Movement to Improve Your Sleep-Wake Cycle

movement to improve your sleep wake cycle

Among its many benefits, movement and physical activity can help improve sleep. Even 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise can spur better shuteye that night, according to research. Here’s why: Moving tires out the body, increasing the drive for sleep and making it easier to fall asleep. Exercise also reduces feelings of anxiousness, leading to deeper sleep.1 For a movement schedule to maximize your sleep-wake cycle, read on.

Early morning: dynamic stretches

By beginning your day with stretches featuring movement, you’ll help your nervous system segue from parasympathetic mode (when it’s focused on resting and digesting) to sympathetic mode (when it’s primed for action). By activating or “warming” your muscles with dynamic stretching, you’ll also reduce the chances of joint discomfort. 

If you prefer a gentle wake-up routine, segue through these moves slowly. However, if you subscribe to a “splash-cold-water-on-your-face” approach, flow through them more quickly. 

Lay down a mat, ideally outside—natural light will help your body stay awake during the day and become sleepy at night. Then try these moves for 30 seconds each: 

  • Jumping jacks

  • Mountain climbers

  • Squats

  • Walking lunges

  • Bicycle crunches

Late morning or early afternoon: vigorous aerobic activity

Aerobic exercise raises core body temperature for 30-90 minutes, keeping us in a more alert state. That’s why it’s ideal to work up a sweat earlier in the day, hours before we turn in. For your high-impact or vigorous regimen, consider an activity that makes your breathing deep and rapid and causes you to sweat after only a few minutes. 

To make sure your training is high impact, track your heart rate—it should be 70-85% of your maximum heart rate, according to the American Heart Association. Here’s how to come up with the numbers:

  • First, determine your maximum heart rate: Subtract your age from 220. 

  • Calculate your resting heart rate: When you’re at rest (like first thing in the morning), check your activity tracker for the number. Or count how many times your heart beats per minute. Your resting heart rate will probably be between 60-100 beats per minute.

  • Calculate your heart rate reserve (HRR): Subtract your resting heart rate from your maximum heart rate.

  • Calculate your target heart rate zone for vigorous exercise: Get the lower number by multiplying your HRR by 0.7, then adding your resting heart rate to this number. For the higher number, multiply your HRR by 0.85, then add your resting heart rate to this number. Your target range should be between these two numbers.

  • Check out this great heart rate calculator to help you out! 

For exact guidance, discuss with your personal trainer, doctor, or exercise physiologist.

Before bed: low-impact movement

To help your body transition to sleep, choose a lower-impact form of activity, like a leisurely walk or yoga. If you can, take deep breaths and focus on your breathing. Consider dimming the lights or turning on relaxing music.


  1. (2020, Nov 11). HealthEssentials > Sleep.

  2. Mateo, A. (2019, Nov. 27). Health & Fitness.

  3. Tucker, A. (2016, Sept 4). Rise and Shine. 

  4. Smith, A. (n.d.). Morning Exercises.

  5. (n.d.). Health > Wellness & Prevention.

  6. (2020, Nov 11). HealthEssentials > Sleep.

  7. Mayo Clinic Staff. (2021, June 17).Healthy Lifestyle > Fitness.