Sleep and Exercise: 10 Reasons Rest is Necessary for Recovery and Performance

Updated October 18, 2020

In life, we nourish ourselves in many more ways than nutritionally. In order to maintain balance and homeostasis, we also need proper exercise and adequate sleep. When these three components are regulated and balanced, you’d be surprised at the boost in quality of life you’ll notice.

As the lead mattress tester here at The Sleep Judge and a NASM-certified personal trainer and nutrition coach, it’s my goal to help each of my clients balance proper exercise and rest and understand why sleep is necessary for recovery and performance.

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1. Sleep and Exercise: A Symbiotic Relationship

Exercise promotes restful sleep. Restful sleep, in turn, promotes effective exercise. It’s a symbiotic relationship… a full circle… that keeps you going day after day. Once you get into the habit of getting the exercise you need, you’ll likely notice improvements in your sleeping habits.

Whether you’re having trouble falling and staying asleep at night or struggling to stick to an exercise regimen, looking at the opposite factor could very well provide the solution you’ve been looking for.

For example, let’s say you toss and turn for hours before you can finally fall asleep. Incorporating just a half-hour of vigorous exercise five days per week can improve sleep quality while meeting the national guidelines for physical activity.

On the other hand, if you feel too wiped out to get in even a short workout, there’s a good chance you’re not properly rested. In this case, making some changes in your bedroom can make a world of difference. We’re always sharing tips and tricks to improve sleep quality, and a lot of thought should go into deciding the right mattress for you. If you’re not sure how to choose a mattress, this article shows you everything you need to know. Just a few important factors we touch on include:

  • Determining the right firmness
  • Choosing the right material type
  • Picking the right size
  • Dealing with differences in needs and preferences with sleep partners
  • Considering preferred sleep position
  • Considering budget
  • Special considerations like arthritis, acid reflux, and hip and shoulder pain

2. A Little Bit Goes a Long Way

You don’t have to put in endless hours at the gym to activate the nocturnal benefits of exercise. A recent survey polled over 155,000 adults in the United States. They were asked if they had exercised in the past 30 days. Forms of activity could include anything from running and biking to walking, gardening, golfing, and more. The results suggested that, even when you engage in simple exercise on a regular basis, you are:

  • One third less likely to experience sleep issues
  • Half as likely to experience fatigue and tiredness during the day

Even small amounts of exercise are better than none at all. A little bit goes a long way, so don’t get discouraged on a day when you just can’t get to the gym. A few great ways to get in some exercise on the fly include:

  • Park at the far end of the parking lot when you go to the store.
  • Do calf raises while waiting in line.
  • Do squats while putting away the dishes.
  • Do lunges during commercial breaks.
  • Do bicep curls while taking the trash out.

These are just a few examples to get your creative juices flowing. The possibilities are limitless!

3. Decreases Sick Time with Improved Immunity

Did you know that both sleep and exercise are contributors to improved immune health? Cytokines are proteins that target inflammation and infection. When you don’t get enough sleep, you don’t make enough of them. Furthermore, when you exercise:

  • Stress hormones decrease, some of which are linked to an increase in susceptibility to illness.
  • Antibodies and white blood cells circulate more quickly.
  • Body temperature increases slightly, similar to what happens when you have a fever. This could contribute to fighting off infection, although further studies are needed to validate this theory.

Nobody wants to be sick. Not only is it no fun, but it takes away from time spent with friends and family as well as decreases quality of life.

4. Reduces Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea impacts over 20 million Americans in the United States. From loud snoring and restless sleep to sleepiness during the day, mood changes, lack of energy, and more, sleep apnea impacts not only you but also those around you.

While there are various factors that play into the development of sleep apnea, a recent study has shown how being overweight is the most prominent. After evaluating obese adults with obstructive sleep apnea as they participated in a 12-week exercise program, a moderate reduction in sleep apnea symptoms resulted.

Although the study failed to prove that exercise in and of itself is the cure for sleep apnea, it does improve the condition of whether or not weight loss occurs. This is another example of how sleep and exercise go hand-in-hand in the betterment of the quality of life.

5. Helps You Take Control over Depression and Anxiety

Stress is one of the biggest hindrances of quality sleep. How many times have you tossed and turned with the inability to turn off your thoughts? When anxious or depressed, it’s also common to wake up frequently during the night

One of the most effective remedies for stress is exercise. Even just five minutes of working out activate an anti-anxiety response. The best news is that you don’t necessarily have to work up a sweat to reap the benefits. If you suffer from anxiety that disrupts your sleep, mind-body exercises like tai-chi or yoga could be just what the doctor ordered. Just a few of the benefits include:

  • Activation of the parasympathetic nervous system that promotes relaxation
  • The decrease in the levels of the stress hormone, cortisol
  • Reduced blood pressure
  • Improved mood and overall feeling of well-being

6. Increases Amount of Time Spent Sleeping

While you don’t really want to sleep longer than nine hours on a regular basis, getting less than seven can lead to a number of concerning health issues like obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and a shortened life span. Whether you catch a second wind late at night or otherwise find that you just can’t seem to stay asleep at night, these disruptions do impact your health.

