Sleep And Exercise: 4 Ways Working Out Affects Your Shut-Eye

06/19/2013 08:31 am ET
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Earlier this month, researchers at the annual SLEEP 2013 meeting presented a study showing that having a more physically demanding job can affect how you sleep at night.

It's not that all that activity tuckers workers out: The study found that people with more physical jobs were more likely to sleep fewer than six hours or more than nine hours each night. These opposite scenarios are considered sleep extremes, and both can pose health risks. Too little and too much sleep have both been linked to health problems, including cancer and heart problems.

We got to wondering: If your day job creates these sleep patterns, what does physical activity in general do? Here are some of the biggest ways working out affects your slumber.

Vigorous Exercisers Report The Best Sleep
Between people who consider themselves regular exercisers and those who dub themselves couch potatoes, the regular exercisers report getting better quality shut-eye, according to the 2013 Sleep in America survey from the National Sleep Foundation, even when both groups got the same amount of sleep. The best news was for the non-exercisers, however, since adding even just 10 minutes of exercise may produce a noticeable improvement in sleep quality, poll task force chair Max Hirshkowitz, Ph.D. said in a statement.

Exercise Can Ameliorate Restless Leg Syndrome
Staying active is likely to reduce your risk of developing restless leg syndrome to begin with, according to the Restless Leg Syndrome Foundation, but if you are living with RLS, exercise may help keep symptoms at bay. One small study from 2006 found that a 12-week exercise program significantly improved symptoms in people with RLS. However, don't overdo it. Too intense activity may actually worsen symptoms, Web MD reported.

Exercise In The A.M. May Help You Sleep Through The Night
Not a morning person? Here's a good reason to stop hitting snooze. In one small study, morning workouts led to fewer disruptions in the middle of the night. Twenty adults were asked to try a 30-minute workout routine at 7 a.m., 1 p.m. or 7 p.m., Runner's World reported. On the days their sweat sessions fell before noon, they woke up fewer times overnight.

Exercise May Ward Off Sleep Apnea
In the same Sleep in America survey, the NSF found that non-exercisers were at a greater risk for sleep apnea than even light exercisers. Forty-four percent of non-exercisers are at a moderate risk of the disorder, according to the poll, while only 19 percent of vigorous exercisers had the same risk.

Myth, Busted: Exercising Too Hard Too Close To Bed Can Keep You Up
One of the most common misconceptions about sleep and exercise is that you shouldn't time your workouts too close to bedtime. Yes, those late-night workouts will get your blood pumping and can make you feel alert and energized when you should be winding down. But researchers say exercising at night doesn't actually keep you awake. Most of us don't exercise intensely enough or long enough to counteract the sleep-improving benefits of that workout. Still, experts recommend that people with insomnia keep workouts to at least a couple of hours before it's time to hit the hay.

Do you notice effects of exercise on your slumber? Let us know in the comments!

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