The millions of middle-aged and older adults who suffer from insomnia have a new drug-free prescription for a more restful night’s sleep. Regular aerobic exercise improves the quality of sleep, mood and vitality, according to a small but significant new study from Northwestern Medicine and the Feinberg School of Medicine.  Insomnia is more prevalent in women.

The study is the first to examine the effect of aerobic exercise on middle-aged and older adults with a diagnosis of insomnia. About 50 percent of people in these age groups complain of chronic insomnia symptoms.  The aerobic exercise trial resulted in the most dramatic improvement in patients’ reported quality of sleep, including sleep duration, compared to any other non-pharmacological intervention.

“This is relevant to a huge portion of the population,” said Phyllis Zee, M.D., director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Northwestern Medicine and senior author of a paper to be published in the October issue of Sleep Medicine. The lead author is Kathryn Reid, research assistant professor at Feinberg.

“Insomnia increases with age,” Zee said. “Around middle age, sleep begins to change dramatically. It is essential that we identify behavioral ways to improve sleep. Now we have promising results showing aerobic exercise is a simple strategy to help people sleep better and feel more vigorous.”   The drug-free strategy also is desirable, because it eliminates the potential of a sleeping medication interacting with other drugs a person may be taking, Reid said.

Sleep is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle, like nutrition and exercise, noted Zee, a professor of neurology, neurobiology, and physiology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a physician at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

“Sleep is a barometer of health, like someone’s temperature. It should be the fifth vital sign. If a person says he or she isn’t sleeping well, we know they are more likely to be in poor health with problems managing their hypertension or diabetes," notes Zee.

The study included 23 sedentary adults, primarily women, 55 and older who had difficulty falling sleep and/or staying asleep and impaired daytime functioning. Women have the highest prevalence of insomnia. After a conditioning period, the aerobic physical activity group exercised for two 20-minute sessions four times per week or one 30-to-40-minute session four times per week, both for 16 weeks. Participants worked at 75 percent of their maximum heart rate on at least two activities including walking or using a stationary bicycle or treadmill.

Participants in the non-physical activity group participated in recreational or educational activities, such as a cooking class or a museum lecture, which met for about 45 minutes three to five times per week for 16 weeks. Both groups received education about good sleep hygiene, which includes sleeping in a cool, dark and quiet room, going to bed the same time every night and not staying in bed too long, if you can’t fall asleep.

Exercise improved the participants’ self-reported sleep quality, elevating them from a diagnosis of poor sleeper to good sleeper. They also reported fewer depressive symptoms, more vitality and less daytime sleepiness. “Better sleep gave them pep, that magical ingredient that makes you want to get up and get out into the world to do things,” Reid said.

The participants’ scores on the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index dropped an average of 4.8 points. (A higher score indicates worse sleep.) In a prior study using t’ai chi as a sleep intervention, for example, participants’ average scores dropped 1.8 points.

“Exercise is good for metabolism, weight management and cardiovascular health and now it’s good for sleep,” Zee said.

The research was funded by the National Institute on Aging.

Source:  Marla Paul - health sciences editor at the NU Feinberg School of Medicine

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Insomnia increases with age. Around middle age, sleep begins to change dramatically. It is essential that we identify behavioral ways to improve sleep. Now we have promising results showing aerobic exercise is a simple strategy to help people sleep better and feel more vigorous.
Sleep is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle, like nutrition and exercise. By improving a person's sleep, you can improve their physical and mental health. Sleep is a barometer of health, like someone's temperature. It should be the fifth vital sign. If a person says he or she isn't sleeping well, we know they are more likely to be in poor health with problems managing their hypertension or diabetes.

Great article. Are the effects immediate? Or is it like building your cardio fitness and takes weeks/months to start having a real effect?

Exercise is not taken serious enough. I use to suffer from severe anxiety and sleepless nights. However, since I have take up a regular cardio work routine, I suffer much less from anxiety and sleep most nights like a baby.

Is this only relevant for women? Very good article and I know the site focuses on women's health, but thought it could relate to both genders.

I find that after a break in exercise, the initial stiffness and muscle pain when you get back on the saddle can interfere with my sleep for the first few days, but I agree, if you stick to your regime and you allow your body time to adapt, the long-term sleep benefits are undeniable.

It's also important to mention when you should exercise. For example, exercising too close to bed time is not a good idea, as your heart rate is up and you may feel like you have too much energy. I prefer exercising right after work, before dinner. Just my two cents!

Insomnia is an issue we're hearing a lot more about. Glad to see your article addressing exercise as a solution, rather than turninig to medication like so many.

Caulk up one more benefit to exercise. My wife -- who suffered big-time insomnia issues a couple of years ago -- turned to a light exercise program and it seemed to help a great deal. And it has to be better for her than taking medication.

Great Article. Aerobic exercise has a number of health benefits and everyone should incorporate it into their lifestyle. This along with a healthy diet and the right amount of sleep can add years on the average human's lifespan.

I agree completely, but have found that I will sleep better if I keep all aerobics in the a.m.

