The 12 exercises that will help you get to sleep faster – according to scientists

WE already know exercise is good for us.

But if it was guaranteed to give you almost five hours more sleep a week, would you brush off your gym kit?

Scientists have found certain exercises can improve sleep, helping you to get to sleep faster, and for longer.

Failure to get enough sleep can be detrimental to health.

But most people are guilty of not prioritising their bedtime, as busy life gets in the way.

Sleep deprivation is linked to weight gain, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes and inflammation, all of which can worsen the risk of stroke, heart attack and early death.

To find out how exercise can improve sleep, experts divided almost 400 overweight people into four groups.

The first group took no exercise, the second did aerobic exercise such as running or cycling, the third did resistance training and the fourth combined aerobic and resistance exercise.

Participants exercised for three hours a week for a year, according to findings presented at the American Heart Association Epidemiology, Prevention, Lifestyle & Cardiometabolic Health Conference.

All those in the study also reported on their quality of sleep, how long they slept for and how much of their time in bed was actually spent asleep.

The results showed that 35 per cent of people had poor sleep at the start of the study.

Experts looked at how long it took people to drop off and sleep disturbances – such as snoring or coughing, or needing the toilet.

One form of exercise came out on top as improving sleep.

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Study author, Dr Angelique Brellenthin, from Iowa State University in the US, said: “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 ZZZs at night.”

Some 42 per cent of participants said they did not get at least seven hours of kip per night.

But, among those, the people who did resistance exercise increased their sleep by 40 minutes per night in 12 months, the equivalent to four hours and 36 minutes.

Those who did aerobic exercise got 23 minutes extra sleep, and those who did a combination got 17 minutes more.

People that did at least some resistance exercise also spent more of their time in bed asleep and dropped off three minutes earlier than those in other groups.

But sleep improved in all groups – including the group that did not exercise, who got 15 minutes extra sleep per night.

Dr Brellenthin, an assistant professor of kinesiology said: “If your sleep has got noticeably worse over the past two stressful years, consider incorporating two or more resistance exercise training sessions into your regular exercise routine to improve your general muscle and bone health, as well as your sleep.”

How to do resistance training 

In the study, those in the resistance group followed an exercise plan.

Each workout was one hour long and worked all the major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms) in one session, rather than isolation work.

They did eight to 16 repetitions of each exercise for three sets.

The exercises included:

  1. Leg press
  2. Chest press
  3. Pulldown
  4. Leg curl
  5. Leg extension
  6. Biceps curl
  7. Triceps pushdown
  8. Shoulder press
  9. Abdominal crunch
  10. Lower back extension
  11. Torso rotation
  12. Hip abduction

It was not clear if all these exercises fit into each one-hour session.

But it gives an idea of the type of exercises you can do over a week to make sure you hit each muscle group.

Those in the aerobic group, who also saw sleep benefit, used treadmills, exercise bikes and cross trainers, at moderate-to-vigorous intensity level for three hours a week.

In the combination group, people did 30 minutes of aerobic exercise at a moderate to vigorous intensity, followed by two sets of 8-16 repetitions of resistance exercise on nine machines.

The NHS already says adults should do exercises that work all the major muscle groups at least two days a week.

It also recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity a week, such as brisk walking or riding a bike, or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity a week, such as running or skipping. 

Building muscle doesn’t have to involve a hardcore gym session, and you can do it from the comfort of your own home.

The NHS also lists yoga, pilates, tai chi, resistance bands, heavy gardening and exercises that use your own body weight, such as push ups, as muscle-strengthening activities. 

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