There’s a large body of research suggesting a link between sleep and exercise (namely that working out helps us sleep better), even if we don’t exactly know why. A forthcoming study in the journal Sleep sheds light on the role that physical activity plays in sleep quality, and the results might make you want to get up off the couch. (Check out how a college football coach uses inflatable mattresses in practice to improve his team’s intensity and focus.)
How does exercise benefit sleep?
Researchers at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland tracked 2,649 adults over the course of two weeks, using accelerometers to measure periods of physical activity and sedentary behavior. Subjects were divided into three categories based on their exercise habits: “inactives,” “weekend warriors,” and “regularly actives.” Just over half the participants, who ranged in age from 45-86, were women.
The study found that adults who indicated higher levels of physical activity and lower levels of sedentary behavior slept more efficiently—meaning that while they didn’t necessarily sleep for longer periods, they spent less time in bed lying awake.
Night owls were less likely to be in the active group, though whether their “evening chronotype” was a cause of their sedentary behavior or a result of it, the researchers couldn’t say. In either event, the study drew no links between physical activity and “sleep duration, daytime sleepiness, insomnia, and risk of sleep apnea.” The only thing they concluded for sure is that “high physical activity and low sedentary behavior individuals, even if they do not sleep longer, have higher sleep efficiency and have less frequently an evening chronotype.”
The study covers just a short timeframe, which means it doesn’t track how exercise helps sleep over the long term. Even so, this research indicates that, at the very least, exercise could help you spend less time tossing and turning and more time getting the rest you need. Just don’t work out too close to bedtime—for some people, late-night workouts can make it more difficult to fall asleep. Give yourself at least an hour to cool down after a workout, then see for yourself just how much exercise benefits sleep. (Learn about the sleep benefits of morning workouts.)
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Want to optimize your workouts for sleep? Check out these sleep tips from a pro sports trainer and learn how to choose the best sports mattress for athletes. Plus, find out why Runner’s World named us the best mattress for runners.