You turn around in bed… Again. It is nearly 2 am and you still haven’t been able to drift off to Dreamland. Somehow, even though your body and your mind are exhausted, sleep still eludes you. And to make things worse, this is not the first night that you can’t sleep. More like the third week in a row. Or the third month… And it just doesn’t get any better. Do you know what I’m talking about? If you do, you’ve probably tried many cures that promotes sleep, right? But have you tried exercise yet? If not, maybe you should keep on reading this blog post. I will discuss ways to do exercise that promotes sleep.
What is Exercise?
The word exercise can be seen as a verb or as a noun. There are two different meanings that can be ascribed to exercise as a noun: First off, it is what you expect it to be. An activity that requires physical effort from somebody, in order to enhance fitness and overall wellness. Secondly, it refers to an activity that one would carry out for a specific purpose.
When it comes to exercises that promotes sleep, we can use both of the meanings of the noun “exercise”. Think about it. Obviously, when you read the title of the blog post, you thought about physical activity. Some of our readers probably decided that this article is not for them, because they do not do the exercise thing. If you know someone like that, please tell them to come and give this blog post a read. Because lo and behold, I won’t only be talking about the various forms of physical activity that can enhance sleep. We will also take a look at specific things that you can do to increase your chances of falling asleep. As in the second meaning of the noun – an exercise to help you fall asleep. Like breathing, for instance.
What other exercise, apart from physical training possibly promotes sleep?!
Thank you for asking! Hold on to your seats and please don’t judge me (yet). But rather keep an open mind and think critically on what I have to say. To some of you my advice may sound aerie-faerie or rubbish, but bare with me please. If you are not one for physical activity, but you struggle to fall asleep, you should maybe consider doing physical activities. But more on that later. For now, let’s take a look at exercise that promotes sleep, but does not involve any prolonged efforts to make your body move faster than what it feels comfortable with.
Those of you that read my blog posts should know that I talk about breathing a lot. You might grow tired of my constant nagging to check your breathing! But it really helps to calm down and take a couple of deep, regulated breaths. The thing with breathing is that we normally just do it without giving it any thought. However, if you actually sit down and think about how you breathe, it will distract you from all of your other thoughts. So not only does slow breathing help your body to relax, it forces you to think of something else than whatever it is that you stress about. So go ahead and give it a try. You’ll be surprised at how well this breathing exercise promotes sleep:
Sit up straight, relax your shoulders and close your eyes. Breathe in through your nose for three counts. As you breathe in, imagine that the air is filling up your stomach and abdominal area. Allow your stomach to expand as you breath in. Now hold your breath for two to three counts and slowly start exhaling though your mouth. Exhale for four counts and as you start feeling out of breath, compress your abs to push out all of that oxygen that you imagined into your stomach. Repeat this process a couple of times and see if it helps you to relax before bed.
You can do these breathing exercises whenever you feel like it, but for sleep-related purposes, do it once you are in bed and the lights are out.
Honestly man, who imagines themselves to sleep!? I’m pretty sure that is what some of you are thinking, right? Well to answer your question, I do. And there are many other people out there that does the same. Like the US Marines, for instance. Or at least that is what they do according to the Independent, a UK based news agency.
In his book, Relax & Win: Championship Performance in Whatever You Do, Lloyd Winter wrote down a couple of powerful visualization techniques that can help you fall asleep in no time. According to Winter, you should clear your mind when you are preparing to sleep. One of the easiest ways to do that is to imagine something basic. Winter suggests imagining that you are floating on a crystal clear lake while looking at the blue skies above. Just fix that image in your mind and do not think about anything else. There is only you, the water, the canoe you are floating in and the endless azure skies… If that doesn’t work for you, try imagining that you are lying in a black velvet hammock in a pitch black room. Everything is completely dark and you cannot see anything. Focus on this image for as long as you can and…
Did you sleep well..? I guess those visualization techniques work, huh? But seriously, don’t give up on these techniques until you’ve tried it for at least six weeks in a row. According to Winter it takes time to calibrate your mind, but once you got the technique down, you won’t struggle to fall asleep ever again! Who would ever have thought that imagination promotes sleep!?
Now let’s get physical!
You didn’t seriously expect me to not write about physical exercise that promotes sleep, did you? I’m an exercise junky, so of course I’m going to write about it! The long and short of it is that basically every type of physical exercise can help you to sleep better. Thank you for reading, good bye.
I’m joking! Don’t get so worked up! Rather workout! See what I did there? But okay, jokes aside. How and when should you do exercise that promotes sleep? You might think that this is an irrelevant question and that any exercise any time will do the trick. Not to be offensive or anything, but if that is what you think, you are wrong. Sleep experts advise you not to do any form of hard physical training closer than three hours to bedtime. When you do strenuous exercises, your body heats up and it can take up to three hours to cool down again. What does that have to do with sleep, you might wonder? Well when our bodies get ready for sleep, our core temperature slowly cools down. In other words, if you are still hot and bothered from your evening workout, you won’t be able to fall asleep properly.
So whether you are a keen gym bunny or if you prefer aerobic exercise, it is best to get your training done in the morning or in the early afternoon. Try not to do any heavy physical exercise after dinner.
For those of you that do not know, aerobic exercise, or cardio, is when you do something that pushes your heart rate up dramatically. Like jogging, cycling and swimming. It is ideal to do these types of exercises in the early morning. Get your heart pumping and your blood flowing early in the day! Not only will it help you to concentrate better throughout the work day, but it will also help you to sleep better at night. But be warned, one jog around the block or swimming 10 laps tomorrow won’t make you sleep better for the rest of your life. Like with the imaginary exercise that promotes sleep, physical training can take up to six weeks before you really feel a difference in the quality of your sleep.
If you do aerobic exercises, it will increase your overall fitness levels. Which in turn means that your lung capacity will increase and that your blood circulation will be better. With increased lung capacity, you can push the boundaries of the breathing exercise that I described earlier in this blog post. Instead of breathing in for three counts and out for four, breath in for five and out for seven. Try out different variations and see if you sleep better at night.
I honestly do not think that I have to explain what strength training is. The name is pretty much self explanatory. Strength training builds muscles. Interestingly, research has shown that muscle building exercise promotes sleep in the sense that people who does this kind of exercise on a regular basis wakes up less frequently throughout the night than people who foregoes strength training. There are myriads of different kinds of strength training that you can do. Personally I prefer to do body-weight training like pushups, situps, squats, lunges, pullups and so on. But you can also do weights to increase muscle strength!
Once again, if you do this kind of training, try not to do it to close to bedtime. You don’t want your body to be too warm when you get in bed. So try to schedule your workout for after work. Doing it like this allows your body time to cool off after your workout session.
You can do relaxing exercises closer to bedtime, as long as you don’t overdo it. These kinds of exercises are designed to help you calm down, in other words they shouldn’t heat your body up too much. Try some calming yoga poses or languid stretches before going to bed. Do something that is easy on your body. In other words, do something like the tree pose where you stand on one foot and focus on your breathing. Or the mountain pose where both of your feet are planted on the ground. Child’s pose and downward facing dog also helps to relax the body. Alternatively you can just do the classic pre-game stretches that you did at school when you played rugby or hockey or whatever. These stretches just helps your blood to circulate through the body properly and will help your muscles to relax for bedtime.
I hope you learnt something new today and that you are going to try one of the exercises that promotes sleep!
Six weeks from now, let me know if the visualization worked for you! Sweet dreams!