Exercise To Help With Sleep As Well As Curbing Obesity
Exercise is great for your body. No matter what your shape or size exercise brings health benefits.
Exercise reduces your body mass index, which is important as a high BMI often means you are overweight or obese and raising your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and stroke. Now it appears exercise can also help you overcome insomnia.
The Insomnia and Exercise Study
The new Finnish study has shown that exercise can help overweight chronic insomniacs fall and stay asleep.
The researchers from Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China and the University of Jyvaskyla in Finland studied 45 men aged 30-65. They had at least three months of insomnia symptoms and were all overweight or obese.
Half the group undertook aerobic sessions for six months consisting of one to five sessions per week. The other group half carried on as usual.
Results were measured with sleep diaries, questionnaires, bed sensors and body measurements. Researchers found that after six months the group undertaking exercise fell asleep faster and quicker than the control group. They also reported benefits such as remaining asleep throughout the night and having a better quality of sleep.
Why Does Exercise Help?
Experts think that exercise reduces the amount of extra fat in breathing areas that can obstruct airways and cause overweight people to wake. It also counteracts the 'hyperarousal' of insomnia.
Exercise is not only beneficial for overweight men - everyone can benefit. Endurance training like swimming, jogging and dancing three to five times a week for 30 minutes had the best outcomes in the study, but any exercise is better than remaining sedentary. Walking is a good starting point if you haven't exercised for a while.
It's thought that regular aerobic exercise increases the need for sleep as this is when body tissues such as tendons, muscles and respiration organs recover.
What Is Insomnia?
It's when you can't get to sleep or stay asleep. If you get enough sleep you should feel refreshed in the morning. If not, you'll feel groggy and tired.
The NHS says that insomnia affects one in three people regularly, particularly older people. Insomnia is often the result of worry, stress and anxiety.
Here are the symptoms:
- It's hard to fall asleep
- You are awake for long periods during the night
- You wake up on and off throughout the night
- You wake early and can't fall asleep again
- You feel unrefreshed in the morning
- You're unable to nap in the day despite being tired
- You have difficulty concentrating during the day
- You feel tired, irritable and upset
Insomnia can come and go during periods of stress or happen for no identifiable cause. It's common to experience sleeplessness during anxious periods, but when it continues long-term for months or even years it can cause serious problems.
How Much Sleep Do I Need?
It all depends on you as an individual and your activity levels.
The NHS recommend seven to nine hours a night for an adult, but the key factors are whether you feel refreshed in the morning and whether it affects your everyday life.
Sometimes a reason simply can't be identified, but common reasons for insomnia are:
- Stress and worry
- A new sleeping environment
- A poor sleeping environment - too much light or noise for example
- Jet Lag and shift work
- Drinking too much caffeine
- Long-term pain such as arthritis
- Some medication such as steroids and epilepsy meds
How To Cure Insomnia
It's difficult to cure because being aware of insomnia may mean you worry about it and therefore can't sleep. To break from the cycle try these tips:
- Put electronic items such as laptops, iPads and phones away as bedtime approaches because their light stimulates your brain
- Exercise in the day or early evening
- Set a regular going to bed and waking up cycle
- Eye masks, earplugs and thick curtains can improve the sleeping environment
- Relax before bedtime in a warm bath or sniff essential oils such as lavender
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol
- Write worries down as they occur to you. Keep a notepad beside your bed to write down anything that gives you cause for concern
- Over-the-counter medications may help
Why Is Lack of Sleep Bad?
When insomnia occurs long-term it can badly affect your life. It affects work relationships, family life, friendships, your mood and your ability to achieve every day tasks. The stress of insomnia can lead to further insomnia that makes it a frustrating problem.
A lack of sleep can also lead to putting on weight. Researchers have found that a short sleep cycle leads to extra production of ghrelin, the hormone that increases appetite, and reduced leptin, the hormone that regulates appetite.
If exercise is able to treat both insomnia and obesity, it's an appealing medication of little cost, especially free activity that we should all be undertaking more of. If you suffer from either of these conditions take some time out to exercise.