Can’t Sleep? How Exercise Can Help You Sleep Better

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sleep deprivation has become a national health epidemic in this country, and what is truly concerning is that most people aren’t even aware that they are part of it. Studies have determined that we humans don’t perceive when we’re running at a sleep deficit, but the truth is that when you’re feeling sleepy during the day, you’re not performing physically or mentally at the level that you normally would. Add to that the fact that consistent lack of adequate sleep puts the body at risk for cardiovascular problems, high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes – not to mention the risk of drowsy driving – and you can understand why health experts are so concerned about the trend.

Though many people turn to sleep-inducing medications, these are a temporary solution that can have some troublesome side effects. A better solution is the introduction of approaching sleep by understanding how the body works and what in most cases are the underlying mechanisms behind these challenges. There are of course external factors to poor sleep/lack of sleep one must mind, such as cutting out caffeine after 2:00 in the afternoon, turning off electronics an hour and a half before bedtime, dimming and darkening a room sooner, or avoiding having alcohol in your system before bed.

One of the strategies to help you sleep better is the introduction of regular exercise to your daily routine. There have been many studies on this topic and we are still learning, but one thing has been consistent: Exercise activity research has consistently shown marked improvements in sleep length and sleep quality.

Now how can exercise help you sleep? The simple guess would be “it wears you out so you’re more fatigued”, but there’s more to it. So what is going on here?

Well first let’s address the common known reasons why we sleep poorly. Generally, at the heart of poor sleep quality is anxiety, stress, depression, certain medications, leg cramps, cardiovascular problems, sleep apnea. Sometimes a combination of these factors. Here is what exercise does and why it is one of the best medicines to have a good nights rest and feel awake and alert throughout the day!

Exercise boosts endorphins to the brain giving a sense of well being which help us feel better in effect not letting poor mood keep us up at night
Has been shown a potential to equal the efficacy of anti-depressants [1]
*Blunts the stress response which floods the body with stress hormones/anxiety [2],
Burns fat cells, which release the amino acid tryphtophan (famous for being in turkey) into the bloodstream which creates a calming effect among other calming/anti-anxiety biochemical processes that occur
In one particular study of 3,000 participants, exercises were 68% less likely to report leg cramps
Research is showing that exercise may positively affect our circadian rhythms
The medications most frequently giving the side effect of insomnia are those that treat high blood pressure, cholesterol, anti-depressants. These chronic illness conditions are rooted in unhealthy habits and sedentary lifestyle. Exercise tends to be part of is the cure.

What would my exercise routine look like that would help me sleep? Well further studies need to be conducted to determine specifics. Based on what we know, 150 minutes per week and past the 16 week mark have shown promise.

[1] http://articles.latimes.com/2000/oct/01/news/mn-29539
[2] http://sparkinglife.org/page/stress
[3] http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/12/12/why-afternoon-may-be-the-best-time-to-exercise/
http://member.aarp.org/health/drugs-supplements/info-04-2013/medications-that-can-cause-insomnia.html