When you add exercise to your routine, you may be pleasantly surprised at an increase in the duration of your nightly slumber. Exercise puts increased demands on your energy levels, and this makes you ready to sleep at night. It’s during this time energy levels are restored and any damage done is repaired. You’ve effectively “earned” your sleep. Research has shown that regular exercise is an effective solution for both sleep quantity and quality.

7. Helps with Disordered Sleeping

There are numerous sleep disorders that have led to thousands of hours of lost sleep across the country. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders reports that every year:

  • Around 40 million people in the US suffer from chronic, long-term sleep disorders.
  • Around 20 million people in the US suffer from occasional sleep problems

Exercise has been scientifically shown to provide a natural remedy for insomnia as well as lower the severity of issues like disordered breathing while sleeping. It’s important to understand, however, that these benefits are most likely to be experienced over time. While you may not reap immediate benefits, regular exercise can be well worth it as you gradually begin to experience more restful sleep.

8. Regulates Circadian Rhythm

The circadian rhythm is the body’s clock. It dictates your wake/sleep cycle, letting you know when to wake up and when to start feeling sleepy. For many people, the rhythm is off. Many sleep for very long hours. Others may find it very difficult to get out of weekend mode by the time Monday rolls around.

You can use exercise as a tool to hack your body’s internal clock by picking the right time of day to work out. Researchers at Arizona State University embarked on a study to determine how to do this effectively. They monitored 100 people including men and women with high levels of aerobic fitness. Here’s what they found:

  • Exercise at 7 a..m. and between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. enabled participants to get an earlier start the next day. Participants were reportedly more energized and felt more refreshed after working out during these times the day before.
  • Exercise between 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. had a more difficult time achieving peak performance the following day. While they largely felt more tired in the morning, energy levels did tend to pick up later on.

If you work the third shift, travel frequently, or just have a tough time waking up early after the weekend, an early morning or afternoon workout could help tremendously if you need to set your internal clock a little earlier.

9. Reduces Risk of Osteoporosis

While most of us are familiar with the relationship between osteoporosis and things like diet, gender, bone structure, race, and age, did you know sleep and exercise also play a part? When you engage in resistance training, bone density improves. Furthermore, according to a new study published in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, adequate sleep on a regular basis further promotes good bone health. Among the information revealed during the study includes:

  1. Women who got five or fewer hours of sleep are at a 22% increased risk of low bone mineral density.
  2. Women who got five or fewer hours of sleep are 63% more likely to develop osteoporosis of the hip and/or spine compared with women who got seven hours of sleep regularly.
  3. Women who sleep less than five hours per night are 28% more likely to develop osteoporosis of the spine compared with women who got seven hours of sleep regularly.

The study didn’t reveal any benefits to the bones of getting more than seven hours of sleep. Since exercise also improves bone density and promotes good sleep, the two work together to promote optimal results in overall bone health.

10. Helps Muscles Grow Big and Strong

Many of us have a goal of growing big, strong muscles, and this is typically associated with hitting the gym and eating right. While these are definitely important factors, many overlook the sleep component. Consider that:

  • 5.5 hours of sleep = 60% less muscle mass
  • 8.5 hours of sleep = 40% more muscle mass

Before our muscles can use sugar for energy, it has to be broken down into glucose. When we sleep, glucose is stored in our muscles in the form of glycogen. Unlike blood glucose, glycogen produces more energy. Therefore, when we don’t get enough sleep, we’re unable to maximize the renewal of muscle glycogen.


Is It Time for a New Mattress?

These are just 10 examples of the direct link between physical fitness and sleep. We have one life to live, and, when you balance sleep and fitness appropriately, you can unlock new levels of potential to truly make the most of yours.

If it’s been eight to 10 years since you last bought a mattress, it’s likely time to shop. You may also be due for a new sleep surface if:

  • Your mattress has developed indentations.
  • You toss and turn despite regular exercise.
  • You aren’t happy with the firmness.
  • You have a sleep partner, and your current mattress transfers motion excessively.
  • You are struggling with hot sleeping.
  • Your mattress is lacking in comfort, support, or both.

Getting the right mattress is an important key in maximizing nocturnal bliss, and we offer a treasure trove of exclusive resources to help you get it right.