NPR : News

Filed Under:

Chronic Insomnia? Hitting The Treadmill Could Help ... Eventually

Studies on exercise and sleep come up with the same conclusion time after time: If you want to hit the hay earlier and sleep better, get a good cardio workout.

But if you're already sleep-deprived, don't expect a 30-minute run or stint on the elliptical to knock you out quicker tonight.

The sleep-boosting effects of exercise can take a few months to kick in for people who suffer insomnia, scientists report Thursday in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.

"It's a long-term relationship," explains sleep psychologist Kelly Glazer Baron, who led the study. The benefits are worth the wait.

After four months, adding 30 minutes of exercise, three times a week, bumped up insomniacs' sleep by about 45 minutes each night, Baron says. "That's huge. It's as large or larger an effect than what you see with [sleep] drugs."

The current study is small. Baron and her colleagues at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine tracked sleep and exercise patterns in just 23 women over the age of 55 who had been wrestling with chronic insomnia.

"But the analysis is powerful," she says, "because we had data for each woman every day for 16 weeks."

Baron generally treats people who have chronically lousy sleep with cognitive behaviorial therapy. But she also recommends regular exercise for all her patients — 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise, three to four times a week.

"My clients were coming in and saying, 'I did what you said. I exercised so hard, but I didn't sleep very well,' " Baron says.

When she looked back at her data, she found that her clients were right: The amount of exercise during one day didn't correlate with how much the person slept that night. But the inverse was true. "How much they slept at night was linked to how much they exercised the next day," she says. "Sleep was driving the exercise."

So what does that mean for the rest of us exhausted workaholics?

"Not sleeping well makes you not want to exercise," she says. "But those are the days that you need to do it more. It will help you in the long run."

Several studies in the lab have found that working out right before bed may make it harder to fall asleep, Baron says. A recent survey by the National Sleep Foundation challenged that long-standing belief. But she still recommends that people who have chronic insomnia exercise more toward the middle of the day.

To get over the "too-tired-to-exercise" trap, Baron suggests planning your workouts in advance or leaving notes around the house reminding you it's worth the effort.

"I'm an exerciser," she says. "But I would just lie in the bed a little longer in the morning. So I have to pre-plan my workouts. You've got to just put on the shoes and get out the door."

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

Ursula K. Le Guin Steers Her Craft Into A New Century

The famed novelist says that at 85 she no longer has the energy to write another book, but she's just released a revised and updated edition of her manual for aspiring writers, Steering the Craft.
NPR

#NPRreads: Middle East Air Quality, Lead Poisoning, And Jell-O

Around the newsroom and around the world, here's what we're reading this week.
NPR

Of The 900 Or So People Running For President, At Least 1 Of Them Is Nuts

A small group of presidential hopefuls get most of the media attention, but there are a lot of unknown people who also want the top job and filed the necessary paperwork. One of them is Deez Nuts.
NPR

No More Standing By The Spigot: Messaging App Alerts Water Availability

A startup in India — where an aging, ad hoc system limits water availability — is using text messages to let people know when their faucets should work, so they don't waste hours awaiting the deluge.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.