One of the tenants of improving sleep quality (regardless of whether a person suffers from a sleep disorder like sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome) is observance of proper sleep hygiene (or, what many sleep clinicians and sleep medicine specialists refer to as 'grandma's advice'). Sleep hygiene includes such common sense items as avoiding caffeine after lunch and turning off smart phones and electronics before sleep. Avoiding strenuous exercise or working out in the evening has been a hallmark of sleep hygiene counseling, and recent studies are suggesting that this may not be entirely accurate for all people.
Exercise Improves Sleep Quality
It's known that healthy weight and regular exercise can improve sleep (and exercise can be particularly helpful for patients suffering from restless leg syndrome). However, it's been a commonly-held belief that increased physical activity in the evening stimulated adrenaline and hormone release that impacted sleep. Prominent physical trainers and fitness experts have always cautioned their clients on late-evening work-outs.
But two studies in 2014 suggest this may not be true for all people. A Swiss study evaluating sleep patterns in young, healthy men found that strenuous exercise did not negatively impact their sleep. Sleep medicine specialists and experts evaluated a 2013 National Sleep Foundation phone poll and found similar results in Americans whose sleep improved due to evening exercise.
Improving Sleep and Daytime Health with Proper Sleep Hygiene
At SleepSomatics, we counsel our patients in avoiding strenuous or stimulating physical or mental activities in the hours prior to sleep. These two recent studies are unlikely to change those recommendations. The American study is an analysis of self-reported perceptions by telephone poll, which itself is problematic to draw conclusions from (given that a recent Gallup poll found that more than 55% of Americans self-reported being normal weight despite 66% being overweight or obese). The Swiss study sampled the sleep of physically-active young people with an average age of 19 for one night in, once again, a self-reported study.
Attitudinal adjustment toward evening exercise and sleep hygiene requires polysomnography (or an in-lab sleep study). Only an in-lab sleep study can accurately evaluate neurological sleep architecture, sleep onset (or latency), and quantify indices of restorative sleep (delta or SWS slow-wave sleep and REM or rapid eye movement sleep). A patient's perception of when he or she falls asleep and how deep and restorative that sleep is can vary widely from what we can neurologically quantify in an in-lab sleep study.
Choosing Between Exercise in the Morning or Evening
This is not to say that avoiding exercise is a good idea. Some exercise is better than no exercise at all. It's a question of whether one should avoid weightlifting and high intensity interval training or aerobics in favor of low intensity cardiovascular activity (like brisk walking). For most busy adults, the evenings are the only time available to exercise. If insomnia is a primary complaint, however, and one wishes to improve one's sleep quality, avoiding strenuous physical activity and heavy exercise in the evenings is still likely beneficial.
Concerned you aren't getting enough sleep? If you or someone you care about snores or is tired and fatigued during the day, sleep-disordered breathing (and sleep apnea) may be a serious risk. Get your sleep tested today by SleepSomatics, a professionally credentialed and accredited sleep test center located in Austin since 1999. Call 512.323.9253.
This blog's thumbnail image credit goes to Epic Every Rep Blog.