Why we sleep better with exercise

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People who do more sport sleep better. But not all: those practising professional sport find their sleep quality is impaired. This is why athletes like Cristiano Ronaldo make sure to get the most out of their night’s sleep – often by adopting unusual sleeping models.

Exercise lowers stress levels

Exercise is good for our sleep – that’s nothing new and also not surprising. After all, it seems obvious: firstly, we feel physically tired when we have exerted ourselves. Secondly, exercise has an indirect influence on our sleep because of the way it reduces stress and therefore combats one of the main causes of sleep disorders. It therefore comes as no surprise that this theory has also been confirmed by the Swiss Health Survey: people who practise sport tend to sleep better than those less active.

Sport as therapy for sleep disorders

Sport therapy has now become an integral part of the treatment for sleep disorders. Serge Brand, psychologist and sleep researcher at the University Psychiatric Clinics (UPK) Basel confirms: «There's a wealth of studies that show that sport therapy, regardless of age and gender, has a beneficial effect on sleep quality.» Just 30 minutes of walking in the morning has a positive effect on objective sleep parameters such as longer deep sleep phases or the ability to fall asleep more quickly. Participants also subjectively experienced a better quality of sleep, which made them feel better able to concentrate during the day.

People who practise sport tend to sleep better than those less active.

Should we avoid train­ing in the evening?

Studies made on the subject offer contradicting results. While some claim that strenuous sport in the evening stimulates the body and makes it more difficult for us to wind down, another study on 52 young adults showed that exercise up to 1.5 hours before bedtime has a positive effect on sleep.

Even if the research doesn’t provide conclusive results, and recommendations on the subject vary: if you don't get enough sleep, try to remedy this with more exercise. It’s worth trying out which time of day works best for you and how to free up time for it.

Professional athletes and sleep

Extremely high stress levels and extensive training, combined with competitions and travel, appear to make elite athletes more likely to suffer from sleep disorders. For this reason, they optimise their sleep and develop personal sleep models to improve their performance. The most famous example is Cristiano Ronaldo.

Sleep like Cristiano Ronaldo?

Ronaldo uses the «polyphonic sleep model», according to which he sleeps five times for 90 minutes each within 24 hours. This keeps him fit in the afternoon when he would otherwise experience a dip in performance levels. «Ronaldo explicitly shows that he places a very high value on sleep, and his excellent performance over the year proves him right,» says Serge Brand from the University of Basel.

If you don't get enough sleep, try to remedy this with more exercise. It’s worth trying out which time of day works best for you and how to free up time for it.

Find your own way

Models and examples like that of Ronaldo illustrate the theory developed over recent years that sleep is essential for performance. But let's be honest: practising a sleep model like this is unrealistic for most of us. Nevertheless, it’s important to maintain a good form of sleep hygiene and to find your own sleep pattern.

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