The best exercises to do for a good night’s sleep

A new study presented at the American Heart Association’s health conference has revealed that not only is strength and resistance training more effective than cardio or aerobic exercise in promoting a better night’s sleep, but it can also get you to sleep more quickly too.

The research, led by Angelique Brellenthin, assistant professor of kinesiology at Iowa State University, took 386 adults, split them into four groups and assigned them randomly to a 12-month course of exercise. One group was given solely resistance training to do, another had to do purely aerobic exercises while a third was given a combination of the two. A fourth group had no exercise to do. 

A year later, those in the resistance group were getting an average of 40 minutes of additional sleep compared to at the start of the research while those in the aerobic group were getting just 23 extra minutes. The combined group, meanwhile, achieved just 17 minutes more. While sleep quality and sleep disturbance improved in all groups, sleep latency – that is the time it takes a person to fall asleep – only improved in those that were engaging in resistance training, declining by three minutes. “While both aerobic and resistance exercise are important for overall health, our results suggest that resistance exercises may be superior when it comes to getting better sleep at night,” says Brellenthin. “Resistance exercise significantly improved sleep duration and sleep efficiency, which are critical indicators of sleep quality that reflects how well a person falls asleep and stays asleep throughout the night.”

Rarely has people’s sleep been so disturbed as it has in the last two years. A study published in the journal Sleep Medicine in January 2021 revealed that during the peak of the Covid pandemic the number of people suffering from clinical insomnia (that is where sleeplessness occurs for three nights a week for a period of three months or more) had risen by 37 per cent with prescriptions for sleep medications also rising by 14 per cent. It’s now estimated that 30-35 per cent of people will suffer from insomnia at some point in their adult lives.

Another study, this time by King’s College London and Ipsos Mori, found that 63 per cent of people believed the quality and quantity of their sleep had worsened since the pandemic began. 

So if the quality of your sleep has become noticeably worse recently, you might want to introduce a few resistance exercise training sessions into your regular routine. Not only will it be good for your bone and muscle health but you will notice the difference when it comes to nodding off at night.

Dr Verena Senn is a neurobiologist and sleep expert at Emma Sleep. “Getting the right amount and quality of sleep is an incredibly important part of staying active,” she says. “Studies have demonstrated that elite athletes need even more sleep than non-athletes to fully recover from physical exertion and regular exercise as part of a healthy lifestyle will greatly improve your sleep.”

It certainly rings true in my experience. A couple of years ago, when I was tired and tubby, I embarked on a 12-week personal training programme at my local gym and it was a revelation. As well as losing weight, toning up and discovering that I actually had a jawline, I also found that I had more energy during the day and, crucially, I was sleeping better than I had in years. 

And the best bit? There was no cardio work involved whatsoever.

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