It’s not about the little black dress or looking amazing at your high school reunion. For me, EXERCISE is one of the tools I use to go to sleep. I’m an evening exerciser and when my brain is done for the day by body is ready to work. Exercise, or as I call it, mobility is one of those tools for amazing health that works on nearly every body system and process and sleep is no exception. Although scientists are not able to exactly pinpoint the mechanism for why this is true, many studies prove that mobility can actually contribute to a good night’s rest.

Here are some evidence-based tips for harnessing the power of mobility to sleep well.

  1. 1.    Exercise has been found to have positive effects on sleep quality in middle aged and older adults.  Mobility can be used as “medicine” alone or in a complementary approach for sleep disturbance.
  2. 2.    Research does NOT support the thought that evening exercise negatively affects sleep.  In fact, the opposite has been found.  To use mobility as a sleep aid it is best to complete vigorous exercise greater than 1 hour before bedtime or the beginning of your “wind-down” routine.  This timing of exercise in the evening is necessary as exercise causes the release of endorphins in the body and may make you feel energized or on a “runner’s high”. Your body needs time to metabolize these chemicals out of the brain in order to wind down. Additionally, mobility raises your core body temperature which is counterproductive for sleep.  30-90 minutes after exercise the core temperature begins to drop which is a signal for the body to sleep so timing exercise to match your sleep routine is important.
  3. 3.    Thirty minutes of moderate mobility improves sleep quality on the same night as the activity. It doesn’t matter how you move whether you choose walking, running, rowing, biking or building lean muscle mass via carrying a load, it all works. More good news is that the effect of 30 minutes of exercise can work to improve sleep the same night without the need for weeks or months of consistency. 
  4. 4.    For people with chronic insomnia, aerobic physical activity paired with sleep hygiene education is an effective treatment for improving sleep quality, mood and quality of life as moderate exercise is known to augment the hours of slow wave sleep, we experience.  It is during slow wave or deep sleep that our body regenerates and the highly metabolically active rejuvenation of cells and body systems takes place.  Slow wave sleep is also the time when we consolidate thoughts and decompress the mind.  

The key to using exercise as a sleep aid is to know yourself and how your body will respond. It may be best to try experiment with timing on a Friday so that if adjustments need to be made the next day is not a workday. Here are a few questions to ask yourself as you plan for using exercise as medicine:

  • What 30-60-minute window of time at the end of a day will repeatably work? --Immediately after work before dinner?  After dinner but before late evening? Two hours before bed as part of an extended sleep hygiene routine? 
  • Which aerobic activity can I do without engaging the easy excuse of access to equipment or a gym?
  • Is 90 minutes before bedtime enough time for my body to cool off and my brain to decompress?  

When I took the time to figure this out for myself I discovered that the best window for me is immediately after work so that I keep going with my day and don’t settle into the night time home or activity routine. The easiest activity for me is running or a brisk walk in my zone 2 training range as this can be done anywhere...even if immediately after work I have to run my child to activities. If you find this works for you try drinking 20 oz of water and a small protein/carb snack towards the end of your work day to fuel your activity. Finally, by my bedtime of 9:30-10pm the endorphins and heat have left my body and it is time to restore through sleep.

Mobility is medicine for great sleep.

Vonda Wright, MD, MS
Dr Wright is a double-boarded Orthopaedic Sports Surgeon, author, speaker and team doctor who harnesses the power of sleep, smart nutrition and mobility to change the way we age in this country. An internationally recognized authority of aging and women’s health she founded the /Ajles.Life/ movement and Precision Longevity Experience to equip people to live MORE every moment and face a future where the best is yet to come. Read more from Dr Wright at or IG- @DrVondaWright