Alaska Sleep Education Center

Exercise and Insomnia

Posted by Jennifer Hines

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on Apr 28, 2019 12:24:00 PM

Do you suffer from insomnia? Are you too exhausted during the day to even contemplate exercising? It’s understandable that if you’re not sleeping well, you feel too tired to work out. But studies show that as little as a brisk, 30-minute walk can have amazing affects on your sleepless nights.

exerciseExercise can significantly improve not only your quality of sleep, but the time it takes to actually fall asleep – without drugs. A 2010 study at Northwestern University showed that people who exercised regularly and brought their heart rates up to 75% max slept better and had more energy during the day compared to people who did not exercise but exerted themselves mentally (ie, through cooking classes or listening to a lecture).

If you are suffering from insomnia and want to see if physical activity will help, exercise earlier in the day; there is evidence that getting your heart rate revved up just before bedtime might keep you awake.

In the debate of regular exercise versus not exercising at all, regular exercise is the undisputed heavy-weight champion of the world. You just don’t hear arguments otherwise. Although we know exercising is good for us, it’s often the first thing we abandon when life gets busy. Significantly cutting back exercising, or not exercising at all, can have serious repercussions on our physical and mental health. We’re not arguing the fact that we need more exercise. Most of us are simply trying to find time to do it.

Fitness experts believe that the secret to regular exercise is fitting it into our daily schedules. Look for a time when you don’t have anything scheduled: Free from meetings, responsibilities, and other priorities. This typically leaves most us with two options: early morning or late at night. And although there are those of us who are morning people, some simply are not.

To find time to workout, do we need to become morning exercise people? Or can we fit it in late at night? Furthermore, will working out closer to bedtime affect our sleep?

In a recent CNN report, Dr. Stuart Quan, the Gerald E. McGinnis Professor of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, and editor-in-chief of UnderstandingSleep.org, was asked about working out later at night and if it negatively affects sleep.

“Their adrenaline is high, their brain is high, and it’s difficult to wind down,” Dr. Quan states.

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However, he doesn’t caution against it. Dr. Quan simply suggests that you give yourself time to wind down after your workout. Relaxing a few hours between ending your workout and going to sleep is ideal. This allows your body temperature and heart rate to return to normal, and gives you a chance to calm down after elevating your adrenaline levels.

On the flip side, other studies do not show a strong connection between working out and sleep issues, even when exercising 35 minutes right before bedtime. In a study conducted by the National Sleep Foundation, the majority of those interviewed reported that they slept better on days they exercised than days they did not.

Fitness experts do suggest that there are better workouts to do before bedtime. High-intensity cardio exercise, such as sprinting, soccer, basketball, or any other vigorous activity should be done at least two hours before bed to give your body time to calm down. Conversely, the best late-night exercise is weight training, stretching, yoga, light jogging, or any other activity that does not elevate adrenaline levels.

AdobeStock_75971740.jpegThe bottom line is that everyone is different. If you enjoy working out at night, listen to your body and see how you react to different types of exercise. Try to follow advice from the New Health Advisor, which lists a few guidelines that can help enhance any late-night workout.

  1. Make sure you cool down properly. This means a light jog after a long workout or stretching. This will help return your breathing levels back to normal.
  2. Take a cold shower. Although the suggested time for a cold shower is 5 minutes, a quick one-minute in-and-out should be enough to lower your body temperature back to normal levels. 
  3. Practice deep breathing and mediation exercises. Our previous blog post on simple breathing exercises to help you relax will help significantly to lower your adrenaline levels. 
  4. Use calming supplements such as essential oils. Try lavender oil, magnesium powder, kava kava, and passionflower extract.

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There are a number of late-night exercise routines suggested by personal trainers, and most are quick and easy. Try the 10-minute workout to boost metabolism before bed workout and see how you feel. If that one doesn’t work well for you, simply search online for bedtime exercise routines. You will find enough workouts to try a new routine every night for a month.

If you are struggling with getting enough sleep, or would like some expert advice about the connection with exercise and sleep, contact your local sleep experts. If you live in Alaska, click on the link below to connect with a professional sleep specialist.

Download Self Referral Form

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Topics: alaska sleep clinic, insomnia

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