Can Exercising Help Cure Your Insomnia?



The Connection Between Your Physical Activity and Insomnia:

The many benefits of exercise have been known for years, but can exercise help me to get a better night of sleep? The short answer is ABSOLUTELY!

Trouble with falling and staying asleep, also known as insomnia, is extremely common.  In the general population, about 10-15 % of us suffer with insomnia, many of whom are women. Insomnia can start out as short lived and situational, such during a time of significant stress or hormonal shifts such as menopause. If insomnia continues for weeks on end, it can become chronic and much harder to treat.

The reasons for insomnia can be multifactorial including stressful situations, sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, medication side effects or other medically related issues.  There are many medications on the market that can be used to treat insomnia, but often the side effects of the medications can disturb our deeper, restorative sleep that is also known as REM sleep. In addition, the most common class of medications used for sleep, called benzodiazepines, have been shown to have negative effects on mental clarity and memory.

So what CAN be done if you can’t sleep?

There are alternatives other than medications. Research has shown that an invention called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), also known as counselling or therapy, with a mental health professional, can be 70-80% effective in improving your quality of sleep. The goal for a good night of sleep should be to be able to fall asleep within 15-30 minutes of going to bed, being able to stay asleep for 7-8 hours, depending on the needs of your own body, and being able to wake refreshed and mentally sharp and remain that way for the length of your entire day, without the need for a nap.

With many of us walking around busy and sleep deprived, how in the world are you supposed find the time to sleep? One of the best answers can be exercise.

Many studies around the world have noted the negative association between insomnia and physical activity. A study done by the National Sleep Foundation found that people between the ages of 55-84 who exercised regularly had fewer complaints of poor sleep than those who exercised less than once a week. In addition, a British study found that higher levels of regular physical activity appear to be protective against the effects of chronic insomnia.

So what types of exercise is best and when is the best time to get your body moving?

A meta-analysis performed by Shawn Youngstedt – a professor at Arizona State University with a PhD in Exercise Sciences – reported an average increase of about 10 minutes of total sleep time and a reduction of 2 minutes of sleep onset after acute exercise in patients who report having no trouble with sleep.

In those with chronic insomnia, the benefits are much greater.

Three different types of exercise were assessed-moderate aerobic such as walking, intense such as running, and moderate resistance such as weight training. Moderate intensity aerobic activity demonstrated the most significant benefit with a 50% reduction in the time it took to fall asleep, an 18% increase in total sleep time, and a 15% reduction in pre-sleep anxiety.

Why does exercise help with sleep?

1. Temperature: Studies have shown that one of the signals to our body for falling asleep is a decrease in body temperature, which is mediated by an increase in blood flow to the skin so our body can get rid of heat. The theory behind exercise is that the increase in core body temperature helps to get rid of our body heat by causing the blood vessels under the skin to dilate.

2. Anxiety: Many studies have shown that exercise helps to relieve stress and reduce anxiety, which can be translated into a better ability to fall, and stay, asleep.

3. Biochemical Effects: Serotonin is a substance that your body makes to help you to feel calmer, less anxious and less depressed. Low levels of serotonin can result during times of stress. Exercise can help your body to become more efficient at producing and maintaining your serotonin levels, and thus, help you to feel less depressed or anxious, which can impact your quality of sleep.

In addition to exercise, other things to keep in mind when wanting to get the best shut eye possible include:

  • Keep to a routine. Try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day.
  • Avoid alcohol. It can interfere with your ability to sleep deeply and dream.
  • Don’t stress. If you feel stressed get help in managing your ability to cope.
  • Get good nutrition. Avoid sugar and caffeine – especially before bed.
  • Quiet music..Candles and a peaceful atmosphere can help to clear your mind

If you suffer from sleep troubles for weeks on end, talk to your doctor or mental health professional to help you to fall and stay asleep. The longer you suffer from a good night’s rest, the harder it may be to overcome.

So keep exercising and sleep away! Your mind and body will thank you.


Here’s to the best of your health!

Elizabeth Salada MD, MPH

Internal Medicine and Wellness

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