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Stress less and relax more

The sleep/exercise mix for better stress relief

It’s stress-busting synergy at its best: Exercise can help you sleep better — and a good night’s sleep can help improve your workout.

Sleep is an important function that benefits both body and mind. Getting too little on a regular basis may be harmful to your health. Some studies suggest that there's a connection between sleep deficit and health issues such as heart disease and stroke, high blood pressure and cholesterol, diabetes and obesity.

But there's good news: The key to a good night's sleep may be as simple as getting more exercise. And in turn, getting more sleep could lead to better workouts. And that's even better news for those of us who want to manage stress: Good quality sleep will help better prepare you to handle daily stressors and recover from them; and physical activity (even something as simple as walking) is a known stress buster.

Try these tips to maximize the sleep/exercise synergy.

How sleep can improve your workouts

  • Get enough sleep. The average Canadian needs seven to nine hours a night. Be sure to get the amount of sleep that you need regularly in order to function optimally and care for your health.
  • Help your body recover. Try to get as much good quality sleep as you can on the days you exercise, and get a little more shut-eye after strenuous exercise or weight training.
  • Take 1 or 2 days off. If you've been pushing yourself, you may need to take a break from exercise to allow your body time to recover. Catching up on your sleep may be better than trying to cram in a workout.
  • "Mega-doze" before an event. Athletes who got 10 hours of sleep a night reported improved performance. Try boosting your usual snooze time for a couple of weeks before a race or tournament.
  • Plan workouts for when you're strongest. Our circadian rhythms are like an internal clock that affects sleep patterns, strength and speed. Research suggests our physical power peaks in the late afternoon and early evening.

How to use exercise for a better sleep

  • Get regular, frequent exercise. One study suggests that a minimum of three and a half hours of activity a week is needed to improve sleep quality.
  • Experiment. Try different types of exercise and levels of intensity. Moderate aerobic exercise such as walking or cycling has been shown to be effective at improving sleep. Even stretching may offer some relief from insomnia. Strength training and heavy aerobic exercise, however, seem to be less effective.
  • Choose your time. Exercising too close to bedtime may disrupt sleep. Try to schedule physical activity earlier in the day, or at least 2-3 hours before bedtime.
  • Take notes. Try exercising at the same time of day for a week or two and note your sleep quality. Then try a different time and compare.
The sleep/exercise mix for stress relief
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