Professor of the Practice of Law University of Denver Sturm College of Law

Exercise Improves Sleep

Exercise empowers your memory-processing hippocampus and sleep improves your capacity to make short term memory more stable in your brain, which is critical to developing expertise.  When you exercise, you also improve your sleep quality.

Researchers examined the impact of 60 minutes of vigorous exercise on sleep quality with delta wave analysis.  They found that sleep function was improved as demonstrated by increased delta power in slow-wave sleep and increased slow-wave sleep stability during the early phases of sleep.  The improvements were observed, even when participants did not report an awareness of experiencing better sleep.  The subjective data about perceived sleep improvements indicate that regular moderate exercise may be more helpful to improve sleep than occasional vigorous exercise because periodic vigorous exercise may cause soreness and discomfort that might interfere with sleep.

To introduce vigorous exercise into your regimen, consider slowly adding short bursts of more intense activity.  This strategy, called interval training, is used by pro athletes in their fitness programs.  If you are a walker, add short intervals of power walking where you increase your speed for 10-15 seconds a few times during your walk.  Build up to an increased number of seconds and additional intervals. 

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) will likely improve both your sleep and your heart health.  In a study of 93 patients with coronary artery disease, after 4 weeks, cardiorespiratory fitness improved by 10% in those doing HIIT, while those doing moderate intensity continuous training experienced only a 4% improvement.

If you are interested in more information about HIIT, please check out the last resource below.

Takeaway: Improve your sleep by committing to regular exercise.  Improve the power of your exercise to improve both sleep quality and heart health by incorporating interval training.

Sources

Debra S. Austin, Killing Them Softly: Neuroscience Reveals How Brain Cells Die from Law School Stress and How Neural Self-Hacking can Optimize Cognitive Performance, 59 Loy. L. Rev. 791, 828-826, (2013), online at https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2227155.

Insung Park, et al., Exercise Improves the Quality of Slow-Wave Sleep by Increasing Slow-Wave Stability, Sci Rep 11,4410, Feb. 24, 2021, https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-83817-6, https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-021-83817-6.  

Neuroscience News, Exercise can Improve Sleep Quality even when you don’t Perceive a Difference, Mar 25, 2021, https://neurosciencenews.com/sleep-improvement-exercise-18110/.

Dana Santas, Strengthen your Heart Like a Pro Athlete, cnn.com, Mar 27, 2021, https://www.cnn.com/2021/03/26/health/strengthen-your-heart-wellness/index.html.

Dana Santas, Safely Ramp up Exercise Intensity: How to Reboot your Workout Routine, cnn.com, Aug 24, 2020, https://www.cnn.com/2020/08/24/health/high-intensity-interval-training-routine-wellness/index.html.

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