Exercise no quick fix for sleep disorder

Insomniacs of the world: If you think taking a long run today will make you sleep better tonight, think again.

While exercise has long been a prescription for insomnia, new research suggests that exercise does not immediately translate into a better night’s sleep — unless you stick with it for months.

A study published Thursday in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that aerobic exercise can lead to more rest at night for people who suffer from existing sleep problems, but only if they maintain an exercise regimen 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. “It’s a long-term relationship.”

Studies have long suggested that aerobic exercise can contribute to better sleeping habits. But much of the research on the daily effects of exercise on sleep was conducted with healthy sleepers. Tuesday’s study, by contrast, looked at the long-term effects of exercise in people already suffering from sleep disorders.

Baron said she began looking deeper into the relationship between exercise and insomnia after numerous patients complained to her that despite intense workouts, they weren’t immediately resting easier at night.

“It was frustrating for them,” she said.

For the study, Baron and her fellow researchers analyzed previously published data from a 2010 clinical trial on the connections between exercise and sleep. They looked at the daily activities and sleep logs over a 16-week period for nearly a dozen women, ages 57 to 70, who were wrestling with insomnia. Older women tend to have higher rates of insomnia, which is defined as having difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep as well as having trouble functioning throughout the day because of the lack of sleep.

The researchers discovered that only after months of persistent exercise – the women typically walked on a treadmill several times a week – did the patients begin to experience more restful nights. Over time, the women began sleeping about 45 minutes more a night on average.

“The effects were huge when they stuck with it,” Baron said.

Why exactly does it take so long for exercise to result in more restful nights?

“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.”

Researchers also found that the relationship between sleep and insomnia runs in both directions. While sustained exercise can help people sleep better, a bad night’s rest can leave people less 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.”

Past research suggests that the timing of exercise also might affect a person’s sleep. The National Sleep Foundation, for instance, recommends exercising at least three hours before bedtime, in part to allow the body to cool down.

Baron said insomniacs should take two key messages from Thursday’s findings: Don’t give up on an exercise plan if you aren’t seeing results right away. And find the inspiration to exercise even on days you might not feel like it.

“Write a note on your mirror that says ‘Just Do It!’ ” she said. “It will help in the long run.”

More in Local News

Child porn found in forest treehouse and Mill Creek home

Daniel Wood, 56, has been charged with two counts of possession of child pornography.

Teen charged in store robbery linked to Everett school plot

His accused accomplice is suspected of planning to use the money to buy supplies to shoot up the school.

The rules: You can’t put just anything on your vanity plate

The state keeps a “banned list” of character combinations that will automatically be denied.

Driver killed in crash identified as Monroe man

Anthony Ray Vannelli Jr. died of blunt force injuries. He was 37.

Edmonds man gets nearly 14 years for murder of roommate

Derrick Crawford, 22, admitted that he shot and intended to kill 27-year-old Joshua Werner.

Motorcyclist seriously hurt in Everett hit-and-run

Police are searching for the driver and a gray Dodge Stratus with extensive front-end damage.

Masked gunman sought in shooting at house near Darrington

The suspect — a neighbor — is still at large. There were no injuries reported, but a television was hit.

Treatment center in north Everett could open in 2020

The 32-bed facility on 10th Street would serve people with addiction and mental illness.

False claims online ignite a snit among local party leaders

The internet probably isn’t the best place these days for Democrats and Republicans to duke it out.

Most Read