How exercise can help us sleep better at night

15 March 2024

World Sleep Day, held annually in March, raises awareness of our sleep health and common sleep-related issues. Sleep is our internal reset button, and for veterans, sleep can be a critical factor in recovery.

Veterans who have recently transitioned from Defence to a civilian lifestyle may struggle with healthy sleeping patterns due to the routine nature of early mornings and late nights that are involved with training and working in the Defence Force. 

Veterans that experience mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression and PTSD, physical injuries or chronic pain may also find their sleep has been negatively impacted as a result of these health concerns or the associated medications. 

Exercise and sleep 

The relationship between exercise and sleep goes both ways, with regular exercise assisting in a more regular sleep pattern and better-quality sleep, while a good sleep can help to increase our daily physical activity levels. 

Both exercise and good sleep have been proven to help decrease a person’s risk of chronic disease such as cancer and diabetes, while also increasing our daily functioning levels and quality of life. 

Choosing the right exercise for the right time of day 

When it comes to exercise, listening to your body and moving in a way that feels good to you is important. When considering exercising to benefit sleep quality, research states there are certain times of day and types of exercise that will benefit our sleep cycle more than others. 

Some studies have shown moderate to vigorous exercise should be completed earlier in the day due to its effects on a delayed melatonin release; however, there are multiple studies which show that some people may benefit from late night exercise and experience deeper sleep, REM sleep and fall asleep faster, as a result. 

High intensity exercise leads to a higher core body temperature which can decrease sleep efficiency as a person may wake up more throughout the night, whereas lighter exercise in the afternoon and evening may be beneficial for reducing awakenings throughout the night.  

Finding what works for you is crucial as there is never one way of exercising that is superior to all others when it comes to sleep and how your body responds. Experimenting with what benefits your sleep most must be given plenty of time to take effect and realise true results. 

Challenges and resolutions for exercise fatigue 

Many people may experience exercise fatigue resulting from a lack of motivation, time, guidance, education or convenience. While these factors can be resolved if a person is motivated to do so, additional support can be provided by health professionals such as an exercise physiologist

Heading to the gym with a workout partner or for a group exercise class can be a rewarding way to find motivation and increase your accountability. There are plenty of different exercise types, classes and groups available, it is just a matter of finding what works for you and finding an environment where you feel safe and supported. 

When it comes to time management and convenience, splitting your exercise across the day and focusing on increasing your incidental activity, such as walking to the shops instead of driving, is a great way to meet your health goals. Finding a time that suits you every day can be difficult, which is why it is important to be flexible with your routine and not punish yourself if a workout just won’t fit in on that day. 

Support at Mates4Mates 

Mates4Mates offers a safe and supportive environment for veterans and their family members to find health solutions. With exercise physiologists, psychologists, social workers and counsellors available in centre and via telehealth, there are multiple pathways to consider when treating your sleep health. 

Mates4Mates also facilitates an Online Sleep Program, with multiple sessions throughout the year. The program addresses the factors of sleep health and ways we can help manage it. 

To find out more about how Mates4Mates can support you, reach out on 1300 4 MATES (62 837) for a confidential chat.     


Written by Courtney Turner, Mates4Mates Exercise Physiologist 

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