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The One Thing You Need to do For a Better Night’s Sleep, According to Experts

A sleep doctor and fitness expert discuss the important correlation between sleep and exercise

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In 1998, the National Sleep Foundation launched Sleep Awareness Week as a way to encourage the prioritization of sleep and to highlight sleep’s ability to improve our overall health. This year, Sleep Awareness Week starts Monday, March 14, and although the quality of sleep can be affected by a number of factors, according to Dr. Michael Breus, there’s one thing in particular that we can all do to improve our nightly rest. 

“Exercise is the easiest way to improve sleep quality,” says Dr. Breus, sleep doctor for Hästens.

Although exercise junkies may already capitalize on this supplemental benefit to their daily workout, Dr. Breus explains the nuances of the symbiotic relationship further, saying: “There is also data to suggest that more sleep makes exercise seem easier. Data on perceived exertion shows that when sleep deprived our workouts feel longer, harder and more exhausting.” Basically, when we sleep more, we exercise better and when we exercise more we sleep better.

So what exercises should we be doing to reap the full rewards? Dr. Breus says, like anything, it’s personal. He suggests trying different activities to see what works best for you, noting his personal choice of running. 

For those who aren’t keen on a strictly cardio routine, Darcy Krinsky, owner of Higher Ground Fitness, highlights the Lagree method workout; high intensity, low impact training that combines resistance training and cardio on a Megaformer. 

“Lagree requires a strong mind-body connection as you find balance and stability on the moving carriage [of the Megaformer]. This level of mindfulness quiets the nervous system, which in turn helps you fall asleep faster and reduces anxiety,” says Krinsky. She also says that the spring-loaded resistance training creates optimal muscle exhaustion, which allows your body to arrive in the deep sleep, REM phase sooner and longer, promoting cardiac health and recovery. 

Dr. Breus adds, “Exercise helps the body get more stage 3/4 sleep (also called beauty sleep) as the body now requires it from the exertion of previous exercise; this is where growth hormone is emitted and true cellular repair begins.” 

There is an exception to the rule though: Dr. Breus warns against exercising too close to bedtime, he says no more than four hours before your head hits the pillow. Why? Exercise raises your core body temperature. “Sleep follows a descending core body temperature; if you exercise and raise your core body temperature, it’s going to take twice as long to cool down for sleep,” says Dr. Breus. 

Regardless of your go-to exercise, as with any routine, Krinsky reminds us that overall health isn’t determined in one day or by one thing. “Just like eating right and making time for workouts requires commitment, so does getting enough sleep,” she says. 

This also applies to recovery time in between workouts. Krinsky says for a workout like Lagree, beginners should take one or two classes a week (of 45 minute duration); as you get stronger, your body will take less time to recover. However, Darcy emphasizes, “the goal is never out-work the need for rest” because rest and sleep are the times when your muscles reap the benefits of your workout and when your body can enter full recovery mode. “This allows your muscles and your organs to slow down and regain strength,” says Krinsky. 

Dr. Breus concludes by succinctly and simply tying the two together: “Sleep is recovery. When you exercise you give the body something to recover from.”  

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