The active way to get your rest

If you want to sleep better at night, be more active during the day -- because regular exercise can help you get the rest you need.

Just don't expect overnight success.

A single workout won't help you sleep better any more than dieting for a single meal will help you to lose weight.

You need to commit -- and if you manage to go from being sedentary to getting three or four workouts a week, you could eventually add nearly an hour to your nightly sleep tally, according to a new study of 11 inactive older women with sleep disorders.

At the start of the study, these women averaged just 5 hours and 54 minutes of sleep per night -- or enough to make anyone tired and cranky all day.

But over time, as they worked their way up to three or four 30-minute workouts a week, they added 46 minutes to their nightly shuteye, for an average of 6 hours and 40 minutes a night -- or pretty close to the national average of 6 hours and 51 minutes.

The catch? No one got immediate benefits. The women began to sleep better! gradually over the course of 16 weeks, according to the study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.

In other words, if you join a gym, take up running or start playing sports and don't get the sleep results you're looking for right away, don't give up.

Stick with it -- and while the study was on women, this goes for men as well.

Just remember that when it comes to sleep and exercise, timing is everything. A workout just before bed might sound pretty tiring, but the reality is just the opposite.

Exercise can give you an adrenaline boost and raise your body temperature, making it difficult (if not impossible) to get to sleep right after.

So get your movement, just get it earlier in the day. And along with helping you to sleep better, regular exercise can improve your circulation, protect the heart and brain, and slash your risk of dementia, heart disease and stroke.

And if you want a little immediate help as you work your way up to those long-term benefits, try a natural sleep supplement such as melatonin.