Exercise is no quick cure for insomnia, it takes four months to kick in

August 15, 2013

Exercise is a common prescription for insomnia. But spending 45 minutes on the treadmill one day won't translate into better sleep that night, according to new Northwestern Medicine research.

"If you have insomnia you won't exercise yourself into right away," said lead study author Kelly Glazer Baron, a and director of the behavioral sleep program at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. "It's a long-term relationship. You have to keep at it and not get discouraged."

This is the first long-term study to show during the day does not result in improved sleep that same night when people have existing . Most studies on the daily effects of exercise and sleep have been done with healthy sleepers.

The study also showed people exercise less following nights with worse sleep.

"Sleeping poorly doesn't change your , but it changes people's perception of their exertion," Baron said. "They feel more exhausted."

The study will be published August 15 in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. Baron conducted the study with coauthor Kathryn Reid, research associate professor of neurology at Feinberg and senior author Phyllis Zee, M.D., the Benjamin and Virginia T. Boshes Professor of Neurology at Feinberg and director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

"This new study shows exercise and sleep affect each other in both directions: regular long-term exercise is good for sleep but poor sleep can also lead to less exercise. So in the end, sleep still trumps everything as far as health is concerned," Zee said.

Baron decided to analyze the daily effect of exercise after hearing her patients with insomnia complain the exercise she recommended didn't help them right away.

"They'd say, 'I exercised so hard yesterday and didn't sleep at all,'" Baron said. "The prevailing thought is that exercise improves sleep, but I thought it probably wasn't that simple for people with insomnia."

Why does it take time for exercise to impact sleep?

"Patients with insomnia have a heightened level of brain activity and it takes time to re-establish a more normal level that can facilitate sleep," Zee said. "Rather than medications, which can induce sleep quickly, exercise may be a healthier way to improve sleep because it could address the underlying problem."

The study participants were older women, who have the highest prevalence of insomnia. Exercise is an optimum approach to promote sleep in an older population because drugs can cause memory impairment and falls.

Baron thinks the results also could apply to men because there is no evidence of gender differences in behavioral treatments for insomnia.

For the study, Baron performed an analysis of data from a 2010 clinical trial (by the same group of Northwestern researchers on the current paper) that demonstrated the ability of aerobic exercise to improve sleep, mood and vitality over a 16-week period in middle-age-to-older adults with . She and colleagues examined the daily sleep data from 11 women ages 57 to 70.

The key message is that people with sleep disturbances have to be persistent with exercise.

"People have to realize that even if they don't want to , that's the time they need to dig in their heels and get themselves out there," Baron said. "Write a note on your mirror that says 'Just Do It!' It will help in the long run."

Explore further: To sleep: perchance to dream ...

Related Stories

To sleep: perchance to dream ...

July 24, 2013
"Sleep is the best medicine," says the old proverb. But many adults don't benefit enough from sleep, with as many as 60 percent reporting sleep problems at least several nights a week.

Exercise is good for you, but it won't cut hot flashes

July 31, 2013
Exercise has proven health benefits, but easing hot flashes isn't one of them. After participating in a 12-week aerobic exercise program, sedentary women with frequent hot flashes had no fewer or less bothersome hot flashes ...

Bladder condition may worsen insomnia symptoms in older adults

March 14, 2013
A new study suggests that the bladder condition nocturia may worsen the already poor sleep of older adults with insomnia.

Do insomnia and disrupted sleep during menopause increase a woman's risk of heart disease?

May 9, 2013
Insomnia and other sleep disturbances are common among perimenopausal and postmenopausal women and may increase their risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) and cardiovascular disease (CVD). Evidence that a combination of altered ...

Recommended for you

Women who sexually abuse children are just as harmful to their victims as male abusers

August 21, 2017
"That she might seduce a helpless child into sexplay is unthinkable, and even if she did so, what harm can be done without a penis?"

Despite benefits, half of parents against later school start times

August 18, 2017
Leading pediatrics and sleep associations agree: Teens shouldn't start school so early.

Doctors exploring how to prescribe income security

August 18, 2017
Physicians at St. Michael's Hospital are studying how full-time income support workers hired by health-care clinics can help vulnerable patients or those living in poverty improve their finances and their health.

Schoolchildren who use e-cigarettes are more likely to try tobacco

August 17, 2017
Vaping - or the use of e-cigarettes - is widely accepted as a safer option for people who are already smoking.

Federal snack program does not yield expected impacts, researchers find

August 17, 2017
A well-intentioned government regulation designed to offer healthier options in school vending machines has failed to instill better snacking habits in a sample of schools in Appalachian Virginia, according to a study by ...

In a nutshell: Walnuts activate brain region involved in appetite control

August 17, 2017
Packed with nutrients linked to better health, walnuts are also thought to discourage overeating by promoting feelings of fullness. Now, in a new brain imaging study, researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.