The key to becoming a better sleeper is knowing how to help our bodies—and our minds—relax at our desired bedtimes. We want to “slip off” into sleep without tossing and turning, staring at the clock, and wondering if sleep ever will come.
Regular exercise, paradoxically, is considered an essential component of relaxation. During exercise our muscles automatically tense and relax. This helps to relieve the chronic tension that often accompanies other, seemingly relaxed activities: driving a car, working at a desk, or even cooking tonight’s dinner. For example: Are your shoulders hunched as you read this tip? Are your jaw muscles clenched? If so, it’s a good time to take a break and stretch for a minute. Learning to distinguish between tension and relaxation also conserves energy. The function of muscle tension is to prepare us for movement. If we’re tense when we’re sitting still—we’re just wasting our strength!
Regular exercise also helps relax our minds. When we play a sport, run, lift weights, bike-ride, go for a walk or attend an aerobics class, our mind is cleared of other thoughts for a period of time. This respite from our daily concerns is refreshing, and it often helps us see our problems in a new light. In fact, clinical studies show that exercise is a strong, natural antidepressant!
If you want to start feeling better, looking better, and, yes, even sleeping better—regular exercise is the fastest way to arrive at your destination. Fitness experts recommend three days per week of planned physical activity. If you think you can’t afford the time, remember the wisdom of the old Nike slogan, “Just do it!” When you get done with your work-out, you’ll feel better, and you’ll be glad you “just did it!”
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