Exercise is the perfect pathway to identify first. Of all the pathways we have identified in this Pathways to Sleep project, this is the one most consistently rated as very important by both experts and users. Furthermore, this pathway can be inexpensive and accessible. Many research projects have been conducted that yield positive results regarding the relationship between exercise and sleep—they are often mentioned together as two of the most important components of health. I can link you to two summaries of one highly credible study conducted at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University:
This first component one pathway is clearly much more than an easily overlooked trail or side road—it is a freeway leading to sleep. Yet, many of us don’t direct out body and mind to this freeway on-ramp. We don’t take time to exercise every day, even though we find it a real challenge to manage quality sleep. Why don’t we exercise? And why is exercise so important in the facilitation of sleep quality?
The Impact of Exercise on Sleep Quality
I will answer the second question first—for it provides some of the critical reasons for plotting a route to this freeway to sleep. Four ways have been identified as to how exercise helps us manage high quality sleep. I’m sure there are other important ways in which exercise enables high quality sleep – but this is a good start regarding the impact of exercise.
Immediate Impact: “I’m tired”
The body want to restore itself. We have many physiological indices and mechanisms that are governed by the basic principle of homeostasis: our body wants to restore its many resources and can best do this by resting. And the best long-term mode of rest is sleep. In general, what I have identified is a shift in many physical processes in our body from what is called the sympathetic nervous system to what is called the parasympathetic nervous system.These two technical terms are very important to keep in mind when considering the conditions needed for high quality sleep, so I will devote several sentences to describing these two systems. First, it should be noted that the term “nervous system” can be misleading, for both the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems involve a whole lot more than the transmission of information between neurons. This term is used, I suspect, because it is our nerves that are the leading mechanism for triggering many different bodily functions.