Wednesday 20 June 2018

Karl Henry: It’s very simple - Move more, lift more, sleep better

Grand stretch in the mornings: a good exercise routine can dramatically improve your sleep pattern. Stock Image
Grand stretch in the mornings: a good exercise routine can dramatically improve your sleep pattern. Stock Image
Karl Henry

Karl Henry

Eight hours. 'EIGHT HOURS?' I hear you scream. The more people I chat to, the more I realise that actually very few people are getting that amount of sleep. Frighteningly, teenagers seem to get even less. There is a direct link between sleep and mental and physical health; sleep and your waistline and your risk of being overweight or obese are linked, too.

If your child, teenager or young adult isn't getting enough sleep, it's crucial to put some structure in place to sort this out. More sleep and better sleep equals better health - I can't make it any clearer than that.

In this week's column, I want to look at exercise and the benefits it can have for how you sleep. As ever, let's make it simple: move more, lift more, sleep better, feel better. There are so many ways that exercising more can improve your sleep. Here are just some of them:

  • By exercising during the day, you are dealing with some of life's daily stresses, relaxing your mind and processing whatever has been causing you stress;
  • By burning calories whilst exercising, you are forcing the body to want to rest as sleep is the natural form of recovery for your body, no matter what time of the day it is at. It also helps you to get a deep sleep which is the optimum for recovery;
  • While you may get an endorphin rush from exercise, you are also tiring yourself out. Watching children play until they start to yawn is a prime example of this - adults are exactly the same;
  • Exercise can improve your mental health and reduce the symptoms of depression, anxiety and mood-related issues, which can a positive impact on your sleep.

How much exercise should you do?

Well obviously you're aiming for the recommended 150 minutes a week, but the real answer here is whatever you can manage. Make exercise fit into your schedule and work it around your diary so it is doable and something you can keep up for the long-term. Just remember to work hard enough when doing that exercise to get the benefits - if it's super easy then the benefits are going to be minimal so just work a little bit harder and as you get fitter keep challenging the body.

What's the best type to improve your sleep?

Simple - the one that you enjoy the most. If you find an exercise you enjoy, you will be more like to do it in the long-term. Ideally you need to be doing some cardiovascular work, some resistance or body weight training and some flexibility work too, especially as you get older. Resistance is the one that the least number of people do, but it's probably the one that really will get you to sleep better, as by challenging your muscles they will need to recover and force the body to sleep.

What time should you exercise?

There is no straight answer to this; it depends on the person. For some people, myself included, exercising late at night actually stops me from sleeping, the endorphins and clarity of mind just keeps me awake, so I like to be finished any training I do by 8pm at the latest and then asleep by 10pm. But other people can train at any time and still sleep so it depends on your own body.

But does exercise not cause leg cramps at night?

No. Exercise seems to reduce the frequency of muscles cramping and irritable legs that so often affect people's sleep, along with hydration and eating healthily too.

So there you have it - this week's homework to improve your sleep is all about exercising. Move more, sleep better, feel better!

Irish Independent

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