Most people are aware that if you want to get better sleep, making exercise a priority is a great place to start. But while many people think that running, biking, and other forms of cardio are the key to catching more high-quality Zzz’s, it turns out that there’s another type of workout that may be the key to better sleep—and that’s resistance training.
Let’s take a look at how resistance training impacts sleep—and how to lift your way to a better night’s rest.
How does resistance training promote better sleep?
First things first. How, exactly, does resistance training impact sleep—and how can your time in lifting weights and doing other forms of resistance training actually help you get better rest?
“This workout type is…linked to improved sleep quality overall and increased sleep duration,” says Alex Savy, certified sleep science coach and the founder of SleepingOcean.com.
There’s research to back that up. In a recent study, researchers from Iowa State University studied the impact of both resistance training and aerobic exercise on participants over the course of a year. Of the participants that reported getting less than 7 hours of sleep per night at the beginning of the study, the participants that regularly engaged in resistance training increased their sleep duration by 40 minutes over the course of the study—almost twice as much as the aerobic group (which increased their sleep duration by 23 minutes).
In addition to increased sleep duration, the resistance training group also experienced better sleep quality, including being able to more easily fall and stay asleep.
There’s also research that suggests that “moderate-intensity resistance training can help patients with chronic insomnia sleep better,” says Savy.
Why does resistance training help you get better sleep?
Clearly, resistance training can help you get better sleep. But the question is—why? “Sleep is a necessary part of muscle recovery, so more taxing workouts encourage your body to sleep more deeply and longer throughout the night,” says Dr. Grant Radermacher, sports chiropractor at Ascent Chiropractic in Brookfield, WI.
Resistance training may also help your body produce more sleep-supporting chemicals—which can make it easier to fall asleep. “Studies show that resistance training often boosts adenosine production,” says Savy. “This chemical causes that drowsy feeling that often helps people fall asleep easier and enjoy deeper, more restorative rest. So, a post-workout adenosine boost can help people prevent sleep offset and drift off easier, potentially catching more hours of sleep.”
Tips for using resistance training to get better sleep
Want to use resistance training to get better sleep? Here are some tips to help you lift your way to higher-quality Zzz’s (and all the benefits that go along with it).
Start slow. Now that you know the sleep-boosting benefits of resistance training, you may be tempted to jump right in and start lifting heavy weights. But if you’re new to resistance training, the best approach is to start slow. “Start slow, add weight gradually, and focus on proper form,” says Radermacher. “[By taking this approach], you’ll reduce your risk of injury and be less likely to suffer from the delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) that most new lifters deal with.”
Don’t work out too close to bedtime. Resistance training may help you get better sleep—but if you work out too close to bedtime, it can actually have the opposite effect. “Resistance exercise too late in the day can increase heart rate and body temp in a way that’s disruptive to sleep,” says Radermacher. “Leave a gap of at least two hours after working out to allow your body to wind down before bed.”
Don’t abandon cardio. Just because resistance training may be a better form of exercise for improved sleep doesn’t mean you should completely abandon your morning run or weekly bike ride! Cardio offers a huge variety of benefits, from lower risk of heart disease and diabetes to improved mood—so to promote optimal sleep and overall health, consider making both cardio and resistance training a foundational part of your fitness routine.
This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.
Deanna deBara is a freelance writer based in Portland, OR. She covers a wide range of wellness topics, including fitness, nutrition, relationships, and mental health. Her work has appeared on Greatist, Men’s Health, Ravishly, The Fix, What’s Good by The Vitamin Shoppe, and more.