Morning Exercise May Help You Sleep
Even stretching can help with sleep problems
WebMD News Archive
Nov. 4, 2003 -- If insomnia is giving you fits, exercise will help --
especially morning exercise. In fact, an hour of stretching and walking daily
can help relieve many sleep problems.
Women are plagued more by sleep problems, especially women who are
overweight and who don't take hormones after menopause begins, writes lead
researcher Shelley S. Tworoger, PhD, with The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research
Center in Seattle. Her study appears in the current issue of Sleep.
Several studies have looked at the effect of exercise on sleep problems,
finding that exercise indeed helps older people fall asleep and stay asleep.
But does morning or evening work best? How much exercise should we get?
Walking early in the day -- for an hour each time -- worked wonders in
relieving insomnia, according to this new study. "But something as simple
as stretching can make a difference," Tworoger tells WebMD.
The Exercise-Sleep Connection
The 173 women involved in Tworoger's study were between 50 and 75 years old
-- none were taking menopausal hormone therapy. They were all overweight and
got less than an hour of moderate-to-vigorous exercise in a week's time. All
had sleep problems -- trouble falling asleep without medication, and trouble
The women were randomly assigned to either an aerobic exercise regimen or
stretching. Classes were held at 10:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. Some days, the women did
their workout at home instead.
In the aerobic classes, intensity was gradually increased over the first
three months. The women did a 45-minute workout five days a week -- mostly
walking or biking.
The stretching group attended 60-minute low-intensity stretching and
relaxation sessions several days a week, or did their workout at home. Morning
and evening classes were an option for this group, too.
One year later, the results came in:
- Morning exercisers who worked out at least 3.5 to 4 hours a week had less
trouble falling asleep.
- Exercising less than three hours a week did not help sleep problems as
- The evening exercisers had more trouble falling asleep than the
morning exercisers. Those who got more exercise at night got the least
improvement. Those who got less evening exercise had more benefit.
Stretching also helped relieve sleep problems, but to a lesser degree. The
stretching group needed less sleep medication and had less trouble falling
asleep than before the study.
"Something as simple as stretching can make a difference,"
says Tworoger. Also, whether they did their stretching in the morning or
evening didn't make any difference -- they got some relief from sleep problems,
What's Going On?
"Possibly, exercise affects hormones and circadian rhythms -- the body
clock," Tworoger says. "Exercise in the morning could affect those
hormones differently than exercise at night. Also, body temperature starts to
go down before sleep, and exercise can increase body temperature."
When it comes to relieving sleep problems, "any exercise is better than
no exercise," says Richard Rosenberg, PhD, director of science and research
at the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. He agreed to comment for WebMD.
"Certainly, exercise and improved fitness level are part of good sleep
"The idea that exercise might be influencing circadian rhythms is
interesting," Rosenberg adds. "We know that regular exercise can affect
circadian rhythm. The effects can be as strong as light exposure. These
findings are provocative."
But whether you exercise (or stretch) in the morning or evening shouldn't
make a difference, he says. "If you give yourself two or three hours for
your body to cool down after exercise, you shouldn't have sleep
A cool shower can help your body cool down. But a warm bath two hours before
bedtime has been shown to also help offset any sleep problems, he says.