How to Get a Better Night's Sleep

Regular, deep sleep is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle. Individuals who sleep well, feel better, are more equipped to handle stress and have an easier time controlling hypertension and diabetes.

As you age, you can expect your sleep patterns to change. Unfortunately, one of the results of that change is often an inability to fall asleep or stay asleep, resulting in chronic insomnia. While medications can help insomniacs improve their sleep patterns, drug interventions leave patients open to undesirable side effects and potential drug interactions with other medications.

Luckily, new research from Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine indicates that regular aerobic exercise could improve sleep patterns better than most other strategies.

The Research and Results

Researchers led by Dr. Phyllis Zee recruited 23 sedentary adults, 55 years or older with chronic insomia symptoms marked by trouble falling asleep and impaired daytime functioning. The women were separated into a physical activity group and a non-physical activity group. The women in the physical activity group exercised once or twice a day for a total of 40 minutes of aerobic activity a day, four days a week for 16 weeks.

The women worked at 75 percent of their max heart rate while choosing from at least two modes of exercise activity—walking, stationary cycling or using a treadmill.

The non-physical activity group participated in recreational or educational activities three to five times a week for 45 minutes at a time. These activities included options like cooking classes and museum lectures.

Both groups in the study received information on proper sleep practices like sleeping in a cool, dark and quiet room, setting up a sleep schedule and not staying in bed if you can't fall asleep.

The group that participated in the exercise intervention experienced significant improvement in sleep quality, elevating their self-reported status from "poor sleeper" to "good sleeper." They were also happier, more vital and experienced less daytime sleepiness than their non-physical activity counterparts.

The Takeaway

When you're perpetually sleep deprived, it's hard to approach the world with positivity, and it's easy to start overlooking workouts while turning to food to help you stay awake.

If you find yourself in a cycle where you exercise less frequently because you're so exhausted from a lack of sleep, you could be cutting off your nose to spite your face. Rather than assuming you have to hit the gym for a killer workout, just hit the pavement for a moderately intense walk.

Exercise will prepare your body to shut down later, ultimately improving your sleep and giving you even more energy for your next workout.

Active logoImprove your sleep and sign up for a cardio class.

Laura Williams writes about exercise and fitness for through her regular column "Exercise Science". She is currently completing her master's in Exercise Science.

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