An effective way of increasing your chances of getting adequate rest is by getting a mini workout before bedtime.
However, it’s not some grueling endurance training or twisting yourself into a pretzel during a yoga sequence. Exercise experts suggest that walking before bedtime will improve your sleep.
Walking 1-3 hours before bed is associated with improved physical and mental well-being. It aids digestion, which is important for those who lead sedentary lifestyles.
Walking also provides an opportunity to relieve stress, improve your mood, share time with a partner, and stop thinking about work.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, a single session of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, such as walking, enabled volunteers with insomnia to fall asleep faster than vigorous aerobic exercises.
What Are The Benefits of Walking Before Bedtime?
It was once believed that working out before bedtime prevented sleep.
However, scientists are now discovering that light exercise before bedtime helps you sleep more soundly. Studies have found that walking reduces stress and anxiety, which are associated with sleep issues, such as insomnia.
There are many reasons to make walking a nighttime habit:
1/ Less 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 impact your circadian rhythm. One problem with scrolling through social media or watching TV before bedtime is the temptation to stay awake.
Also, the action, suspense, violence, and bad news may make you 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 during 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 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 melatonin production continues throughout the night, helping you fall asleep until your alarm rings in the morning. However, it diminishes as you reach the end of your sleep and will be gone 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 sleep.
An increasing number of individuals are now using screens, including computers, smartphones, and televisions, before bedtime, which can adversely affect their sleep. That’s because electronic devices release a blue light that can prompt the brain to inhibit melatonin production.
You may feel this isn’t the case because your eyes begin drooping while you watch TV, scroll through your Instagram feed, or work at night using your laptop.
You conclude that you can fall asleep as soon as your show ends or 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 most heightened, so you have dreams.
Importance of REM Sleep
During REM, your body experiences more activity in the brain’s emotional, motor, visual, and autobiographical memory regions and less activity in other regions, such as those involved in rational thought.
This explains why some dreams can be 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 from non-essential memories.
REM sleep is also known to affect how 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 than 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, the chances are that REM sleep is being compromised. This is evident because most people exposed to blue light at night wake up feeling drowsy and not refreshed from their sleep.
So, have a set nighttime schedule that involves time slots for each activity you plan to do during the night. Consider a TV detox for one week, pretending that you’re living at 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, unplug all devices at least one hour before bed.
2/ Reduced Alcohol Consumption
You’ll have to finish your glass of wine before you get up from the table, which prevents you from taking a half-full glass 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. 20% of Americans use alcohol as a sleep aid.
If you have insomnia or trouble falling asleep, reduce alcohol to 2-3 glasses a week and restrict alcohol consumption to daytime hours only.
This may feel difficult initially, but changing your nighttime routine to fit in with other stimulating activities, such as going for a walk or doing yoga, are great ways to distract you from drinking.
The benefits of reducing alcohol on sleep, energy, and mental clarity make it worth it.
Effects of Alcohol on 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 directly impact your biological clock and its ability to synchronize naturally.
Because your circadian rhythm has a heavy influence on your body, alcohol can have an extensive effect on all your bodily functions, which doesn’t only affect sleep, but other activities, such as:
The digestive tract and its microbiome are called the second brain, functioning under circadian rhythm activity.
The disruptive effect of alcohol on your circadian rhythm may contribute to leaky gut syndrome. It weakens your gut lining, allowing food, toxins, and bacteria to enter the bloodstream from your digestive tract.
The liver is your body’s natural filtration and detoxification system that metabolizes food and chemical substances, such as alcohol. It draws toxins from your bloodstream and helps the body efficiently remove them.
Like all the other organs, your liver runs on your circadian rhythm. Alcohol disrupts the circadian rhythm, reducing liver function and causing liver toxicity.
Alcohol has a direct relationship with depression and sleep. People who are always under stress or have depression have disrupted circadian rhythms, as drinking alcohol causes interference.
Why is Alcohol Bad for Sleep?
Alcohol suppresses melatonin, which is vital for an effective sleep-wake cycle.
According to Chronobiology International, a moderate alcohol dosage an hour before sleep can inhibit melatonin production by 20%.
Alcohol reduces sleep onset latency, which is the time it takes 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 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 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.
Alcohol can have the following effects on your sleep:
- Alcohol increases adenosine levels, 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 bathroom 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/ Calms The 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 preparing for sleep, you may notice your deadline anxieties creeping in again. A brief moderate workout, whether 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 good things that took place during the day. But you don’t necessarily have to do this. Taking stock of what you’re grateful for during your nighttime walks can help you get through the tough times and stay motivated.
In today’s world, it’s easy to get trapped in 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 avoid negative self-talk as they know it’ll only worsen their stress and impair productivity.
Therefore, taking the time to reflect on the positive moments of the day can place you in a more grateful mood and 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/ Better Sleep Schedule
Sleep is triggered by many external cues, like 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 to the brain that it’s time for sleep.
When you create a nighttime habit of walking 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, enabling you to relax.
It always helps to plan what you’re going to do at night, what time you’ll go to sleep, and when you’ll wake up. Count back the hours you need to sleep, ideally 8-9 hours, and set the alarm to remind you to prepare for bed.
Plan your walks for at least 1-3 hours before you sleep so that you have enough time to drink water, get into your pajamas, brush your teeth, and engage in quiet meditation.
5/ Quality Time with Partner
What’s nicer than going for a stroll during the silent hours of the night?
Involving your partner in this nighttime habit will improve their sleep and allow both of you to enjoy each other’s undivided attention without the distraction of a phone or TV.
Walking with your partner is a great way to connect with them and talk about your day. It also sets you both up for a good night’s rest, enabling you to wake up feeling more positive in the morning.
6/ Improved Digestion
Walking after eating can enhance digestion, preventing 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 makes you feel less bloated and promotes bowel movement when you wake up.
7/ Weight Loss
Going for a walk after a meal regulates your blood sugar levels. Your body experiences rapid blood sugar spikes following a heavy meal, stimulating insulin release and promoting fat storage.
However, going for a walk at night in a well-lit area 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 you’re inactive.
Watching TV at night triggers 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 your brain’s reward center, causing you to overeat.
Walking stimulates your brain’s reward center to be a healthy substitute for nighttime cravings. Therefore, walking has the opposite effect on your body’s biochemistry, inhibiting your cravings and allowing you to sleep without a rumbling stomach.
8/ Activities That You’ve Delayed
Most days, when you’re rooted to the couch, 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 go to bed.
Going for an evening walk can impact how you spend the rest of your night. When you perform one activity to improve yourself physically and mentally, you start doing more to reach your goals.
You’ll start reading and meditating at night instead of relying on TV or your phone as your only source of relaxation. You’ll understand that a warm shower a couple of hours before bed can positively affect your sleep more than resting on your couch and sipping wine or beer.
Just a few days into your new routine, you’ll give yourself more me-time to write in your journal, perform other positive nighttime activities and still have enough time to get 8 hours of sleep. You won’t even feel the urge to turn on your TV or scroll through your social media.