While a bit of screen time in the night may seem okay, scientists have come up with a better way of optimizing your nighttime habits to secure adequate rest – and that’s getting a mini workout before bed. However, it’s not some grueling endurance training or twisting yourself into a pretzel during a yoga sequence. The one exercise that experts suggest will improve your sleep is walking.
But before you dismiss this saying “walking is not even a workout” hear us out. According to a study by the National Sleep Foundation, a single session of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, such as walking, helped volunteers with insomnia fall asleep faster, compared to vigorous aerobic exercises, such as running or jogging before bedtime. This makes sense because intense physical exertion can rev you up, increasing your heart rate and metabolic functions, thereby causing you to feel more alert. However, a light or moderate-intensity activity may put you to sleep, because of its stress-relieving and mood-boosting properties.
Exercise is vital for maintaining your cardiovascular fitness and overall health. A common misconception is that exercising before going to bed can disrupt your sleep. While this is true for many individuals, for the most part, getting a light workout 30 minutes before bedtime can be beneficial for you.
Going for a night walk after dinner also aids digestion, especially for those who lead sedentary lifestyles. This can help curb digestive issues in the night, helping you get better sleep. Furthermore, it can be a perfect opportunity for you to wind down, assess your day’s activities, come up with innovative ideas and slowly stop thinking about your work and troubles – eventually reaching a state of fatigue.
What Are the Benefits of Walking Before Bedtime?
It’s often claimed that working out before bedtime can prevent sleep. However, scientists are now beginning to discover that exercising, whenever possible, even before you bedtime can help you sleep more soundly through the night.
A large number of studies have found that walking helps reduce stress and anxiety, which are commonly associated with sleep issues, such as insomnia. Also, to the fact that walking reduces stress and improves heart function, there are many reasons to make walking a nighttime habit.
1) It Distracts You from Your Screen Time
In today’s busy world, hitting the couch after dinner for some TV and a nightcap seems far from harmless. However, if getting quality sleep is your goal, your post-dinner ritual may be causing more harm than good. Fortunately, going for a walk can fix this. When you spend 30 minutes on a light walk after dinner, you’re taking 30 minutes away from watching TV or looking at a phone.
While this may not sound like a lot, it can have an impact on your circadian rhythm. One problem with scrolling through social media or watching TV before bedtime is the temptation to continue staying awake. Also, the action, suspense, and violence from movies may leave you feeling anxious, causing you to toss and turn for several hours before you sleep. However, this isn’t the main issue.
One major concern associated with screen time in the night is that the bright light from your TV, cell phone, tablet, and laptop may keep you up all night. Our biological clocks are evolutionarily designed according to when the sun rises and falls. As the evening progresses and it gets darker and cooler, your body naturally starts to produce a hormone called melatonin, which leads to the gradual onset of sleep.
This production of melatonin continues throughout the night, helping you fall asleep and stay asleep until your alarm rings in the morning. However, it diminishes as you reach the end of your sleep and is eventually wiped out by the morning light.
How Artificial Lights Disrupt Your Sleep Pattern
With the advancement of technology, humans have slowly moved away from their dependency on nature to determine the best time to stay awake and go to sleep. An increasing number of individuals are now using screens, including computers, smartphones, and televisions before bedtime, which can be particularly harmful to their sleep. This is because electronic devices release a type of blue light that can prompt the brain from inhibiting its melatonin production.
You may feel this isn’t the case because your eyes do begin to droop while you watch TV, scroll through your Instagram feed or work in the night using your laptop. You come to the conclusion that you can fall asleep perfectly fine as soon as your show ends or you put your phone away – but your sleep is still affected. Exposure to blue light postpones the onset of REM sleep, causing you to feel groggy in the morning.
Your sleep consists of two cycles: NREM (non-rapid eye movement) sleep and REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. Each cycle is 90 minutes long and keeps alternating throughout the night. NREM sleep constitutes light sleep, and as your sleep progresses and deepens, you gradually enter REM sleep. During REM sleep, your brain is at its most heightened state, and this is where you see dreams.
What is the Importance of REM Sleep?
During REM, your body experiences more activity in the emotional, motor, visual and autobiographical memory regions of the brain and less activity in other regions, such as those involved in rational thought. This explains why some dreams can be remarkably lucid, even if they make no sense. Scientists describe the brain in this stage as a “second gut” as it digests all information gathered during the day, separating essential memories from those that aren’t vital.
REM sleep is also known to affect how precisely individuals read emotions. For example, a Harvard study published in the journal, Current Biology, found that people who napped and reached REM sleep were much better at reading facial expressions compared to participants who didn’t enter REM sleep. Researchers have found that REM sleep reduces fear-related effects during scary situations, reducing your risk of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Dreaming also affects your creativity, memory, and mood.
