Study: Exercise and Better Sleep Do Not Always Go Hand in Hand

Although it seems like a no-brainer that exercising more would translate to sleeping better at night—after all, if you poop yourself out at the gym, you’re bound to crash when you hit the hay, yes?—new research shows that exercise and sleep aren’t always the most, well, cooperative bedfellows, especially for people with a history of sleep problems.

The New York Times reports on a new study out of Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, which found that, for people with sleep disorders, exercise isn’t an instantaneous cure-all. Researchers looked at data from a previous study, which used a small group of subjects—all sedentary, in their 60s, and with diagnosed insomnia—half of whom were asked to take up a moderate exercise program and half of whom made no changes to their routine. The original study found that several months after beginning the program, the exercisers reported better sleep than the non-exercisers. But when the researchers looked more closely at the day-to-day data during the study period, they found something else entirely:

[The subjects] rarely reported sleeping better on those nights when they had had an exercise session. And perhaps most telling, they almost always exercised for a shorter amount of time on the days after a poor night’s sleep.

In other words, sleeping badly tended to shorten the next day’s workout, while a full-length exercise session did not, in most cases, produce more and better sleep that night.

Sounds like a total bummer, right? Well, not so fast. The good news is that while exercise may not help assuage your sleep troubles in the short run, over time it can help regulate your sleep patterns. The point is you may have to stick to your fitness routine to see the benefit in the sack. You know, the same as how you have to stick with it if you lose weight, build muscle, increase endurance … well, you get the idea.