If you find it hard to sleep, cycling could be just the thing you need. In fact, one of the many benefits of cycling is that it helps you to sleep better. And getting enough sleep is crucial for every aspect of good health, notably brain health and heart health. In this post we explain how cycling improves sleep, which leads directly to improved health. For those who want to learn more, there is also a list of sources at the end of this post.
Cycling Makes Most People Feel Great
Most cyclists love their sport, even when they end up looking like the guy below at the end of the ride!
Why would people love something that exhausts them that much? Well, science shows many ways in which cycling makes people feel great. It enhances sleep, energy levels, brain health, heart health, and overall fitness.
The Crucial Importance of Sleep for Good Health
Sleep deficiency can lead to, or at least contribute to, many chronic health problems. These include diabetes, stroke, obesity, heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, and depression. Sleep deficiency is also associated with increased risk of injury. For example, driver sleepiness can cause serious car crash injuries and even death. In seniors, sleep deficiency can cause an increased risk of falls and broken bones (US Department of Health and Human Services).
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Also, the American Psychological Association points out that getting enough sleep is an important foundation for happiness.
Decreased Exercise causes Decreased Fitness – Which Causes Sleep Problems
Research shows that when we exercise less, we lose fitness and experience increasing difficulty with sleeping. University of Georgia researchers studied the health habits of more than 8,000 men and women between the ages of 20 and 85 over the course of 35 years. They found that as study participants lost fitness over time, they had increased difficulty in getting an uninterrupted night of sleep.
Alarmingly, a decrease of fitness as small as 2% in men or 4% for women caused problems. Rodney Dishman, Ph.D., a professor of exercise science at UGA and one of the lead authors of the study, said:
“The steepest decline in cardiorespiratory fitness happens between ages 40 and 60. This is also when problems of sleep duration and quality are elevated.”
Cycling Improves Sleep
Stanford University School of Medicine researchers discovered that cycling for just 20 to 30 minutes per day helped people who were suffering from insomnia to get off to sleep twice more quickly, compared to when they didn’t cycle. Plus, it increased their amount of sleep by almost an hour!
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The Link Between Sleep and Serotonin
The link between exercise and sleep is not clearly understood. However, it is suspected that it has to do with the mind body connection. Dishman says:
“Exercise can calm anxiety, which is one key cause of insomnia.”
Dishman suggests that exercise naturally improves brain serotonin circuits. This is the same effect that is achieved with some long-term sleep aids.
Also, exercise can help to slow the weight gain that usually comes with ageing. Weight gain can lead to sleep apnea, which makes it much harder to sleep well.
The good news is that we can easily improve the situation with cycling. Dishman says:
“[the amount of fitness decline described above] is easily reversed in most people by meeting current guidelines for health, such as exercising vigorously at least 75 minutes each week.”
The Role of Vitamin D in Improving Sleep
Some think that improved sleep after cycling is caused by the vitamin D absorption from the sunlight that cyclists soak up while riding. The sunlight helps to keep our body clock on a regular rhythm, while also lowering levels of cortisol in the body. Together, these support deeper, more regenerative sleep.
The vitamin D in sunlight also promotes the production of the same vitamin in the body, and this is proven to improve mood (Zayed University College of Sustainability Sciences and Humanities).
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How Cycling Helps Your Brain
Having good brain health is of course essential. How does this relate to sleep, you might wonder? Well, researchers at Illinois University discovered that research participants performed a substantial 15% better in mental testing after their cardio-respiratory fitness was improved by 5% through cycling.
Cycling Improves Memory
Researchers put this down to the fact that exercise helps your brain’s hippocampus area – the region responsible for memory – to produce new cells.
Have you ever lain awake at night, trying to remember an appointment you think you have tomorrow, or worrying about whether you did that thing you were meant to do at work yesterday? If so, you know the anxiety we feel when we have memory issues. The anxiety causes stress, and stress causes forgetfulness, meaning you’ll get stuck in a vicious cycle – when all you have to do is go for a bike ride instead!
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Heart Health, Sleep, and Cycling
Sleep is massively important for the health of your heart. Long-term lack of sleep has been linked to a heightened risk of heart disease. In addition, lack of sleep has been linked to other, often-related disorders, including high blood pressure, kidney disease, diabetes, and stroke (US Department of Health and Human Services).
Evidence published by Purdue University found that regular cycling has the potential to lower a person’s risk of suffering heart disease by half. Cycling as few as 20 miles per week was proven to decrease your risk of heart disease by 50% (Buban – See List of Sources at end of post.)
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Cycling Boosts Your Energy
Commuters who report actually enjoying their daily trip to work the most are those who are active commuters. Cyclists, along with pedestrians, are active commuters. Expending energy to cycle actually causes cyclists to come away from a ride with feelings of being more awake and less tired. People who actively commuter to work are likely to feel more energized for the day ahead. Maggie and I both experienced this personally for many years.
Contrary to what you might expect, people have more energy after exercise, rather than less:
“The studies showed consistent effects on energy feelings. In 91 percent of comparisons, feelings of energy increased after exercise compared to sitting quietly in control conditions. The average energy boost after exercise was large enough to meaningfully improve the participant’s mood that day.” (Loy et al., see Sources)
“When people feel tired at the end of the day, most choose sedentary pastimes like watching TV, reading, snacking or drinking a tasty beverage that they think will refresh them. They don’t realize that taking that first step to exercise can actually give them more energy, while also offsetting the health risks of those sedentary choices.”
Research has found that cycling reduces feelings of fatigue by a whopping 65%, while also increasing energy levels by 20%. You’re effectively just eliminating having to cope with spikes of stressful cortisol associated with driving, and instead stimulating bursts of dopamine; the neurotransmitter that helps provide you with energy after exercise.
Cycling During the Day Leads to Better Sleep at Night
All in all, a daily bout of cycling will boost your energy for the day’s tasks, as well as quiet your mind and improve your mood. So if you cycle during the day, you are likely to go to bed feeling less restless, meaning you can expect to enjoy a far better night’s sleep. And this will lay the foundation for long-term better health!
Happy cycling and sleeping!
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Sources Used in this Post
American Psychological Association. “Why Sleep is Important.”
Buban, Charles E. “Cutting one’s risk of heart disease by 50%.” Philippine Daily Inquirer.
Cassity, Jessica. “Why Cycling Helps You Sleep Better.”
Childs, Michael. “UGA kinesiology researchers find single bout of exercise boosts energy.” Fatigue: Biomedicine, Health & Behavior.
Loy, Bryan D., Patrick J. O’Connor and Rodney K. Dishman. “The effect of a single bout of exercise on energy and fatigue states: A systematic review and meta-analysis.” Biomedicine, Health and Behavior.
US Department of Health and Human Services. “Sleep Deprivation and Deficiency.”
Zayed University College of Sustainability Sciences and Humanities.
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