The Best Exercises for Sleep


Written by Alison Deshong

Reviewed by Dr. Michael Breus

Our Editorial Process

Table of Contents

Overwhelming evidence shows that regular exercise can greatly enhance your physical health. The benefits of exercise also extend to sleep. Exercising helps you get a good night’s sleep by lowering anxiety, promoting relaxation, and adjusting your sleep-wake cycle.

Many types of exercise can improve sleep, including strength training, stretching, yoga, and cardio. If your goals for exercise include getting better sleep, you may want to experiment with several types to learn what is most helpful.


Yoga is an ancient form of exercise that includes elements of meditation, controlled breathing, and physical movement. Research has shown a wide range of health benefits from practicing yoga, including reduced stress levels and better sleep. Practicing yoga can help some people with sleep problems sleep longer and get higher-quality sleep. 

There are several types of yoga. Some forms of yoga focus on building strength and stamina, while others emphasize relaxation and stress relief.

Ashtanga yoga, power yoga, and vinyasa yoga are vigorous and involve moving between challenging poses. Other types, such as integral yoga and kundalini yoga, are more meditative, with a strong focus on breathing. Restorative and yin yoga are less active and focus on holding yoga poses for longer periods of time.


Cardio exercise, also called aerobic exercise, increases the heart rate and blood flow to deliver more oxygen to the muscles. 

Cardio is important for maintaining a healthy heart and overall physical health, but it can also help people sleep better. People who get frequent cardio exercise may sleep longer, get to sleep faster, and feel less sleepy during the day

Experts recommend that adults get moderately intense aerobic exercise for 150 minutes a week or more vigorous aerobic exercise for 75 minutes a week.

Many activities can be classified as aerobic exercise if they get the heart beating faster. Walking, dancing, biking, swimming, playing tennis, and even doing yard work can all be types of cardio. Your doctor can offer advice about the level of cardio that’s most appropriate for you. 

Resistance Exercises

Also called strength training, resistance exercise is a form of physical activity that increases strength. Increasing your strength can help prevent diabetes, lower your blood pressure, build up your muscles, make your bones stronger, and improve your sleep. 

Research demonstrates that resistance training programs can lead to better sleep for adults. Some studies have also shown that a regular program of strength-building exercise can reduce insomnia, decrease nighttime awakenings, and help people sleep longer. 

Resistance training can take many forms. It can be done using just the weight of the body for resistance, as with push-ups, squats, and abdominal crunches. Strength training can also be done with elastic bands that provide resistance. Other options for resistance exercise include weight lifting using dumbbells, barbells, or weight-training machines. 

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Stretching involves moving the body into positions that lengthen muscles and tendons and moving arms and legs across their range of motion. This type of exercise promotes flexibility and muscle relaxation. Stretching is a component of yoga and Pilates, and it may be included in strength training programs as well. 

Studies suggest that stretching regularly may reduce the symptoms of insomnia. Research into exercise practices that incorporate stretching, such as yoga, has also shown significant sleep benefits. 

Of the many different types of stretching exercises, the most common type is called static stretching. In static stretching, a person extends a muscle nearly to its limit until they feel tension, then holds the stretch for 15 to 30 seconds. They may then repeat the stretch several times. 

Other forms of stretching may be described as active or dynamic. In these types of stretches, a person moves their arm or leg from one limit of its range to the other, then repeats the movement a set number of times. 

Breathing Exercises

While many forms of exercise aim to boost physical fitness, breathing exercises are usually done to reduce stress or to help with lung issues, like asthma or COPD. Breathing exercises may promote relaxation at bedtime to help people get to sleep faster. As with stretching, these exercises can be key features of yoga, Pilates, and similar disciplines. 

A number of different techniques can help you focus on your breath and create a sense of calm. Diaphragm breathing involves taking slow, deep breaths that cause the abdomen to move in and out. Experts believe that diaphragm breathing helps the body relax by balancing carbon dioxide and oxygen levels, which may be out of balance when you feel anxious. 

Pranayama, another breathing exercise, is an aspect of yoga. Pranayama techniques include alternate nostril breathing and 4-7-8 breathing. A further breathing technique, called box breathing, involves imagining a box with four sides to help you stay focused on your breath. 

Other Forms of Exercise

Additional types of exercise may also help you get better sleep.

  • Tai chi: This traditional Chinese exercise combines slow, intentional movements with breathing and meditation. Research in older adults shows that tai chi improves sleep length, sleep quality, and the time it takes to fall asleep.
  • High intensity interval training (HIIT): This form of exercise combines quick bursts of high intensity exercise with low intensity exercise or rest periods. Studies have found that HIIT may raise a person’s sleep quality, but not as much as stretching or moderate exercise. 
  • Pilates: This exercise uses repetitive exercises to build strength, increase flexibility, and encourage good posture. Limited research done on Pilates and sleep quality shows the most improvement to be in people under 40 years old. 

The Best Time to Exercise at Night

The impact of evening exercise on sleep and the best time of day to exercise are controversial topics. Some experts recommend against evening exercise because it may make falling asleep more difficult. But most recent studies show that evening exercise benefits sleep and does not interfere with getting high-quality rest. 

Less vigorous forms of activity, such as gentle yoga and breathing exercises, may be beneficial when done close to bedtime. In fact, some yoga programs are designed to help people relax immediately before going to bed. However, many experts suggest avoiding vigorous exercise within one hour or more of bedtime. 

Although exercise at the levels recommended by experts can improve your sleep, you may end up having trouble sleeping if you push yourself too hard for too long. Your doctor can help you design the exercise regimen that will do the most good for your sleep and your overall health.

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About The Author

Alison Deshong

Staff Writer, Product Testing Team

Alison is a health writer with ample experience reading and interpreting academic, peer-reviewed research. Based in San Diego, she is published in the journal PLOS Genetics and the Journal of Biological Chemistry and has been a copywriter for SmartBug media. With a master’s degree in biochemistry from the University of California, Davis, she has nearly a decade of academic research experience in life sciences. She enjoys helping people cut through the noise to understand the bigger picture about sleep and health. Alison likes to stay active with rock climbing, hiking, and walking her dog.

  • POSITION: Stomach Sleeper
  • TEMPERATURE: Neutral Sleeper

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