Strength Training as a Sleep Aid

By Matt Hedman, President of The Perfect Workout

It’s no secret that struggles with sleep increase as we age. These issues come from a variety of causes: illnesses, side effects of medication, changes in circadian rhythm, increased sensitivity to light exposure, inactivity, and elevated nervous system activity, to name a few. While no one wants to experience the mental fog that comes from sleep deprivation, there are more significant consequences to sleep loss. Some researchers believe sleep issues are part of the cause for many aging-related health issues [1].

Thankfully, strength training actually works as a sleep aid for many men and women who were previously poor or average sleepers.

Strength training can improve sleeping habits in less than 10 weeks, although it’s possible benefits can happen even sooner. While strength training does not increase the ease of sleeping for all people, it also has not demonstrated negative sleeping effects on anyone in research. In other words, it won’t hurt, but it may help.

For at least some people, just a small amount of strength training is all that’s necessary to notice a significant difference in sleep. This was noticed in a study lead by a researcher at Harvard [2]. Men and women around 70 years old participated in a brief strength training program that involved five exercises that targeted the major muscle groups in the upper and lower body. Each of these exercises was performed for one set with weights that were very challenging. The trainees exercised three days per week.

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After 10 weeks, the strength-trained individuals experienced a 40% improvement in self- assessed sleep (according to detailed pre- and post-intervention questionnaires). This was even more impressive when considering that the control group, who met twice per week for health education sessions, saw no improvement.

Dissecting the results even further, all 15 participants in the strength program either improved or remained the same. This indicates that, at the very worst, strength training won’t keep you up at night. If it has any effect, it will help you sleep.

The people in the study who strength trained were poor sleepers at the start and benefited from getting more sleep in a number of ways. At the end of the study, self-assessed daytime dysfunction decreased and ratings of vitality and social functioning improved. Oddly enough, social functioning scores actually improved in the strength group more than the health education group, who socialized as part of their education classes!

Another study, performed at Texas Tech University, showed a similar improvement in sleep after three months of strength training with an older group [1]. The participants in this study averaged closer to 80 years of age, lived in an assisted living center, and were average to good sleepers at baseline. In both of these studies, strength training had the same effect on each gender. Also, adherence was 85% or greater in each study, showing that the participants didn’t face major issues with injuries or lack of interest.

I find these studies to back my personal experiences that I’ve seen at The Perfect Workout. After they begin training with us, some clients report that they’re sleeping better than they have in years…or ever! Some of these people had trouble with sleeping before training, and some were already solid sleepers. However, for other clients their sleeping habits seem unaffected positively or negatively. As mentioned previously, strength training is highly unlikely to hurt your ability to sleep. Comparing strength training to sleep medications, strength training may improve your sleep. And unlike medications, the side effects of strength training (greater strength, more endurance, faster metabolism, improved cholesterol profiles, stronger bones, etc.) are usually very pleasant.

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  1. Ferris, L. T., Williams, J. S., Shen, C. L., O’Keefe, K. A., & Hale, K. B. (2005). Resistance training improves sleep quality in older adults—a pilot study. J Sports Sci Med, 4(3), 354-60.
  2. Singh, N. A., Clements, K. M., Fiatarone, M. A. (1997). Sleep, Sleep Deprivation, and Daytime Activities A Randomized Controlled Trial of the Effect of Exercise on Sleep. Sleep, 20(2), 95-10.

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