A Sleep Doctor's No. 1 Tip For Great Rest Every Night

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The holiday season is the most anticipated time of the year. It’s a time to be surrounded by loved ones, participate in festive traditions, and eat delicious food, often to excess. The season is also a time when many struggle to get enough sleep. The heightened excitement and anxiety of the holidays can elevate sleeping difficulties, especially for people who already wrestle with insomnia or other sleep disorders. As a board-certified sleep specialist, I could share a copious amount of advice to enhance your sleep; however, if you choose only one thing to improve, make it getting 30 minutes of aerobic exercise.

Exercise will completely transform your sleep.

There’s a noticeable difference in my sleep on the days I exercise versus the days I don’t. I get a deeper, more restful sleep and feel rejuvenated to tackle the challenges of the day. In fact, exercise has been shown to improve sleep quality, increase sleep duration, reduce stress and anxiety, and help insomnia and other sleep disorders. Physical activity increases the time spent in deep sleep—the most physically restorative sleep phase—which helps boost immune function, support cardiac health, and control stress and anxiety. Because you’re expending energy when you exercise, it helps you feel more tired and ready for bed at the end of your day.

Working out helps your body establish a rhythm.

The National Institutes of Health and the American Heart Association recommend adults get at least 150 minutes of exercise a week. That averages to 30 minutes a day, five days a week. Having a disciplined exercise routine is the best way to maintain consistently positive sleep experiences because it helps your body establish a rhythm. This has also been shown to help reduce stress and anxiety as the body releases anti-anxiety hormones during physical activity. Mind-body exercises such as yoga can also help lower cortisol levels and reduce blood pressure, which contributes to lower stress and better sleep.

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Evening workouts aren't the right choice for everyone.

There’s a common misconception that exercising in the afternoon can hinder restful sleep. In actuality, there’s evidence this varies from person to person. If afternoon workouts are more convenient for your schedule or preferences, just monitor your sleep and find what works for you. I recommend using a sleep tracker like the SleepScore Max to provide you with accurate sleep data. Devices like these measure the quality and quantity of sleep to provide users with a score out of 100, and gives expert advice to improve overall sleep. Be aware that exercising too close to bedtime may interfere with sleep. Your core temperature drops as your body prepares itself for bed, and this contributes to feelings of drowsiness. By exercising close to bedtime, you spike your body temperature, which can sometimes keep you awake and alert. It’s best to only participate in light exercises like relaxed yoga or an easy stroll three hours before bedtime.

Beware, overtraining will hinder your sleep.

A balanced lifestyle with a good exercise routine does wonders for your sleep. "Balance" being the keyword there, because too much exercise can be problematic to your restful night and may lead to insomnia and other sleep ailments. That said, don’t get sucked into believing you don’t have enough time to exercise to improve your sleep health. You don’t have to have a gym membership or participate in high-intensity workouts to improve your slumber. Although 30 minutes of exercise is ideal, even a simple 10-minute walk on a regular basis is enough to increase the quality of your nighttime sleep. When you make sleep and exercise a priority, you'll have more energy to tackle your day, be more productive, and have a heightened enthusiasm for life.

When it comes to wellness, is sleep, exercise, or mindfulness more important?

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