Chances are, if and when you go to the gym, you’re doing it for your physique. Or so that you can eat an extra slice of pizza for dinner without feeling (all of) the guilt. Either motivation is totally valid. But what you might not be thinking quite as much about when you’re pushing yourself from burpee to burpee is the benefit of exercise that goes way beyond calorie burn: better sleep.
You’re probably not entirely unaware of the link between exercise and sleep, since an afternoon of fast-paced cardio or HIIT is more often than not followed by evening exhaustion; exhaustion that makes finally slipping into bed feel better than ever. When it comes to a more substantial relationship between exercise and sleep quality, though, research has shown that following a regular fitness regimen can ultimately improve how much, and how well, you’re sleeping. But there’s a catch: you have to keep up with your workouts for a while before you start seeing the benefits.
In a 2013 study by the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, 11 women with insomnia were evaluated to see if incorporating exercise into their daily routines had any influence on their sleep patterns. While the exercise – 30 minutes of aerobic exercise 3 times a week – didn’t change how the women slept right away. However, 16 weeks into the study, participants who were exercising regularly had seen a considerable improvement in their sleep time and quality when compared to non-exercising participants, with some getting as much as 1.25 hours more sleep a night.
But the findings of the study were twofold, and proved that in addition to exercise influencing total sleep time in the study’s participants, sleep time ultimately affected how much exercise participants were doing. While shorter sleep times led to shorter workouts, longer, better quality sleep actually made workouts productive, as well. This highlights the never-ending cycle that is the relationship between sleep and exercise: you exercise to sleep well, which helps you exercise more effectively, etcetera, etcetera. Not a bad system.
The key, though, is to be patient. Working out for better sleep is a lot like working out for a beach body, in that sense: you’re not going to get it after one gym session, but it’s totally worth the wait. Plus, you can always reach for a sleep-inducing snack or try some melatonin-boosting tricks to help you doze off in the meantime.