Regular aerobic exercise improves insomnia symptoms

Historically, exercise has been the daytime behavior most closely associated with better sleep. New research shows that aerobic exercise may be a promising solution to insomnia, especially for middle-aged and older adults.

Insomnia is a sleep disorder characterized by the inability to fall asleep or remain asleep, and is most common among women. About 50 percent of middle-aged and older adults complain of chronic insomnia symptoms, and the incidence tends to increase with age.

A recent study by the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University found that many people suffering from insomnia may get relief from aerobic exercise. They conducted an experiment to determine the effect of regular aerobic exercise on sleep quality in women over age 55. After a conditioning period, the participants exercised for two 20-minute sessions four times per week or one 30-to-40-minute session four times per week, for 16 weeks. Their results showed that aerobic exercise dramatically improved the participants’ quality and duration of sleep.

According to Phyllis Zee MD, Director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, “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.”

Aerobic exercise is physical exercise that intends to improve the oxygen system. Aerobic literally means “with oxygen”, and refers to the use of oxygen in the body’s metabolic or energy-generating process. By definition, aerobic exercises are performed at moderate levels of intensity for extended periods of time. Common aerobic exercises include: stair climbing, jogging, swimming, cross-country skiing, jump rope, elliptical trainer, indoor rower, Stairmaster, stationary bicycle, and treadmill.

Regular aerobic exercise offers an attractive alternative for treating insomnia. When compared to sleeping pills – which may have negative side effects, aerobic exercise is a healthy, safe, and effective means of improving sleep.

If you think you may be suffering from insomnia, it is always best to speak with your physician to discuss pharmacological and non-pharmacological treatments. If left untreated, poor sleep may lead to more devastating conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes.  Moreover, insomnia is interconnected with mental health conditions such as depression.

Even for those already achieving adequate sleep, aerobic exercise may improve sleep quality and duration –leaving you feeling more refreshed and ready to start the day.