Exercise, sleep and diabetes

Wednesday, 16 September 2020

The importance of sleep has never received as much focus as it truly deserved until now. Recent studies have shown that sleep is a key factor in many of the body’s most essential functions. Memory and information storage in the brain, cognition, clearing of waste products from your metabolism and repair, are just a few of the things that a good night’s sleep can assist.

Poor sleep is a risk-factor in the development of type 2 diabetes, and can make managing your diabetes much more difficult. Sleep improves insulin sensitivity – so the less sleep you get, the harder it is for insulin to work. Ongoing sleep loss has been shown to lead to glucose intolerance (difficulty breaking down glucose) and insulin resistance – both of which lead to an increase in blood glucose levels. Your body also produces stress hormones, such as cortisol, to keep you awake, which make it even harder for insulin to do its job!

Now that we understand the importance of sleep – where does exercise come in?

Can exercise improve your sleep?

The answer is yes, it definitely can!

We already know the great benefits exercise can bring including increased strength, fitness, improved heart and lung health, improved mental health, immune system boosting and weight loss. When it comes to improving sleep, exercise can help bring on drowsiness and make falling asleep easier. When you exercise you trigger an increase in your internal temperature but once you stop your body temperature returns to normal, triggering drowsiness through hormone release. Outdoor exercise exposes you to natural sunlight, which is a very important element in establishing a good sleep-wake cycle. Aerobic exercise (i.e. walking, cycling) can help improve your slow wave sleep, where the brain and body rejuvenates. By improving your mood, exercise can make it easier to fall asleep as well.

Can the timing of exercise impact your sleep?

Aerobic exercise releases endorphins that can sometimes keep people awake. This can last for one to two hours in some cases. As mentioned earlier, exercise can increase your body temperature. This increase can keep you awake, and takes between 30-90 minutes to return to normal. As a result, it might be best to get your exercise in at least two hours before sleep. Though no matter what time, research still shows improvements in overall sleep with exercise. Listening to your body is the first step in knowing what works for you.

How much exercise?

As you can see, there is no shortage of great benefits when it comes to exercise and sleep. Try and aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise a day. If you can’t quite get that much in, start wherever you’re comfortable and slowly work your way up. Better yet, break up your 30 minutes of exercise across the day so you can still fit it all in. If you don’t like aerobic exercise, pick something you enjoy, such as yoga, pilates, or weight-training.

Would you like more support?

The benefits of exercise and sleep and clear! If you’re looking to begin your exercise journey but you’re not sure where to start, or if you have any questions relating to exercise (or anything else for that matter), get in touch with an Accredited Exercise Physiologist or one of our Health Professionals on our helpline – 1800 637 700.


Jonathon Fermanis, Accredited Exercise Physiologist

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