Running is a staple of many workouts. It helps you build strength, shred fat, and boost stamina. But if you’re a poor sleeper, running can also improve both the quality and efficiency of your shut eye. Here’s how.
Why Does Running Help You Sleep Better?
1. Running Can Stabilize Mood
Most of us know that running lifts our mood by releasing endorphins, the hormones that provide a “natural high.” But pounding the track or the treadmill also helps in the release of norepinephrine, a chemical known to lessen the brain’s response to stress. Together, these hormones can help stabilize moods and relax the mind, two states of being which are necessary to transition to a quality slumber.
And an added bonus? A by-product of increasing positive feelings and tempering negative ones is that — biologically — the body is strengthened, which helps reduce the possibility of heart disease, cancer, and other health hazards that can cut life short.
2. Running Helps Catch the Slow Waves
Moderate aerobic exercise such as running can also intensify the amount of slow wave sleep (SWS) that an individual gets. SWS, also called deep sleep or Stage N3 sleep, initially happens about 10 minutes after you fall asleep and can last from 40 to 90 minutes during this first episode. After that, it gets shorter on each rotation.
During SWS, your breathing, heartbeat, body temperature, and brain waves all dial down to super-slow while your body goes to work clearing out toxins, consolidating memories, and releasing human growth hormones to help repair muscle, bone, and tissue damage.
Particularly because of this latter fact, SWS is crucial to athletes. Studies show that even a slight slump in SWS can have a significant effect on athletic performance.
But here’s the silver lining: The more that you run, the greater the possibility of extended deep sleep. And the longer you spend sleeping this way, the faster you’ll recover from those running aches and pains.
Research published in Science revealed that marathon runners experienced an increase in SWS following a four-day, 92-kilometer road race. This enabled their bodies to work that healing magic, and have them feeling fit and back to pounding pavement sooner rather than later.
3. Running Can Turn Up — and Down — the Temperature
It doesn’t really matter what time you head out for your run. The truth is, the best time to exercise is whenever you can.
But experts do advise maintaining at least 60 to 90 minutes between any kind of aerobic activity and the time you crawl under the sheets. The reason for this is that during exercise, your body increases its temperature, cooling down only when you stop exercising. That temperature change is similar to the dip in temperature that happens just before you’re ready to go to sleep.
Researchers from the University of South Carolina have gone so far as to suggest taking on some night running or other vigorous exercise to offset tossing and turning just before you hit the sack. They revealed that people who participated in moderate- to high-intensity exercise for one to two hours per night were rewarded with a deep, relaxing sleep just 30 minutes later.
4. Running Reduces Severe Sleep Apnea
Running regularly can also reduce the risk of excessive weight gain. This, in turn, can kick to the curb the possibility of developing obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). OSA is a condition wherein breathing stops involuntarily for brief periods of time during sleep, causing low-grade shuteye and affecting the body's supply of oxygen, which in itself is a pathway to potentially serious health problems.
According to the publication Nature, approximately 60 to 70% of individuals with OSA are overweight, while a further 58% of moderate to severe OSA cases are attributable to excess weight.
5. Running for Your Life
And even if consistent, quality sleep still evades you, some good news is that running can offset the damage that poor sleep can contribute to and — as a result — lengthen your lifespan.
Research published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine analyzed the sleep and exercise details of 380,055 middle-aged adults in the UK Biobank study over a period of 11 years. They concluded that people who carried out the World Health Organization's (WHO) recommended 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise were able to counter some of the harmful health effects of poor sleeping patterns than those who did no exercise at all.
And if this isn’t enough to get you lacing up those running shoes, an earlier study conducted by researchers from Iowa State University, the University of South Carolina, the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, and other institutions, concluded that running for as little as five minutes a day could significantly lower an individual’s risk of passing away prematurely.
Go for a run, and not only will you be running yourself toward a better sleep each night, but you’ll also likely live longer than those on the couch.