Working Out And Sleep

Is it normal to sleep a lot after working out?

A lot of people wonder if it’s normal to sleep a lot more after working out. And yeah, it’s totally normal to sleep a bit more. Here’s what’s happening.

Once you fall asleep, your body temperature dips down and your anabolic hormones shoot up (anabolic means “building up”). And so the body begins to repair and build itself back up after a whole day of stress. (study)

So sleep, in other words, is an essential part of recovering from whatever you faced during the day.

And if you’re working out like running or lifting weights? Both of those things stress your body—in a good way—and now your body will need to recover from that.


Working out = better sleep?

In this survey published in 1988, it found that those who exercised:

  • had an easier time falling asleep
  • had a better deepness of sleep
  • a better sense of wellbeing
  • felt more alert in the morning

And in this study, it found that both men and women who exercised at least once a week had a much lower chance of having sleep problems.

And in this 2015 meta-analysis of 66 studies (review), it found much of the same results. Researchers said that the data showed that exercise makes people fall asleep quicker, spend less time in bed awake, allows them to sleep enough, and have better “sleep quality” which is the ability to stay asleep.

So, all in all, working out should make you sleep better.

But will that make you sleep more? It’s definitely possible—especially if you were getting less than 7 hours of sleep at night.

There is a tipping point, of course

Keep in mind that while working out helps you sleep better, an absurd amount of physical stress will disrupt your sleep.

In this study, they found that the night after running an ultra-triathlon, athlete’s spent a lot more of the night awake and had worse REM sleep. Just to understand how much physical stress that is, an ultra-triathlon is about 4 km of swimming, 180 km of cycling, and then a full 42 km marathon of running!


How much sleep do you need?

Want to be healthy? You’ll need at least 7–9 hours of sleep every night (joint position from two leading sleep institutions). In that paper, they also wrote that young adults might need even more sleep than 9 hours.

A man decides…

he wants to get enough sleep to feel his best and optimize his health and strength. He chooses to be “moderate” and to aim for 8 hours of sleep.

He needs to be up at 6:30 am to get ready for work. He looks at his wake-up time and begins to work backward. He knows it’ll take 15–20 minutes to fall asleep, and in the morning he likes to laze in bed for a few minutes before getting up.

So he gives himself 30 minutes of buffer time for falling asleep and rousing in the morning. He knows that to get enough sleep, he’ll need to be in bed by 10:00 pm.

He knows it’s easy for him to forget about how late it is, and because he’s trying to start a new habit, he sets a daily alarm on his phone that goes off at 9:45 pm to remind him to head to bed.

What could you do to make sure you get to bed early enough to sleep enough?


What you’re eating can also affect your sleep

Most people who start working out also start improving their diet at the same time, so it could be a combination of the exercise and what you’re eating that’s making you sleep longer and better.

In this study, kids who supplemented with DHA, something in fish and fish oil, slept better (study). And in this 2011 study, adults who supplemented with DHA or ate more fish had less sleep apnea.

And in these studies, they found that those who ate protein more regularly had better and more normal sleep. (study, study)


Summary

  • Research seems to point to working out helping people:
    • fall asleep easier and faster
    • spend less time awake while in bed
    • sleep more deeply
    • have a better sense of wellbeing
    • feel more alert in the morning
    • allows them to stay asleep long enough to get into the healthy amount of sleep they need
  • Most people will need 7-9 hours of sleep every night to be optimally healthy
  • Eating real food that contain a variety of micronutrients and getting enough protein should also help with getting better sleep

Want to learn more about sleep? Check out our article on the nine reasons why you should try getting better sleep (a couple of points being that you’ll look better and your body will be more fat-resistant.)

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