There are so many benefits to getting enough sleep each night. It boosts your immune system, strengthens and repairs muscles, improves your productivity, and can even give you a mental health boost. Unfortunately, many people struggle with sleep issues or simply don’t get the rest their minds and bodies need.
Some sleep problems can have underlying causes rooted in other physical or mental health issues. For the most part, though, what you do during the day can impact how well you sleep at night. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, moderate aerobic exercise increases the amount of sleep a person gets each night. Even just 30 minutes of exercise during the day can positively impact your sleep.
Incorporating more cardiovascular activity in your life can help you create a positive sleep cycle. The healthier you are, the more sleep you’re likely to get. The more sleep you get, the healthier you’ll be.
So, how can you kick off this cycle? How does cardio really benefit your sleep, as well as your physical and mental health? More importantly, what can you do to start incorporating more of it into your life?
The Benefits of Regular Cardio
When most people think about cardiovascular exercise, the first thing that comes to mind might be losing weight. While cardio is a great way to shed pounds and build lean muscle, there are so many additional benefits – even when it comes to sleeping.
Most importantly, cardio is one of the best ways to prevent heart disease. Your heart benefits from this kind of exercise because it:
- Improves blood flow
- Lowers blood pressure
- Lowers cholesterol
- Reduces the risk of arrhythmia
- Encourages other healthy habits
All of these things can keep your heart from being too strained and overworked. Regular exercise, on top of getting heart screenings every few years, can keep you healthier. There’s no excuse not to get moving or to take care of your heart. You don’t have to run a marathon to get in a good cardio workout. Everything from walking to swimming can give you the activity you need, and even Medicare covers heart screenings every five years. So, be proactive about your heart health.
What does that have to do with better sleep?
A lack of sleep can contribute to heart problems, including heart disease. Poor sleep can cause your heart to function improperly. Ironically, improper heart function can make it harder to sleep. It’s another type of cycle that you don’t want to experience.
How to Incorporate Cardio Into your Life
Cardio can help you fall asleep quickly, but if the idea of exercising every day seems daunting, you’re not going to do it. Thankfully, it doesn’t have to be that way. There are little things you can do each day to get more cardiovascular exercise and a better night’s sleep.
One of the best ways to make the most of the sleep-exercise connection is to work out during the day. Moderate exercise in the morning is often the best way to encourage a good night’s sleep. Try to get moving with activities like:
- Tennis/other active sports
Try different types of cardio to discover what you truly enjoy. You’re more likely to stick to a workout regimen if you actually like it. Taking a dance class or even a group exercise class is a great way to find your motivation and get involved with others on their own health journeys. By working with a trainer or instructor, you’ll also get more information about how to stay healthy and incorporate more cardio into your life.
If you prefer to do something quieter, consider having an “accountability buddy” who can either exercise with you or make sure you’re doing what you’re supposed to each day.
Once you start having fun and enjoying your cardio experience, try incorporating other types of exercise that benefit sleep into your routine, including strength training and yoga. Sticking with an exercise routine often requires mixing things up and keeping them interesting. So, find what works best for you, and don’t be afraid to have fun while you’re getting fit. Enjoying exercise and the way it makes you feel often encourages people to make other healthier choices in their lives, which is another positive factor in your overall sleep health.
Mistakes to Avoid
As you can see, there are countless benefits when it comes to cardio. But, if you’re exercising for better sleep, there are also some crucial mistakes to avoid. One of the biggest mistakes you can make is exercising too late in the day.
Ideally, your body and surroundings should be cooler when you go to sleep so you can get a comfortable night’s rest. Exercising too close to the time you go to bed can increase your body’s core temperature and make it harder to go to sleep. Additionally, exercising can stimulate your brain and provide you with a boost of serotonin and energy. That’s great during the day when you could probably use a little boost. But, it’s not ideal for sleeping.
If you’re struggling to find another time to exercise, consider establishing a better sleep schedule. Wake up at the same time each day and go to bed at the same time each night. This is a healthy habit to get into for better sleep, and you can choose to wake up early enough to work out. If you still can’t seem to find time in the morning to work out, try to exercise at least two hours before you go to sleep, and try some of the following to wind down:
- Try relaxing exercises like yoga or meditation and stretching
- Take a cool shower
- Listen to calming music
- Use essential oils that can put you in a sleep mindset
- Practice deep breathing
Another mistake you can make is working out too aggressively. Yes, hard, strenuous workouts will make you tired. They’ll also burn you out quickly. Not only is it likely that you won’t want to keep exercising, but you could end up hurting yourself. Moderate cardio exercise is good enough and will get you the results you’re looking for.
Whether you want to make healthier lifestyle choices, improve your heart health, get better sleep, or all of the above, cardio is one of the best things you can do. Try to incorporate it into your daily routine as often as possible. Getting exercise at least 3-5 times a week will make it easy to see benefits quickly. The more you’re able to sleep, the better you’ll feel, and you can turn negative health patterns into positive ones.
When patients that were both at risk for heart disease and had sleep apnea were treated with CPAP machines, the patient's nighttime and daytime blood pressure was significantly reduced.
To fully assess the risk of sleep apnea and heart disease, a sleep study should be performed by a sleep specialist to both diagnose the disorder and rule out any other sleep disorders or identify any sleep-related comorbidities.
Most insurance plans cover sleep studies as part of their policies. While sleep studies can be somewhat costly, they pale in comparison to the medical costs of treating heart disease.
If you believe you may have sleep apnea and are concerned about the health risks associated with the disorder, discuss your symptoms with your primary physician and ask if a sleep study is right for you. And if you live in Alaska be sure to ask them about having your study performed at The Alaska Sleep Clinic, or contact us for a free 10-minute phone consultation by clicking the link below.