The start of 2021, a new year! Cue all the New Year’s Resolutions! Personally, one of my most frequent resolutions over the years has been to get fit (and judging by how busy the gyms usually are in January, I’m pretty sure I’m not alone).
Maybe this is because we’ve had a tendency to over-indulge during the Christmas period, or maybe it’s just because it’s a new slate (especially this year!). Either way, a high proportion of us dust off our trainers and sweatpants at the beginning of January.
So why, you may be asking, is a sleep consultant talking about exercise? Well, the two are correlated (and being a psychology graduate I love a good correlation!). Without one, the other can often suffer.
If you’re sleep deprived, the last thing you feel like doing is dragging yourself out for a walk, let alone a run or to the gym. And if we’re not getting enough exercise, then our sleep can suffer too. (What we eat is also correlated, but you’ll have to wait until my next blog to find out more about that!).
So let’s think about these two statements a little more.
I’m too tired to exercise
Trying to find the motivation to get off the sofa and actually exercise when we’re bone-numbingly tired takes a HUGE dose of dedication (oh yeah, been there, seen it, not done it!).
But, the irony is, if we dig deep and actually do haul ourselves out the door, the chances are we’ll feel a lot better for it, and most importantly, sleep better that night too (if we’ve done 30 minutes or more of moderate aerobic exercise).
Sometimes, it’s just a case of doing it even if we don’t want to – short term pains for long term gains.
I just don’t have time
I know my biggest hurdle was finding the time to exercise (especially after having kids), even though I knew I should make time. I don’t know about you, but I’m not one of those people who want to set their alarm for 5 am just to get a workout in. So the obvious answer is often to fit it in in the evenings after work or once the kids are in bed.
If this is the only chance you get, then obviously, take it. But, it’s worth bearing in mind that actually exercising too close to bedtime can impact the ease with which we fall asleep.
Although it’s not known precisely why, it’s probably to do with the endorphins (and adrenaline, if it’s been particularly vigorous) produced while exercising as well as the fact it raises our core body temperature (which as we approach bedtime is expecting to lower, hence we often feel chillier when we’re tired).
Of course, this isn’t the case for everyone, but if (like me) it does interfere with your ability to get off to sleep, it’s worth trying to leave an hour or two between finishing your exercise and going to bed. Or even dumbing down your workouts in the evening and enjoying more vigorous exercise at weekends or other days, like weekends, when you can do them earlier in the day.
The best time for exercise? Well, that can be debated, based on your preference and your sensitivity to exercising close to bed, but if you’re going to be doing something outside (walking, running or working with a personal trainer or group exercise in the park) I would always suggest mornings are best. That’s because the daylight outside in the mornings really helps our melatonin production which helps keep our body clock ticking along nicely, helping us feel sleepy at the right time in the evenings.
There’s even been research that suggests regular exercise is as effective as sleeping tablets on quality and quantity of sleep!
Feel good endorphins
If your cause of sleepless nights is in any way due to low mood or anxiety, exercising can really help those too. Those good old endorphins can help to gain clarity. Personally, I’ve always loved jogging or running. It’s always given me the time to either think about things, or, completely forget about them and just think about putting one foot in front of the other and listening to my feet on the tarmac (which personally I find weirdly relaxing).
Getting fit doesn’t have to involve expensive gym memberships (if they’re open where you are at the moment). There’s plenty you can do for free at home. Whether it’s the ‘Couch to 5K’ initiative or a fitness app you can enjoy in the safe confines of your own home with no-one watching, there’s really no time like the present! Go for it!