Rx for a Good Night’s Sleep: Exercise

March 29, 2017

Prescription for SleepDid you know that a whopping fifty percent of middle-aged and older Americans have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep? Insomnia is something that impacts about twenty-five percent of the entire population. That’s a lot of people not getting enough shut eye. According to a study out of Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University, the answer for many of these people is engaging in aerobic exercise.

Prescription for Sleep

Northwestern Study Finds Exercise is Key for Good Sleep

The study followed a group of twenty-three sedentary adults who had trouble sleeping and had been diagnosed as having insomnia. Most in the group were women, as women are more likely than their male counterparts to suffer from insomnia.

The people in the study followed one of two exercise plans; one group took part in aerobic exercise for two-twenty minute sessions, four times per week. The other group engaged in one- thirty to forty minute aerobic exercise program also four times per week. Both groups did this for sixteen weeks.

Exercises included walking, treadmill or the stationary bike.

The results were impressive. Phyllis Zee, M.D., who is the director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Northwestern Memorial Hospital said that exercise so improved the sleep of the participants they moved themselves from the classification of poor sleepers to that of good sleepers.

But that’s not all. According to Zee they also saw recognizable improvements in depression and daytime alertness. Zee says that sleep should be considered a person’s fifth vital sign as it’s so significant to their overall health. Good sleepers tend to be healthier and happier.

And the opposite of that is true too. With poor sleepers, there are not only more health issues but also more car accidents and mistakes at work according to Dr. David Davila of the National Sleep Institute.

And let’s not forget that exercise has also been shown to help smokers quit (according to a study in the Archives of Internal Medicine) and maintain a great figure. Often when we look good, we feel good and vice versa.

What Type of Exercise Boosts Sleep

If you’re suffering from insomnia, rather than a bottle of over the counter or prescription pills like many Americans opt for, consider adding exercise to your life. Too often we have a ‘magic pill’ mentality. Exercise might take longer than popping a pill, but will take care of the root of the problem.

Today there are so many choices for exercising; you don’t simply have to be a runner to get the same benefits. From running and walking to swimming and biking, the key is to engage in some form of aerobic exercise. You have probably heard that you need to do this for at least thirty to forty minutes per day, at a minimum of four days per week. But I’ll tell you in a minute how to get the same cardiovascular benefits in half the time.

But aerobic exercise is the type of exercise you must do to improve your sleep. While yoga and tai chi do have their benefits, this study was based upon aerobic exercise only. What’s so great about making aerobic exercise a priority is that not only will you improve your sleeping, you’ll be the recipient of so many other benefits too.

Getting Started with Aerobic Exercise

Maybe up until now in life you’ve avoided exercising, maybe you really have no clue where to start. Let me help.  As long as you’re in good health you should be fine to start an exercise program. Even so you may want to check in with your doctor before you actually begin. If you have adverse health conditions it’s a definite to check with your doctor first. He or she can give you recommendations for how to start off, warning signs to look for as you begin your new exercise program, and goals to accomplish.

Here are some general rules of thumb when it comes to beginning any exercise program:

Start off with a warm up. It’s best to begin your period of exercise slowly. Whether you choose the treadmill, a walk, or stationary bike, do a five minute warm up at a slow pace.

Engage the assistance of a personal trainer. If you opt to join a gym many offer a certain number of free personal training sessions. Take advantage of this opportunity and sign up. A personal trainer can help to create an exercise routine that you will be able to do without doing too much too soon.

Take it easy. While you may be all revved up to get started it’s vital to start off slowly. Slow and steady wins the race. If you burn out in the beginning chances are you’ll give up and not make it part of your long term life plan.

Get an exercise partner. Many people who have never exercised before find it helpful to find another person to workout with at the gym or outside. You help each other stick to the schedule and this proves to help people really stick to their regular exercise routines.

Types of Aerobic Exercise

When the word ‘aerobic’ comes up many people automatically flashback to the days of leg warmers, headbands, and wrist bands with groups of women listening to Olivia Newtown John’s “Let’s Get Physical” and going through a group aerobic routine. But don’t fret; there are plenty of more ways to get in your aerobic exercise.

Don’t be afraid to think outside of the box. Get creative and tap into what you really love to find the aerobic exercise that will work best for you. If you’re an outdoorsy person how about hiking, canoeing, rock climbing, orienteering, swimming, or even boating?

For the indoor gym type there’s the tried and true treadmill, stationary bike, and stair stepper. Want something different? Try a Zumba class, the rowing machine, or the elliptical trainer.

One of the best ways to burn calories and get a good night’s sleep is by engaging in burst training. Burst training is simply exercising at ninety to one hundred percent of your maximum effort for less than one minute, about 45 seconds. Next, you slow it down to ‘recover.’ Slow down should be about one minute of low impact running or walking. Repeat the same process about five times, for four days a week. This is one of the best ways to burn calories too. And you can accomplish the same results with less time actually exercising!

No matter what you prefer, with the variety of exercise machines and gyms out there you’re bound to find one that you like and you’ll stick with for years to come.

Get moving today and find yourself sleeping soundly tonight!


“Healthy Sleep Tips” National Sleep Foundation (2010)

“Good for Sleep, Don’t Count Sheep – Run Instead” MSNBC (2010)

“Exercise: Key to good sex, good sleep” CNN (2006)

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