Everyone talks about the importance of good sleep and regular exercise. While we might be aware that sleep and exercise are essential, many of us struggle to build healthy sleep and exercise habits. And this is understandable, given all that we have to deal with in a day. As we juggle responsibilities at work and home, sleep and exercise might frequently take a backseat. Although this might not lead to any harmful effects immediately, a pattern of irregular sleep and exercise can, over time, adversely affect our mental and physical health.
This is why it’s important to understand the many physical and psychological benefits of sleep and exercise. Having this awareness can help us become more motivated to make positive changes in our sleep and exercise habits.
A closer look at sleep
Sleep is an essential biological function that can have profound effects on the way we think, feel and act. Here’s why sleep is important:
Sleep improves productivity and focus
When you don’t sleep well, it prevents your body and brain from functioning adequately throughout the day. This can impact your attention span, performance and ability to make sound decisions. The good news is that a good night’s rest can help boost your energy levels and keep your mind from wandering away from important tasks.
Sleep strengthens your memories
Studies show that people who get enough sleep actually have better memories. When you’re awake, your mind is constantly processing the information it receives from your surroundings – be it the things you see, hear, feel, smell or even touch. During sleep, your brain sorts through this information and creates new mental connections – which then become long-term memories.
Sleep improves immune system functioning
Sleep gives your body the time it needs to rest and recover. It helps the cells of your immune system detect any germs or bacteria that may enter your body. Good sleep also helps your immune system remember these germs so that your body can be prepared to fight them off in the future. Simply put, the better you sleep, the healthier you will be.
Sleep protects your mental health
Excessive amounts of stress, anxiety and even depression can have an adverse impact on sleep quality. In fact, sleep and appetite are most commonly affected when someone is struggling with mental health concerns. On the other hand, sleep is often targeted in clinical interventions for emotional difficulties. This is because improving sleep quality can help restore one’s energy and mood, which then makes deeper therapeutic work much easier to do.
Sleep improves your relationships
It’s no surprise that when you haven’t slept well, you’re more likely to be grumpy and annoyed. This can affect the way you interact with others and can eventually harm your relationships with them. Getting adequate sleep can ensure that you’re in a balanced headspace throughout the day. Good sleep can also make you more tolerant of roadblocks and challenges that you face in the day.
Strategies to sleep better
Want to know how to sleep better? Here are some things that might help:
Identify your sleep needs: Most adults require 7 to 9 hours of sleep each day. Be aware of how much sleep you are getting at the moment and identify what amount of sleep helps you feel refreshed the next morning.
Maintain a sleep schedule: Consistency is key in developing any habit. Sleep and wake up at the same time each day, even on the weekends. Having a set schedule will make it easier to fall asleep on time and get good sleep every day.
Have a bedtime routine: Create a pre-sleep ritual that consists of engaging in activities that can prepare your mind and body for sleep. You could try relaxing activities such as taking a warm bath, reading, meditating, listening to music or drinking warm milk.
Steer clear of substances: Certain substances can make you feel alert and can thus interfere with your ability to fall asleep. Have your last cup of coffee/caffeinated drink 4-5 hours before bedtime. Keep a similar buffer for alcoholic beverages. If you smoke, ensure your last cigarette is at least 3 hours before bedtime.
Maintain the sleep-bed connect: Avoid using your bed for anything other than sleep. If you want to watch TV, sit in the hall or in another room and then come back to bed to sleep. This will help your mind learn an association between your bed and sleeping.
Log your sleep: Maintain a sleep diary to keep a track of what’s interfering with your sleep or even to understand what’s helping you sleep better. Document the time you went to sleep and the time you woke up. Make a note of what you did before bed and also note if you woke up in the middle of the night.
Now that we’ve covered sleep, let’s focus on a far more difficult habit to develop – that of exercise.
A closer look at exercise
Exercise has the potential to not only make you physically fit, but also improve your mental health. Exercising for even 10 to 15 minutes each day can have a huge impact on your overall well-being.
Exercise can keep your bones healthy
When you remain inactive for long periods of time, your bones end up becoming weak and brittle. This can make you more susceptible to conditions like Osteoporosis as you age. On the other hand, staying active promotes bone growth; regular exercise can protect you from joint pain and even dislocations.
