Millions of adults are concerned about their sleep patterns; in particular, those who suffer from insomnia. If you have difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, waking up too early, and/or not feeling rested, you are probably suffering from insomnia. Sleep is a highly complex activity. There are a variety of reasons why someone might have trouble sleeping. One is a lack of physical activity in his or her daily routine.
Exercise is an important thing you can do to reduce insomnia. It helps you fall asleep faster and allows you to sleep more deeply and restfully. Instead of running to the medicine cabinet for a sleep aid, why not invest some time in being physically active? Research shows the following benefits of exercise when it comes to fighting insomnia:
• Moderately-intense exercise (for example, walking) reduces the time it takes to fall asleep and increases the length of sleep time and sleep quality.
• Exercise in the afternoon or evening helps promote a rise, then fall, of your body temperature. This is good because your body heats up after activity, increasing metabolism. Then you experience a cool-down phase, which promotes sleep. Try to exercise 3-6 hours before bedtime to get maximum sleep benefits.
• Better sleep increases energy levels during the day, making you more “peppy” (which in turn increases sleep time–win/win).
• Exercise helps decrease anxiety and depression, which are sleep “stealers.”
• Insomnia increases with age. Finding behavioral ways (such as increasing activity levels) to cope with this metabolic shift will benefit you long term (as opposed to temporary sleep aids).
• Drug-free sleep (using physical activity instead of a sleeping pill) is a better option because it reduces the risk of medication interactions.
• Exercise stresses the body. The brain then compensates for this stress by increasing the time you spend in deep sleep.
• Humans have biological “time clocks” called circadian rhythms, just like plants and animals. Those circadian rhythms affect your body temperature, appetite, hormone secretions, and sleep patterns. Exercise may “shift” the timing of your body clock depending on when you exercise. That’s because when you exercise outside, you increase your exposure to natural light, which is extremely important in the regulation of your circadian rhythm (and explains why people sleep so much better when they are out-of-doors camping or hiking).
So what are you waiting for? Get active, get some fresh air, and get some sleep! And remember the immortal words of Benjamin Franklin: “Fatigue is the best pillow.”
Donna Green, Family & Consumer Sciences Educator, Ohio State University Extension, Erie County
Liz Smith, M.S, RDN., L.D. NE Regional Program Specialist, SNAP-ED, Ohio State University Extension