Exercise: A Quick Fix for Insomnia?

Restlessness

“But I went on a jog!” Oftentimes, insomniacs trying to achieve the elusive goal of restful sleep are given a generic list of principles to follow. Some of these include organizing priorities, abstaining from caffeinated beverages, and regular exercise.

The latter is a particularly appealing remedy for those with poor sleep quality. Exercise, patients are told, is a logical solution: If you expend energy in cardiovascular activity, your body will relish recovery in sleep all the more. But according to a recent study from Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, this fix is far from quick. “Our previous work found that exercise over a 16-week period is very effective in promoting sleep, on par with any kind of medication. But like with weight loss or any sort of behavioral change, it doesn’t happen immediately. You have to measure progress over months, not day-to-day,” says Kelly Baron, PhD, the study’s author. Thus, even though you might feel fatigued immediately after a bike ride, there will not be a lasting affect on your sleeping patterns unless you develop a lasting regimen.

But don’t let this information dishearten you! As any trustworthy doctor will tell you, there are no quick fixes in health. Why would sleep be any different? After all, we humans spend well over a quarter of our lives asleep. So it’s important to make it time well spent, just as you do with the daylight hours. Let the idea of developing a routine apply to all aspects of your health and well-being. It can be quite empowering when you see results and wake up feeling recharged.

Here are some tips to take your exercise from erratic to everyday (giving insomnia the boot!)

  • Put athletic shoes by the front door. The visual cue reminds you to exercise when distractions abound.  Studies have shown that once you get into a exercise routine, the visual cue will literally shift your physiology because you will associate the shoes with the positive results and feelings you experience after your workouts.
  • Exercise in the morning, if possible. It’s easier to make excuses as the day progresses and exercising into the evening can sabotage some people’s ability to fall asleep.
  • “Sneak” exercise in. Do “walking meetings” or ride your bike to work. Between traffic, tolls, and parking, you’ll find a 1-hour workout might only cost you 15 minutes of your time. My commute to work is 45 minutes by car and 60 minutes by bicycle!
  • Wear a pedometer. People are generally very goal-oriented and having a minimum number of steps per day can work wonders for your motivation. You should shoot for 5,000 steps daily initially and work up to 10,000 steps per day.
  • Dress for success. Keep exercise clothing handy to maximize convenience. Sleeping in your workout gear is very effective, too!

For more tips and information on sleep, exercise, and other elements of wellness, see my 6 Pillars of Healthy Living.

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