Even if you can fall asleep after some screen time, chances are REM sleep is being compromised. This is evident by the fact that most people who are exposed to blue light in the night wake up feeling drowsy and not refreshed from their sleep. Therefore, you may think you are sleeping fine, but you aren’t getting the quality sleep that is natural for humans.
Your best bet: have a set nighttime schedule that involves time slots for each activity you plan to do in the night. Consider a TV detox for one week, pretending that you’re living in an earlier time. Sub TV time for nighttime walks alone or with your partner, to spend some quality with them. If you can’t miss your shows, decide to unplug from all devices at least one hour before you hit the bed.
2) It Can Reduce Your Alcohol Consumption
Leaving your house for a light stroll after dinner means that you’ll have to finish your glass of wine before you get up from the table – instead of taking a half-full glass with you to the couch and giving in to the temptation of filling it up again. Alcohol is a popular choice during the late hours of the night because of the common misconception that it helps you wind down. In fact, 20% of Americans use alcohol as a sleep aid.
If you have insomnia or have trouble falling asleep, cut back on alcohol to 2-3 glasses a week and try to restrict alcohol consumption to daytime hours only. This may feel difficult in the beginning, but changing your nighttime routine to fit in other stimulating activities, such as going for a walk or doing yoga, are excellent ways of distracting you from drinking. Plus the benefits of reducing alcohol on sleep, energy and mental clarity makes it worth it.
What Are the Effects of Alcohol on Your Circadian Rhythm?
Circadian rhythms are 24-hour rhythms controlled by a master biological clock. The biological clock is a tiny region of the brain that manages the circadian rhythm activity throughout various organs and systems of the body. Your circadian rhythm controls almost all bodily activities, from sleep, sex drive, mood, and cognition to immunity and metabolism. Alcohol can have a direct impact on your biological clock and its ability to synchronize naturally.
Because your circadian rhythm has a potent influence on your body, alcohol can have an extensive effect on all your bodily functions, that doesn’t only affect sleep, but other activities, such as:
Your digestive tract and its microbiome are typically referred to as your second brain, which functions under circadian rhythm activity. The disruptive effect of alcohol on your circadian rhythm may contribute to leaky gut syndrome, as it weakens the lining of your gut, allowing food, toxins, and bacteria to enter the bloodstream from your digestive tract.
Your Liver Function
Your liver is your body’s own natural filtration and detoxification system that helps metabolize food and chemical substances, such as alcohol. It draws toxins from your bloodstream and helps the body efficiently remove them. Just like all the other organs in your body, your liver also runs on your circadian rhythm. Alcohol disrupts the circadian rhythm that promotes liver activity, resulting in reduced liver function, liver toxicity, and related diseases.
Poor digestion can also affect your mood. However, alcohol does also have a direct relationship with depression and sleep. People who are always under stress or suffer from depression tend to have disrupted circadian rhythms already. Drinking alcohol can interfere with these rhythms even further, exacerbating stress, depression, and anxiety even further.
Why is Alcohol Bad for Sleep?
Alcohol suppresses melatonin, which is vital for an effective sleep-wake cycle. According to a study published in Chronobiology International, a moderate dosage of alcohol an hour before going to sleep can inhibit melatonin production by 20%. It is true that alcohol reduces your sleep onset latency, which is the time it takes for you to fall asleep (or more accurately, pass out). As you develop tolerance to alcohol’s sedative effects, you may need to drink more to achieve the same sleep-inducing effect.
However, the effects of alcohol can last throughout the night, even during your sleep. While the body metabolizes alcohol, the body spends less time in REM sleep, which is essential for memory, processing of emotions and creativity. Alcohol actively disrupts your sleep during the second half of your sleep, when it is already metabolized in the body.
As the sedative effect of alcohol diminishes, you experience a “rebound effect.” This is where the body transitions from deep to light sleep, causing more awakenings during the remainder of your sleep. In most cases, people don’t even remember these awakenings, but they can significantly affect sleep quality.
In general, alcohol can have the following effects on your sleep:
- Alcohol increases levels of adenosine, which is a chemical that may cause you to fall asleep at times you normally wouldn’t, severely disrupting your sleep-wake cycle.
- You may need to use the washroom frequently during the second half of your sleep.
- Increased risk for sleep-disordered breathing and snoring, as alcohol relaxes the muscles throat, head and neck, causing these muscles to collapse during sleep.
- Higher risk of parasomnia, which includes sleepwalking and sleep eating.
- Alcohol can trigger or worsen sleep disorders, such as insomnia and sleep apnea.
3) It Calms Your Mind
Having a glass of wine while watching TV may distract you from your troubles and work stress momentarily, but as soon as you start brushing your teeth and prepare for sleep, you may notice your deadline anxieties creeping in again. A brief moderate workout, whether it means walking on the treadmill before bed, or going for a light stroll around the block, is an excellent way to reflect on everything you’ve accomplished that day.
