Strength & Conditioning

Exercise for a Good Night’s Sleep: Unlock A Better Night’s Rest

Exercise and the importance of Sleep

It’s a commonly held belief that exercise, whether that be weightlifting or cardiovascular training such as running, can aid with better quality sleep.  In this article we will look at the benefits of working out prior to bedtime and any potential disadvantages and also whether deep sleep can impact muscle growth.

Both resistance training and aerobic workouts, no matter what time of day, can help to promote deeper sleep post exercise.  Furthermore, it can help to reduce the symptoms of insomnia and sleep apnoea and reduces the likelihood of developing such sleep disorders.

Many health organisations suggest that an average adult should be getting around seven to nine hours of sleep per night.  However, it’s not uncommon for people to suffer from broken sleep or insomnia which can have an impact on sleep quality.  Not only will poor sleep quality lead to tiredness and irritability during the daytime, it can have an impact on muscle growth and recovery.

Does Sleep Affect Muscle Growth?

If a person usually sleeps well and trains regularly but happens to have one night of poor-quality sleep, it has been shown that their weightlifting performance the very next day has not suffered.  Further tests were carried out to determine if lifting performance was hindered with restricted sleep for three consecutive nights.   This did in fact highlight that each day the amount that a person could lift decreased.

This shows that a person who suffers from a sleep condition such as insomnia, may indeed notice their strength gains are significantly limited thereby suppressing their ability to gain muscle.  What’s more, a further consequence of little sleep is that the production of growth hormone (hGH) is diminished.

Growth hormone is released by the pituitary gland and its main function is to maintain the metabolism and help to keep bones and muscle tissue healthy.  Your brain releases most growth hormone during REM sleep (rapid eye movement), this is the deepest phase of sleep for a person.  This growth hormone will not only help to prevent the gaining of excess bodyfat by stoking the metabolism, but it’s crucial for repairing, and subsequently growing, the muscles post training.

Long periods of poor-quality sleep will have a significantly detrimental effect on your ability to gain muscle and burn bodyfat.  For men, this will also mean a decrease in the production of testosterone which further compounds the issues stated.  For women, levels of progesterone and estrogen can be thrown off balance, this may result in unwanted increases in bodyfat.

An additional negative side effect of being sleep deprived, is the increase in cortisol.  Simply put, cortisol is the stress hormone and is catabolic.  This means it will further inhibit any potential for muscle growth and strength gains.

Ultimately, sleep is when your body goes into restoration mode and repairs over worked muscles allowing them to build back bigger and stronger.  One thing to note, is that whilst most people benefit from an average of eight hours of sleep per night to be at their best, there will also be those who can function perfectly well on less sleep, so sleep durations will vary from person to person.

If your diet and training is on point but you aren’t seeing the results you desire, check your sleeping patterns as this could be a factor holding you back.

What Type Of Exercise Is Best To Help You Sleep?

There is not a specific type of exercise that will bring about the effects of sleep.  Any exercise, whether strength training or cardiovascular, will help to increase body temperature.  This, combined with darkening skies, encourages production of melatonin, signalling the body that it’s almost time for bed.

Furthermore, when you workout you burn more energy.  When your body becomes low on energy, it will naturally begin to produce more adenosine.  Adenosine is a compound found in the body that builds up throughout the day and causes a person to become drowsy closer to bedtime.

Adenosine levels in the body will begin to drop as we sleep.  However, on occasion, a person may wake feeling quite groggy and this is likely because the adenosine levels remain fairly elevated upon waking.

The cause of this could be caffeine.  Caffeine is known to suppress the production of adenosine.  Once that caffeine has worn off, the production of adenosine starts back up but invariably builds up to such a degree that during sleep, it cannot get rid of it leading to that ‘foggy head’ feeling the next morning.

Consequently, the advantages of any exercise that will burn energy and increase body temperature will stimulate the body to produce the right hormones vital for good sleep.  It’s also important to keep an eye on how much caffeine is consumed during the daytime.

Can Too Much Exercise Cause Insomnia?

Evidence has shown that people who suffer from insomnia can actually benefit from exercise prior to sleep, helping them to fall asleep quicker and stay sleeping for longer.  Often, anxiety and depression can accompany insomnia, but exercise can alleviate these symptoms further promoting better quality sleep.

What was shown, specifically for sufferers of insomnia, is that moderate aerobic exercise is more beneficial in helping the person to sustain better quality sleep.  However, if a person undertakes a particularly strenuous workout such as lifting extremely heavy weights, this could have the opposite effect.  This is because a heavy strength training workout can activate the stress responses and trigger cortisol.  High cortisol levels close to bedtime can prevent you from falling asleep.

An additional factor that may be causing those restless nights, could simply be put down to age.  As we become older, the signals of the circadian rhythm naturally begin to slow down.

The circadian rhythm is like a clock for the brain and helps a person regulate their sleep and wakeful cycles.  Others who may suffer from a disrupted circadian rhythm are those who work shifts, such as day and night shifts.  A circadian rhythm that is out of whack can cause sleep disorders such as insomnia.

When Is The Best Time To Exercise For Better Sleep?

By exercising earlier on in the day will help to promote wakefulness.  This is often why people report feeling much more energetic throughout the day after a morning workout.  That being said, you will be at your strongest around mid-afternoon.  So, if you concentrate on predominantly strength-based training you may wish to time this to maximise the benefits to your workouts.

It’s a commonly held belief that working out close to bedtime can have a detrimental effect on your sleep.  This is because it’s incorrectly assumed that energy levels increase thereby not allowing the body to properly wind down.However, studies have shown that approximately half an hour of exercise a couple of hours prior to sleep, whilst leads to slightly elevated heart rate, had no effect on sleep quality.

What does happen, is that the core temperature of the body elevates during exercise and then begins to drop, post exercise.  This is what happens naturally during sleep and consequently, encourages better sleep patterns.

So to sum up, there are no major advantages to specific times of working out.  Instead, the important thing is to simply fit in training wherever and whenever you can to reap the benefits to your sleep.


When it comes to the advantages of good sleep and exercise, each offers benefits to the other.By incorporating regular exercise into your day, you’ll find you sleep better and thanks to the better quality sleep, you will suppress stress hormones helping you to build lean muscle and keep unwanted fat gain at bay.

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