This is a very interesting topic. Since most people now are not physically involved in activities, consuming less energy than what they eat is one factor for insomnia. But maybe, if people do more exercises not only they get healthy body but also some good nights rest.

very good info. my husband gets insomnia sometimes so i will pass it along that excercise could be a great, healthy answer

That makes a lot of sense. Typically I find that if I exercise I sleep a lot better and I'm a lot happier with my life. Win win :).

The fact that many people are experiencing insomnia, is a symptom of our very seditious lifestyles. If we try to bike to the store, take our time getting to work on a bicycle, it can change so many mental and physical problems we all face. It has changed my life, try it yourself! After all, biking is great exercise, transportation, and can bring you fantastic mental strength. Its not a race, but a ride.

I always sleep better if I go for a long bike ride during the day. Exercisei definitley helps

It is refreshing to note someone has finally looked into yet another benefit of working out. Low-impact exercise equipment is available to anyone. A cardio workout makes you feel great and works the most important muscle, your heart.

Just another benefit that exercise has on us. The body functions at optimal levels when it has gotten plenty of rest.

As a male who was all stressed out due to work and not sleeping, exercise (particularly cardio) has helped me to not only get more peaceful sleep but I feel more relaxed too.

Actually, I can say that this is absolutely true. My wife, who is overweight, was suffering from insomnia for years. Recently she began a diet and exercise program and has lost almost 20 pounds, and she's already sleeping better.

This is good news for fibromyalgia sufferers. While aerobic exercise is impossible for some patients, others who have started off with simple stretching can manage some aerobic exercise if they slowly build up to it. I suppose it stands to reason if you burn more energy during the day you will sleep better at night!

Thank you for the information in this article. It just proves that exercise is the gateway to healthy living. Not only does exercise help you get in shape, but it helps alleviate depression as well. I think it applies to men as well.

Adequate sleep is just one of the several benefits that aerobic exercise can reap. As an avid fitness and health foodie, I am so pleased when I land on articles that give exercise a good name. Thank you for your continued publishing of honest and necessary articles for women!

Insomnia is a very serious issue it's good to see some more techniques being discovered to help make it more manageable.

Hi

I totally agree. My mom suffers from Fibromyalgia and suffers with Insomnia. She recently bought a treadmill and sleeping is easier now but not perfect.

Thanks!

thanks for the advice...i have trouble sleeping so am going to start exercising.

I agree with the article that you posted.What also helps with insomnia is a remedy that I use.About 20 minutes after a workout when cell and blood circulation is at its greatest and on the hunt for nutrients to repair its self.A glass of Lavender Tea or Chamomile Tea will get the job done. Its a natural calming agent and being a liquid it will absorb a lot quicker feeding the body at muscular level down to cellular level.There for relaxing you for the rest of the day and night.Happy ZZZ's

Very interesting article, although being male and 55yrs old, i also suffer from occasional bouts of insomnia, i find yoga to be the answer.

Having suffered from insomnia for years and been given so many different drugs by my doctor and yet I never even realised that my condition was being made much worse by my sedantry lifestyle. Nothing could have prepared me for the results I got from doing regular exercise. Great article and thanks for getting the message out there!

Interesting article you have here, I too suffer from insomnia and find a light jog around the block before I go to bed helps me get to sleep :)

Sleep is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle, like nutrition and exercise. By improving a person’s sleep, you can improve their physical and mental health. Sleep is a barometer of health, like someone’s temperature. It should be the fifth vital sign. If a person says he or she isn’t sleeping well, we know they are more likely to be in poor health with problems managing their hypertension or diabetes. Just my 2cents.

at first i thought aerobic exercise just helps you sleep because it makes you tired, but thanks! i learned a lot that there's something more great about it that truly aids you in sleeping. A very nice and informative post.

I agree that aerobic exercise is valuable for helping with insomnia as is yoga. However females in this target group should also check for hormone imbalances that can also cause insomnia.

I didn't read your post before I, but I'm glad to see that this study supports my previous writing.
Exercise will dissipate excess energy, relax your body and ease your mind. But late night labor and exercise should be avoided, your body needs time to calm down.

I also read that isometrics are used to relieve insomnia a few years ago too. Not sure if this is still believed to work, but there was some research on it a few years ago.

I find exercise is important but not late at night before bed. the most important aspect is to have a routine in place e.g. train every morning you will soon teach your body the routine you want it to follow.

I had no idea insomnia was more prevalent in women. Anyone know why this is?

All these things seem like common sense to me. Exercise can never be underestimated as a means to keep your body as it should be, and a body will always sleep well after healthy exertion.

Took me time to read all the opinions, but I truly savored the post. It turned out to be very handy to me and I am sure to all the commenters here! It's frequently wonderful when you can not only be informed, but also entertained! I'm sure you had fun writing this post.

Very informational and so true. I took up biking last summer and my sleep has gotten much better as well as getting my cholesterol and weight under control. another thing I do is drink a cup of chamomile tea about every other evening.

Thanks for the great post and I agree! Aerobic exercise is something I use when treating insomnia. It is important to exercise early in day or evening, never after 8pm because this can keep the body active when it should be winding down. Aerobic exercise will also make you more flexible and have less chronic 'aches and pains,' again helping sleep!

Great article... Just shows you how important exercise really is for your sleep!

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