The Relationship Between Exercise and Sleep – Matthew Osborn AEP

To optimise our long-term health and quality of life, we all know that exercise and good eating is the cornerstone to a healthy lifestyle.  Numerous studies highlight its benefits for cardiovascular health, weight management, physical function, mood regulation and more. However, another benefit that is commonly overlooked is its impact on our sleep. Sleep, as we know, is vital for our cognitive and physical health. It assists with restorative function, immune function regulation, memory consolidation and much more. Without sufficient quality sleep, this impacts on our physical function, mood, memory, and concentration. Long term sleep deprivation is significantly detrimental.  For those who may struggle with getting good sleep quality, incorporating an exercise routine may be pivotal to improving this-  which can majorly influence our physical and cognitive health. Here are some ways exercise helps with our sleep. 

Circadian Rhythm

Firstly, both strength and aerobic training help regulate the body’s internal clock, known as the circadian rhythm. By exposing ourselves to natural daylight and engaging in physical activity during the day, we reinforce our circadian rhythm, promoting wakefulness during the day and restful sleep at night. Regular exercise also helps reduce levels of stress hormones, such as cortisol, which can interfere with sleep when elevated. Moreover, individuals who engage in regular strength and aerobic training tend to experience deeper and more restorative sleep, characterized by longer periods of slow-wave sleep, which is essential for physical recovery and cognitive function.

Mood, anxiety, and depression

In addition to its direct effects on sleep, strength and aerobic training can also alleviate common sleep disruptors such as anxiety, depression, and chronic pain. Via the release of serotonin, endorphin and dopamine, exercise can help reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, promote relaxation, and enhances mood. All of this contributes to improved sleep quality. Furthermore, exercise can help alleviate pain and discomfort associated with conditions such as arthritis, fibromyalgia, and lower back pain, making it easier to fall  and stay asleep throughout the night.

Build-up of Adenosine

Adenosine is a nucleoside that plays a crucial role in regulating sleep-wake cycles and promoting sleep. Throughout the day, adenosine gradually accumulates in the brain as a byproduct of cellular metabolism and activity. When we participate in exercise, we experience an increase in cellular metabolism as the body generates energy to do work. When Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) (the primary energy currency of cells is broken down) into ADP and AMP, adenosine is produced and released into the extracellular space.  The neural activity involved in coordinating and executing movement also leads to the accumulation of adenosine as a metabolic by- product. Due the build-up of adenosine from exercise or physical activity throughout the day, this leads to the accumulation of sleep pressure, also known as the homeostatic sleep drive. This promotes drowsiness and relaxation, along with the onset of sleep.

It’s crucial to note that the relationship between exercise and sleep is bidirectional. Sleep also influences our ability to engage in exercise effectively. Sleep deprivation (less the 7 hours) can impair physical performance, reduce motivation to exercise, and increase the risk of injury. By prioritizing sleep and ensuring adequate rest each night, we can optimize our strength and aerobic training routines and maximize their benefits for our  health and well-being.