Exercise as a Treatment to Enhance Sleep

Matthew P. Buman, Abby C. King

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

110 Scopus citations


The prevalence of sleep-related complaints and the limited efficacy of pharmacological treatments make nonpharmacological alternatives essential. Physical exercise is one such alternative that is inexpensive and affects numerous health systems simultaneously. This article reviews putative mechanisms that have guided exercise and sleep research, including exercise—s antidepressant effects, restorative functions, and circadian effects, and concludes that a number of mechanisms are plausible and likely active in explaining the effects of exercise on sleep. The empirical literature is reviewed, with special emphasis given to randomized controlled trials and experimental studies that help to inform for whom (eg, age, fitness characteristics), under what conditions (eg, light exposure, time of day), and by what means (eg, type, intensity, duration) exercise optimally affects sleep. The review also includes the emerging research using exercise as a treatment of obstructive sleep apnea and restless legs syndrome. The current literature indicates that moderate amounts of exercise, which can be obtained through a variety of means such as brisk walking and resistance training, are sufficient to improve sleep quality. Additional research is warranted in this area, particularly randomized controlled trials that target subgroups at risk for poor sleep such as older adults and persons with sleep disorders.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)500-514
Number of pages15
JournalAmerican Journal of Lifestyle Medicine
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • exercise
  • insomnia
  • physical activity
  • review
  • sleep

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Health Policy
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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