieved, 3) an increase in the speed of falling asleep, and 4) improvement in the quality of sleep experienced.

How the type, intensity, and duration of exercise affect its impact on sleep.

A study of middle-aged adults split its active group into three subgroups: moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, high-intensity aerobic exercise, and moderate-to-intense weight/resistance training. The groups performing aerobic exercise got more beneficial sleep effects, while surprisingly, the greatest improvement was in the moderate rather than the high-intensity group. These findings replicate those from the National Sleep Survey, indicating a Goldilocks syndrome in finding just the right level of exercise to benefit sleep.

Regarding types of exercise, studies show that cycling produces the most robust improvements in deep non-REM sleep. Meanwhile, more mind-body-based exercises provide equal if not greater benefits in sleep quality than traditional forms of physical activity.

Another factor to consider is duration of exercise. Some studies have discovered that more minutes of acute exercise in a single bout produce larger benefits in several sleep metrics, including deep non-REM sleep, the speed of falling asleep, and the amount of sleep overall.

Currently, the reason why exercise promotes better sleep is unknown, but Matt offers several tenable possibilities, including that exercise promotes the release of immune factors and growth hormone. He also suggests a more “out there” explanation in the form of a chemical called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), the release of which is facilitated by exercise, and which is known to increase deep non-REM sleep..

Does the timing of exercise matter when it comes to sleep improvements?

Studies have shown that exercise 3.5 hours before bed boosts sleep by fifteen minutes and significantly reduces the amount of time spent awake at night, while individuals who did weightlifting or resistance training two hours before bed fell asleep in half the time it would normally take and experienced an almost 20% boost in deep non-REM sleep in the first few hours of the night. Evidence shows that exercise before bed will more than likely result in very enviable sleep benefits, so long as it’s done more than an hour before bed (and ideally ninety minutes before).

In addition, it’s been discovered that exercising across different times of day can make a difference to the amount of at least three specific sleep features: REM sleep, light non-REM sleep, and time spent tossing and turning awake at night. First, exercising in the middle part of the day (i.e. three to eight hours before bed) is associated with moderately less REM sleep. Second, morning or evening exercise provides the nice benefit of spending less time in less-restorative, light non-REM sleep. And third, working out in the evening (at least three hours before bedtime) leads to more efficient sleep and less tossing and turning.

Stay tuned for the following blog covering the second half, Sleep And Recovery.

-A message from
Grazia Bizzotto Co-Owner of Sleep On Green

Learn more about our company and products at SleepOnGreen.com.

Call us today at 305-395-3500 or fill out the contact form for any questions.

    Scroll to Top
    Skip to content