Exercise and Sleep

by Jai Sappal
Exercise and Sleep

Isn’t that feeling of being cuddled up into your blankets one of life’s simple pleasures? Especially in the winter (Trust me, in Canada, those blankets will have to be so much fluffier) I feel this holds true. Having a good night’s sleep can really equate to the next day just having that extra oomph! Sleep is affected by multiple factors. One of those factors is stress. We know during lockdown right now that it’s stressful and frustrating. Many of you could be working from home and so are bound to the confines of your own space and it can get a bit much. We at Peak Health are right there with you, and totally understand how you feel right now, so this article is dedicated to how exercise can improve your sleep and its impact on influencing certain sleep disorders.


Affected Sleep in Australians

About 1 in 5 Australians have negatively affected sleep. This could come in the form of disorders such as Obstructive Sleep Apnea, Insomnia and Restless Leg Syndrome (not a limited list) (1). 

Obstructive Sleep Apnea is when there is an obstruction in the airway. You can hear it in the form of snoring and/or discontinuous breaths while sleeping. A major risk factor for developing this is obesity, which accounts for nearly 30% of the entire Australian Population (another 35% are considered overweight) (2).

Insomnia is chronic hardship in falling asleep and or staying asleep, which results in worsened function for the day after (1). In Australia, anywhere between 13-33% of the population has difficulty sleeping and 50% of those with depression have a degree of insomnia (3).

Restless Leg Syndrome is having the irresistible urge to move the legs (and/or arms) whilst trying to sleep. The frequency with which this happens can vary (1). This one is not as common as Obstructive Sleep Apnea or Insomnia but it still affects anywhere between 5-15% of the Australian population (4).

These are just a few factors that can contribute to poor sleep, so the rest of this article is going to examine the risk factors and how exercise can have a positive impact on these disorders.


Risk Factors for Poor Sleep

Poor sleep can be rooted in both physical and mental factors. In university students, stress and psychological distress account for a majority of the issue. Pain, family problems, tobacco exposure, fatigue and too much strenuous physical activity also has a negatively impact on sleep quality (5). 

For disorders such as insomnia, factors such as higher age, chronic diseases, medications, gender (female seem to be more affected than males), unhealthy lifestyle behaviours (such as smoking, exercising too close to bedtime, irregular morning/night schedule) can all contribute to the risk for developing insomnia.


Exercise and its Role in Sleep

Not only does exercise improve the disorders mentioned throughout this article, it also addresses the depressive/psychological effects associated with these disorders (6). There is a relationship between exercise and sleep. 

Poor sleep can be associated as being a barrier to physical activity (7).

We know that exercise helps to reduce stress along with anxiety, and is shown to improve sleep quality and duration (9). Sleep also assists in recovery after exercise. One of the theories around this is that during sleep, energy is allowed to restore in the muscles. Another theory states that this is the time for your brain to form memories and adapt to the exercise, which is related to the amount of REM sleep you get (8).

With Obstructive Sleep Apnea, exercise can significantly impact the severity. Exercise will positively influence fitness, decrease daytime sleepiness and improve sleep efficiency. This can be done even with minimal changes in body weight (10).

Insomnia can also be mitigated with adequate exercise. In a study with older adults, aerobic exercise was shown to improve sleep quality, improve mood and increase quality of life when used in conjunction with sleep hygiene education (11).

Lastly, exercise can improve some of the factors associated with restless leg syndrome. Depression and fatigue were positively impacted, with a good effect reported on restless leg syndrome as well (12).



Exercise and adequate sleep go hand in hand. Exercise has been shown to have a positive influence on different sleep disorders. Sleep can also impact recovery after exercise, so it becomes important to have a healthy dose of both.

At Peak Health, if you’re struggling with either regard, come see us. Injuries can negatively impact sleep as well! We want to get back to a sense of normal (or as normal as can be during lockdown). Plus, if you come see us, it’ll get you out of the house for an essential service and that is a bit of relief as well! We hope you stay safe and sane through this lockdown.



  1. https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/House/Health_Aged_Care_and_Sport/SleepHealthAwareness/Report/section?id=committees%2Freportrep%2F024220%2F26954
  2. https://www.racgp.org.au/afp/2017/july/obstructive-sleep-apnoea-and-obesity/
  3. https://www.mja.com.au/journal/2013/199/8/insomnia-prevalence-consequences-and-effective-treatment
  4. https://www.nps.org.au/australian-prescriber/articles/restless-legs-syndrome-1
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3634295/
  6. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1836955312701066
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4341978/
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5385214/
  9. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/how-exercise-affects-your-sleep/
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4216726/
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2992829/
  12. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29247753/

Jai Sappal
Peak Health Services.