Exercise protects the heart
Research shows that a sedentary lifestyle – one that involves little to no physical activity – can put you at a high risk of getting a heart disease. But this can be combated with even 30 minutes of low-to-moderate intensity exercises each day. Similar to how exercise benefits your muscles, it prompts your heart to become more efficient in pumping blood throughout the body.
Exercise improves your mood
Prolonged inactivity has been linked to poor mental health. On the other hand, staying active can help suppress chemicals in your brain that are linked to the experience of low mood and depression. Moreover, exercise releases feel-good endorphins in the body that can lead you to feel happier and more confident in yourself.
Exercise improves your memory
Not exercising for an extended period of time can negatively impact your memory. Research suggests that when you don’t exercise, it can decrease blood flow to a region in your brain known as the hippocampus. This region plays a critical role in the formation and storage of new memories. So if you want to improve performance at work or school, ensure that you make time for regular exercise!
Exercise improves sleep quality
Exercise can help you sleep better, as it reduces stress levels and tires your body out. Research shows that exercising early in the morning or in the afternoon can reset your sleep-wake cycle. This is because when you exercise, your body temperature slightly increases. When, later in the day, your body temperature goes back to normal, you might experience drowsiness. This, essentially, makes you fall asleep faster at night.
How to make exercise a part of your life
When it comes to which type of exercise works best, it simply depends on what suits you the most. Just because your friend goes to the gym or does pilates each day doesn’t mean that you have to follow the same. It’s important to find what works for you so that you can stay consistent with your exercise routine.
If you’re struggling to incorporate exercise into your day, here are some tips to make this easier for you:
Decide on a time: Try to work out at the same time each day. You could exercise in the morning, afternoon or even in the evening – but find a time that works for you. Make sure you don’t workout too close to bedtime as this can make you feel energised and alert, thus interfering with sleep.
Prepare yourself mentally: Prime your mind for exercise with a few simple tricks. Select your workout clothes the night before, and keep your shoes out and ready. These can act as a reminder for you to exercise and can help you feel motivated to start.
Bring variety: Try out different workout routines. The best part about exercising is that there’s a lot of options to work with. Whether that’s dancing, yoga, high-intensity training or lifting weights – exploring different types of exercises will keep things interesting.
Take breaks: Make sure to have rest days. When you rest, you give your muscles the time to recover. Think of rest days as a reward you are giving to yourself for consistently working hard throughout the week.
Log your workouts: Keep an exercise journal to track your progress. You can even note down small accomplishments so you feel encouraged to keep moving forward.
Building healthy habits requires effort, time and patience. But the good news is that even small changes can make a huge difference over time. Think of a few small changes you can make in order to sleep better and exercise more regularly. Stay consistent, but remember that it’s okay to take your time and to even falter once in a while.
Exercise helps your heart. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://wa.kaiserpermanente.org/healthAndWellness?item=/common/healthAndWellness/conditions/heartDisease/exerciseBenefit.html
Goldman, C. (2017, July 24). 10 Things That Happen to Your Body When You Stop Exercising. Retrieved from https://www.cheatsheet.com/health-fitness/things-that-happen-to-your-body-when-you-stop-exercising.html/
Harvard Health Publishing. (n.d.). Sleep and mental health. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/Sleep-and-mental-health
McQuitty, L., Katelynn, McQuitty, L., & Ricki. (2019, March 27). 5 BRILLIANT ways to build exercise into your daily life. Retrieved from https://www.mumsmakelists.com/build-exercise-into-daily-life/
Physical Activity and Sleep Quality. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/how-exercise-impacts-sleep-quality
Sleep Deprivation and Deficiency. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/sleep-deprivation-and-deficiency
Sleep, Learning, and Memory. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/healthy/matters/benefits-of-sleep/learning-memory
The Mental Health Benefits of Exercise. (2020, April 29). Retrieved from https://www.helpguide.org/articles/healthy-living/the-mental-health-benefits-of-exercise.htm
Why is physical activity so important for health and wellbeing? (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/fitness/fitness-basics/why-is-physical-activity-so-important-for-health-and-wellbeing
(n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.bupa.co.uk/newsroom/ourviews/nine-benefits-good-night-sleep