Move more, sleep better!
Exercise and sleep are mutually beneficial, so striking a balance between them is essential. Poor sleep hinders performance by increasing fatigue, decreasing recovery rate, and exacerbating the negative impacts of exercise, such as soreness, inflammation, and overheating. In general, physical activity promotes better sleep by helping your body expend energy, stimulate hormone production, and better regulate its sleep cycle (circadian rhythm).
According to François Bieuzen, a researcher in physiology at the Institut national du sport, de l’expertise et de la performance (INSEP) and an expert in sports recovery, physical activity encourages your body to fall asleep faster and wake up less during the night. It deepens sleep by prolonging the time spent in slow-wave sleep, which is more conducive to effective recovery than REM sleep. This only occurs, however, if you use more than 60% of your maximum oxygen consumption (VO2 max) when you work out, i.e. you have difficulty speaking without being out of breath during exercise. Deep sleep promotes effective recovery, which is necessary for regular physical activity, which in turn promotes deep sleep. It all comes full circle.
Do we need more sleep when we’re more active?
No, you don’t need more sleep simply because you’re exercising. Similarly, more sleep will not improve your physical performance. There is no proven relationship between sleep duration and athletic performance. However, there is a relationship between the duration of slow-wave (deep) sleep and motor learning (new technical movements or tactics). A long nap (90 minutes, i.e. the duration of a deep-sleep cycle) can therefore promote this type of learning.
According to Bieuzen, one of the key indicators of sleep quality is how you feel when you wake up, and throughout the day. If you feel rested and ready to go, chances are your sleep quality is good. Physical activity (much like a hot bath) increases our body temperature, and some research has shown that the subsequent drop in body temperature makes it easier to fall asleep.
In reality, all exercise has a positive effect on sleep. However, some studies have suggested that activities that heavily utilize the respiratory system, such as jogging or tennis, are particularly effective.
What’s your favourite way to stay fit?
Source: Royant-Parola, S. Les troubles du sommeil : Conduite à tenir en pratique médicale courante. Text from a conference given at the first World Federation of Sleep Society conference in Cannes in September 1991: 37.
Biddle, S. J. H., Fox, K. R., Boutcher, S. H., and Faulkner, G. E. (2000). “The way forward for physical activity and the promotion of psychological well-being”. In S. J. H. Biddle, K. R. Fox, and S. H. Boutcher (ed.), Physical activity and psychological well-being (pp. 154–168). London: Routledge.