Have Insomnia? Try Aerobic Exercise

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Older adults who have insomnia may sleep better if they eliminate the sleeping pills and take up aerobic exercise such as walking or bicycling, according to a new study. Researchers from Northwestern University are the first to evaluate the impact of aerobic exercise on middle-aged and older adults who suffer with insomnia.

Insomnia in America

About 30 to 40 percent of adults have symptoms of insomnia, which is an inability to fall asleep or stay asleep, and waking up not feeling refreshed. Up to 15 percent of adults have chronic insomnia, which is defined as experiencing these symptoms for a month or longer. Insomnia is more prevalent among women than men, and about half of all middle-aged and older adults suffer with this sleep disorder.

Medications called hypnotics are the most common treatment for insomnia, but they are associated with side effects such as memory problems, morning sedation, headaches, and sleepwalking. Relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation, and exercise, as well as behavioral therapies have all been found to be helpful in varying degrees, depending on the cause of insomnia and consistently an individual uses them.

New Insomnia and Exercise Study
The study included 23 sedentary adults age 55 and older, mostly women, who had symptoms of chronic insomnia. One group was assigned to aerobic exercise for two 20-minutes sessions four times weekly or one 30-to-40 minute session four times weekly, both for 16 weeks. The participants chose at least two activities such as walking, using a stationary bike, or treadmill.

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The control group engaged in a recreational or educational activity, such as a lecture or cooking class, which met for 45 minutes three to five times a week for 16 weeks. Subjects in both groups were given information about good sleep habits.

People in the exercise group reported better quality sleep, fewer symptoms of depression, more energy, and less sleepiness during the day. These improvements raised their status from a poor sleeper to good sleeper.

“This is relevant to a huge portion of the population,” according to Phyllis Zee, MD, director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Northwestern Medicine and senior author of the study. “Exercise is good for metabolism, weight management and cardiovascular health and now it’s good for sleep.”

Sleep quality has a critical impact on both physical and mental health. Because insomnia increases as people age, this population is at greater risk of health problems, which are also already more common in older adults. Therefore, “It is essential that we identify behavioral ways to improve sleep,” says Zee. “Now we have promising results showing aerobic exercise is a simple strategy to help people sleep better.”

SOURCES:
Northwestern University news release, Sept. 15, 2010
Sleep Foundation

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