Exercise Helps With Insomnia … Eventually

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Woman RunningThe common wisdom has long been that exercising during the day makes you sleep better at night. But, unfortunately for insomniacs, this isn’t exactly true. A new study says that exercise doesn’t immediately translate into better sleep. You have to stick with it for months before you will see a result.

The study, published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep and Medicine last Thursday, found that aerobic exercise can lead to more rest at night, especially for those suffering from pre-existing sleep problems, but the benefits are only seen if an exercise regimen is followed for roughly four months.

“Exercise isn’t a quick fix … It takes some time and effort,” the study’s lead author, Kelly Glazer Baron, a clinical psychologist and director of the behavioral sleep program at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, said in an interview with The Washington Post. “It’s a long-term relationship.”

Of course, this isn’t the first study to suggest that aerobic exercise helps improve sleep habits, but most previous resarch focused on healthy sleepers, whereas this new research examines the long-term effects in people suffering from sleep disorders. They found that after months of persistent exercise, the participants began to sleep roughly 45 more minutes a night.

“Patients with insomnia have a heightened level of brain activity, and it takes time to reestablish a more normal level that can facilitate sleep,” said Phyllis Zee, a neurology professor and another author of the study. “Rather than medications, which can induce sleep quickly, exercise may be a healthier way to improve sleep because it could address the underlying problem.”

Interestingly, the relationship between insomnia and exercise can go both ways as the researchers noted that a bad night of sleep left some participants feeling motivated to exercise.

“Sleep deprivation doesn’t change your physical capacity, but it changes your perception of how hard the exercise is,” Baron said. “You feel more exhausted.”

So the traditional knowledge that exercise can help you sleep isn’t wrong, but it can take longer than you may initially think. It can be frustrating to be unable to immediately see benefits, but over time exercising can help ease the trouble of insomnia.

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