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This is the best type of exercise to do for a good night's sleep

A lack of sleep is well known to be bad for your health. Despite that, it’s one area of our wellbeing that is often neglected.

The recommended amount of sleep each night is eight hours, yet over half of adults in the UK sleep for six hours or fewer each night. And only 17% of us are getting the right amount.

If sleep is something you struggle with, you might assume that going for a run or another form of energetic exercise could be a good way of tiring you out before bed.

But a new study has found that resistance training may be superior to aerobic activity, when it comes to helping us fall asleep.

The research was funded by the US National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health and took place over the course of a year.

The study

386 adults – who all met the criteria as being overweight or obese – were randomly assigned to four different tests groups.

As well as a ‘no-exercise’ group (for comparison), there was an aerobic only group, a resistance only group and a group that were combining the two types of exercise.

Over the 12 month period, everyone in the three exercise groups participated in supervised 60-minute sessions, three times a week, with the combination exercise group splitting each section equally between the two different types of training.

The various workouts included:

Aerobic exercise : ‘Participants could choose between treadmills, upright or recumbent bikes or ellipticals for their aerobic modality. Researchers monitored their heart rates to keep them continuously in the prescribed heart rate range for a moderate-to-vigorous intensity exercise.’

Resistance exercise: ‘This group completed their sets and repetitions on 12 resistance machines to work all the major muscle groups in a session. This included leg press, chest press, lat pulldown, leg curl, leg extension, biceps curl, triceps pushdown, shoulder press, abdominal crunch, lower back extension, torso rotation and hip abduction. Participants performed three sets of 8 to 16 repetitions at 50-80% of their one-rep maximum.’

Combination: ‘This group did 30 minutes of aerobic exercise at a moderate-to-vigorous intensity, and then two sets of 8 to 16 repetitions of resistance exercise on 9 machines instead of 12.’


Before starting, the participants were assessed for their existing sleep quality, with researchers measuring: Sleep duration, sleep efficiency (i.e sleeping time versus time in bed), sleep latency (how long it takes to get to sleep), and sleep disturbance.

In the beginning, 35% of the study group had poor sleep quality.

Over the 12 month period, sleep duration improved most for the resistance group.

Of those who weren’t getting a minimum of seven hours sleep (42% of the group), sleep duration increased by an average of 40 minutes for the resistance training group, compared to 23 minutes in the aerobic group, 15 minutes in the combination group – and 15 minutes in the ‘no-exercise’ group.

Sleeping time versus time spent in bed increased in the resistance and combined exercise groups, and not at all in the aerobic or control group.

The time it took to get to sleep decreased by three minutes for the resistance group – and not at all for the others.

Sleep quality and sleep disturbances improved some in all groups.

‘Resistance exercise significantly improved sleep duration and sleep efficiency, which are critical indicators of sleep quality that reflects how well a person falls asleep and stays asleep throughout the night,’ said study author Angelique Brellenthin, Ph.D., assistant professor of kinesiology at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa.

‘Therefore, if your sleep has gotten noticeably worse over the past two stressful years, consider incorporating two or more resistance exercise training sessions into your regular exercise routine to improve your general muscle and bone health, as well as your sleep.’

The study also said improving sleep also improves your heart health, which would help prevent heart disease and stroke.

So, if you’re struggling to sleep, or worried about your heart health, it’s definitely worth adding some resistance training to your routine – at least twice a week.

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