Sleep Benefits of Exercise


Written by Afy Okoye

Reviewed by Dr. Michael Breus

Our Editorial Process

Table of Contents

You might know about the benefits of exercise for weight management. But did you know that it can also help with sleep? Physical activity can improve a person’s sleep quality and the length of time they stay asleep. Some experts even recommend exercise as a low-cost method to improve sleep. 

We go over the benefits of exercise on sleep, including the ways your fitness habits may be affecting your nighttime sleep.

How Working Out Benefits Your Sleep

Adults who have a physically active lifestyle tend to have better sleep. Exercise improves sleep quality, helps people sleep longer, and increases the ability to perform daytime functions. Staying physically active is linked to other benefits as well, such as stronger bones and a healthier brain.

Moderate levels of physical activity can also affect your body’s sleep stages, circadian rhythm, and nighttime sleep temperature. While researchers are still learning about the exact mechanisms involved, they have uncovered several specific effects that exercise can have on sleep. 

Sleep Duration and Quality

Research shows that moderate to vigorous exercise is associated with improved sleep quality, more deep sleep, and less daytime sleepiness. Additionally, long-term exercise has the potential to increase the total amount of time a person spends sleeping. 

Exercise is also associated with reduced sleep latency, which is the amount of time it takes to fall asleep. Likewise, regular exercise is linked to increased sleep efficiency, the time spent in bed sleeping rather than being awake.

Not every study has demonstrated a relationship between exercise and longer sleep. However, a comprehensive review of research studies showed that, overall, exercise improves both sleep quantity and sleep quality. 

Sleep Disorders

Exercise may reduce the chances of certain sleep disorders or help people manage their effects. For instance, one study found that exercise training improved the symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea

Low physical activity is tied to a higher risk for insomnia. But researchers found that after four months of aerobic exercises, older adults with insomnia have better sleep quality and less daytime sleepiness. Additionally, people who get larger amounts of moderate or vigorous exercise are less likely to use medications to help them get to sleep.

Sleep Stages

Both regular and short-term exercise produce shorter rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and longer non-REM (NREM) sleep. Exercising increases the time spent in slow-wave or deep sleep, the third stage of NREM sleep. This sleep stage helps the body feel refreshed upon waking.

By contrast, another study found that after 12 weeks of consistent exercise, teenagers with obesity had longer REM sleep and spent less time in light sleep. It is not clear whether exercise has the same effect on all teenagers or what role obesity may play in the relationship between exercise and sleep.

Weight Management

Exercising can help people manage their weight. A person’s body composition and size are linked to their sleep quality. People who are overweight are more likely to have poorer sleep quality than those with leaner body composition. However, people with overweight or obesity may notice their sleep quality improve after exercising for 15 weeks.

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Is It Bad to Work Out Before Bed?

The time you work out can play a significant role in your sleep quality. Many experts caution against exercising late in the evening. Exercise can raise your body’s temperature, which may make it harder to go to sleep if you exercise too close to your bedtime. In general, it’s best to avoid working out within two to three hours of your scheduled time for sleep

However, some people may have a natural preference for exercising later in the evening. Research suggests that people with late chronotypes may benefit from either morning or evening workouts.

Chronotype is a person’s natural tendency to go to sleep, stay awake, and behave at certain times within a 24-hour day. Learning your chronotype can provide insights into your biological clock and guide you on the best possible time to schedule various activities like sleep, meals, exercise, and work.

Best Time of Day to Work Out

For most people, the best time to work out is earlier in the day. Regular morning workouts may help you fall asleep faster at night. Scheduling your workouts earlier during the day gives your body plenty of time to calm down from the stimulation. 

When you’re scheduling exercise time, try not to cut into your scheduled sleep time. And people with sleep problems should avoid working out three hours before their usual bedtime.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that adults get 150 minutes of physical activity each week. Exercising for five days a week for at least 30 minutes is enough to meet this recommendation. While even working out for just 10 minutes a day can be helpful, longer workouts are associated with better-quality sleep. 

Studies have found that exerting greater levels of physical effort during workouts could lead to more deep sleep without disrupting sleep quality. However, be careful not to push yourself too hard. Overexerting yourself at the gym and not giving yourself time to recover may actually reduce your sleep quantity and quality. 

Make sure you are comfortable doing moderate-intensity workouts before proceeding to vigorous-intensity workouts. Take time to rest and recover after workouts, and speak with a health professional if you have concerns about how much exercise is safe for you. 

Types of Exercises

Strategies to increase your activity levels include going to the gym, taking walks, hiking, and playing sports. If you struggle to find time for exercise, consider being more active during the day by using the stairs and moving around more. People who sit for less than eight hours a day report having better sleep.

Just a single workout of moderate to high intensity can promote better sleep quality. But habitual exercise and daily activity may produce the best results.

  • Cardio: Aerobic exercise is any physical activity that increases your heart rate, including walking, running, swimming, and playing sports like basketball and tennis. Long-term aerobic exercise may improve sleep problems and promote healthier sleep patterns.
  • Resistance training: Muscle-strengthening exercises are known to improve sleep quality. Resistance training can include lifting weights, using resistance bands, completing push-ups, or even doing heavy yard work. 
  • Mind-body exercise: Some data suggests that yoga, tai chi, qigong, and similar exercises may improve sleep for people with insomnia and other conditions such as Parkinson’s disease.

About The Author

Afy Okoye

Staff Writer, Sleep Health

Afy is a writer and creative strategist in San Francisco with a master’s degree in international health policy from the London School of Economics. She has written for VeryWell Health,, and Paste magazine and edited peer-reviewed journal manuscripts for Elsevier. Afy says her work with The Sleep Doctor is anything but “sleepy.” She enjoys the opportunity to learn new information and share knowledge that gives people the power to make better choices. Afy also likes to read non-fiction, do creative writing, and travel solo.

  • POSITION: Side Sleeper
  • TEMPERATURE: Hot Sleeper

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