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Could Strength Training Help You Sleep Better?

It’s no secret that there is a strong and mutually beneficial relationship between regular exercise and sleep, but a common assumption is that aerobic exercise like steady-state cardio or high-intensity interval training are your best options when it comes to improving your slumber. But what if there was actually a better option? Turns out, there just might be - strength training.


Exercise and sleep: What does the research say?


A 2022 study from the American Heart Association involved 386 inactive, overweight adults with high blood pressure being assigned to one of several groups. One group completed resistance or aerobic exercise three times a week for 60 minutes over a year, the second group completed sessions that combined resistance and aerobic training, and the third did no exercise.

The resistance sessions involved working all major muscle groups with 12 gym machines, while the aerobic sessions could be completed on a treadmill, bike or elliptical machine at a moderate to vigorous intensity. The group assigned the combined sessions split their time between both.

At the start and end of the year, all participants measured different elements of their sleep with self-reported questionnaires that looked at the quality, duration, sleep disturbances, time in bed and time taken to fall asleep.

In line with what we already know about exercise and sleep, all exercising groups experienced an improvement in their sleep quality and a reduction in sleep disturbances. But interestingly, the study suggested strength training could help you sleep for longer, finding those doing resistance exercise were able to extend their average sleep time by 17 minutes per night and reduce their falling asleep time by three minutes.

Another systematic review from 2018 aimed to investigate the effect of strength training on sleep by analysing 13 studies. Again, they found that compared to aerobic exercise alone, resistance exercise improves all aspects of sleep, especially sleep quality, as well as improving anxiety and depression.

If you’re having trouble sleeping or want to improve your sleep habits, making strength training part of your weekly routine could be a great place to start! Your bones, muscles, posture and overall athletic performance will also reap the benefits.



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Why should you care about sleep?

 

Besides the obvious energy and mood-boosting benefits of a good nights’ sleep, the American Heart Association explains just how important sleep is for your overall health. A lack of sleep or low-quality sleep can increase your risk of high blood pressure, cholesterol and plaque buildup in your arteries. Not getting enough sleep has also been linked to weight gain, diabetes, inflammation and increased risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, heart attack and death.

When you want to prioritise your health or implement some new healthy habits, where does sleep sit on your list? Staying healthy and well for as long as possible is something we all want, but sleep often isn’t as much of a priority as it should be! Sleep isn’t for the weak, it’s what makes your body strong, and funnily enough, strength training can support a healthy sleep cycle.


So… Should you forget about cardio then?


While these results suggest strength training may have slightly better benefits for sleep than cardio, The Sleep Foundation says that aerobic and resistance training both provide unique and often complimentary benefits, meaning it’s important to get a bit of both in your routine.

Cardio exercise is not only great for your heart and lung health, but also your mood, endurance, bone health, longevity, weight management, reduced risk of illness, and the management of existing health conditions, says the Mayo Clinic.

If you’re not a huge fan of cardio, it can help to branch out and try new things to discover what you truly enjoy, whether that’s walking, jogging, hiking, cycling, swimming, dancing, or whatever else takes your fancy. Tend to get bored and find yourself staring at the clock? Catching up on your favourite show while using a cardio machine can help to make it more enjoyable, or try taking a podcast or audiobook with you for an outdoor walk!



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