Most successful entrepreneurs take the time to write down things they are appreciative of what happened during the day. But you don’t necessarily have to do this. Creating a habit of taking stock of what you’re grateful for during your nighttime walks can serve as a key to power through tough times and stay motivated. It puts things into perspective and helps you acknowledge the smaller rewards in life.
In today’s world, it’s easy to get trapped into an endless loop of negative thoughts regarding the day’s happenings, which you wish you had taken care of differently. Despite how bad one feels the day went, most successful individuals often manage to avoid negative self-talk as they know it will only worsen their stress and impair their productivity.
Therefore, taking the time to reflect on the positive moments of the day can not only place you in a more grateful mood but can also help you envision tomorrow’s success better. Walking increases dopamine and serotonin levels in your body, which can seriously heighten your mood. This can boost your positivity, help you visualize positive outcomes for your current projects and effectively curb your stress.
4) It Puts You in a Proper Sleep Schedule
Sleep is triggered by a multitude of external cues, including the time of the day and the presence of light. However, when you have a consistent sleep schedule, specific nighttime activities, such as making a cup of herbal tea, can signal the brain that it’s time for sleep. When you create a nighttime habit of going for a brief walk before you sleep, you’re helping your brain realize that you’re about to hit the hay. This can help the body slow down its metabolic functions, helping you relax, physically and mentally.
It always helps to have a set plan for what you’re going to do in the night, what time you’re going to sleep and when you’re going to wake up. Count back the number of hours you need to sleep, which ideally should be 8-9 hours and set an alarm that will remind you to get ready for bed.
Plan your walks for at least one to three hours before you sleep, so that you have enough time to drink water, get into your pajamas, brush your teeth and engage in some quiet meditation. Not sticking to a schedule and staying up late in the night will cause you to hit snooze multiple times in the morning. Instead of wasting time arguing over getting up and sleeping in vexing 5-minute increments, why not just take the time to set up an effective nighttime ritual that will guarantee quality sleep and will leave you feeling refreshed in the morning?
5) It’s a Great Way to Spend Quality Time with Your Partner
What’s more romantic than going for a leisurely stroll during the silent hours of the night? Involving your partner in this nighttime habit will not only help improve their sleep but will also allow both of you to enjoy each other’s undivided attention – without the distraction of a phone or TV.
Going for a walk with your partner is a great way to connect with them and talk about your day. It also sets you two up for a good night’s rest, helping you wake up feeling more positive the next day.
6) It Improves Your Digestion
Moving a little after eating can give your digestion a boost, preventing unpleasant digestive issues, such as acid reflux at bedtime. Walking straight after dinner, improves your digestion and blood sugar levels, increasing the rate at which food moves through your stomach. This helps you leaving less bloated as you drift off and sets you up for an effective bowel movement as soon as you wake up.
7) It Helps You Lose Weight
Walking after a meal also regulates your blood sugar levels. Your body experiences rapid blood sugar spikes following a heavy meal. This stimulates the release of insulin, which promotes fat storage. However, going for a walk in the night can help get things moving in your stomach and reduce the effects of insulin, thus aiding in weight loss.
When you go for a walk, you’re also reducing the amount of time being inactive, such as when you’re watching TV. Watching TV in the night also triggers you to have late night cravings because your body releases more ghrelin (hunger-inducing hormone) and less leptin (hunger-suppressing hormones) during odd hours. Giving in to your cravings and consuming high-sugar or processed food, triggers the reward center of your brain, causing you to overeat.
But walking also stimulates the reward center of your brain so that it can act as a healthy substitute your nighttime cravings. Therefore, walking has an opposite effect in your body’s biochemistry, inhibiting your cravings and allowing you to sleep without a grumbling tummy.
This doesn’t only help you lose weight, but also keeps you away from unhealthy snacks that can wreak havoc in your digestive system and increase your risk of heart disease and diabetes.
8) It Helps you Optimize Your Bedtime Rituals
Most days, when you’re rooted on your couch at night, you may notice the books you wish to read, the gratitude journal you mean to start using and the meditation pillow you’d like to utilize more often. You look at these objects meant for self-improvement, aspire to tackle your goals one of these days and feel guilty about not focusing on them. Eventually, you return your focus to what you’re watching, until you’re ready to hit the bed.
Going for an evening walk can have a surprising impact on how you spend the rest of your night. When you perform one activity that is meant to improve you physically and mentally, you start craving for more things that will help you reach your goals. You’ll start reading and meditating in the night again, instead of relying on TV or your phone as your only sources of relaxation. You’ll understand that taking a warm shower a couple of hours before bed can have a more positive effect on your sleep than camping on your couch and sipping on a couple of glasses of alcohol.
Just a few days into your new routine, you’ll give yourself more “me-time” in the night so that you can write in your journal, perform other positive nighttime activities and still have enough time to get 8 hours of sleep. And the best part: you won’t even feel the urge to turn on your TV or scroll through your social media. An optimized nighttime routine is just that powerful.