Iowa Sleep Blog

How Exercise Improves Sleep

Monday, August 04, 2014

You’ve heard the phrase “sleep is the best medicine,” but sometimes sleep, or more specifically, sleeping well, is the problem. If that’s the case, then exercise may need to be your next prescription. An active lifestyle can help treat or prevent multiple sleep problems, such as obstructive sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome and insomnia

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)

OSA is a sleep-related breathing disorder that occurs when the muscles relax during sleep. According to a study conducted at the University of Pittsburgh School of Sleep Medicine, an exercise program involving brisk walking and weight training resulted in a 25 percent decrease in the severity of OSA in the adult participants. A common risk factor for OSA is being overweight or obese, and even losing weight alone will often help treat OSA.  

Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS)

Symptoms of RLS are frequently improved just by exercising. In fact, one study showed that exercising regularly reduced the severity of RLS symptoms by around 40 percent. Additionally, people who routinely exercise are 3.3 times less likely to have RLS. Try activities that involve the legs specifically, such as walking, running, swimming or biking. 


Nearly 50 percent of Americans will experience some form of insomnia each week, so finding activities that help curb it are important to keeping your body fully rested. Researchers at Northwestern University found that sleep duration and quality improved when participants exercised for 30-40 minutes four times a week. Insomnia can be triggered by stress, which exercise helps manage by increasing endorphins (the chemicals in your brain that make you feel good).

The sleep doctors at Iowa Sleep recommend exercising at least four hours before your intended bedtime. Working out typically makes your body more alert, so you’ll need time after exercising to cool off and slow down your heart rate and allow your body to relax before sleeping. Try exercising first thing in the morning or in the afternoon to jumpstart your day or give you an energy boost after work. 

Unlike some prescription drugs, the side effects of exercise are positive. You could find yourself sleeping better, losing weight and feeling more energetic throughout the day. No matter if you’ve experienced one of the sleep problems above, set a regular exercise schedule and you’ll feel the benefits in no time. 

If you have had success improving your sleep with exercise, let us know.