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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    Can daily exercise help treat insomnia?

    I have been battling insomnia ever since I moved into a new house. I try to go to bed fairly early (by 10pm), drink herbal tea before bed and eat healthy. I am desperate to get some sleep however. Could exercise help me? What time should I exercise?
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  • Emma Webster

    Clinical Psychologist, Psychologist

    I am a warm, supportive and compassionate therapist, committed to assisting my clients to connect to their inner wisdom and strength, to develop mindful awareness … View Profile

    I hear you…insomnia and sleep difficulty are painful! Often changes like moving house can impact on our routine and sleep patterns. 

    Given the tiredness that insomnia can make you feel, often people will avoid exercise. However a lack of physical activity can contribute to insomnia by inhibiting the daily rise and fall of our body temperature rhythm. As a result, you can get caught up in a vicious cycle of insomnia, reduced energy and physical activity and worsened insomnia, and it's a hard cycle to break!

    Alongside appropriate sleep hygeine, exercise can be helpful in the reduction of sleeplessness for a number of reasons. Exercise is a physical stressor to the body and the brain compensates by helping you spend more time in stage 4 sleep, which is deep sleep.

    For many people, the ideal time to exercise is in the morning. For overcoming insomnia, some research has shown that exercising in the late afternoon or in the early evening is best. Exercise produces a rise in body temperature, followed by a drop a few hours later. If you exercise 4-5 hours before bedtime, the drop in temperature which occurs 2-4 hours after exercise, will make it easier to fall and stay asleep, allow a smoother transition between sleep cycles and stages, and allow you to spend more time in deep sleep. If exercise occurs outdoors it increases exposure to bright sunlight which also helps to regulate body temperature rhythm and improve sleep quality. However, whether you exercise in the morning or afternoon, it's best to avoid exercise in the late evening or just before going to bed (especially vigorous exercise) as exercise is stimulating and it can take time for the body to wind down.

    Being kind to your body through moderate exercise (e.g., walking, swimming, or cycling) lasting 20-30 minutes, 3-4 times per week will help with sleep and energy levels. Yoga a nd stretching exercises can also be beneficial in helping you wind down. For improving sleep, it's also important to be consistent in your routine and self-nurturing behaviour. This includes exercise, relaxation, eating healthy, and getting to bed and waking up at the same time every day.

    Everybody is different and respond in different ways. It might be worth chatting to your GP or a clinical psychologist to help you deal with this. We would be happy to help if you need it!


     

  • Dr Maree Barnes

    Respiratory & Sleep Medicine Physician

    Dr Barnes has competed specialty training in sleep medicine and is currently working at the Austin Hospital in Melbourne. Dr Barnes’ current research focuses are: … View Profile

    Exercise can help you to sleep better, but the best time to do it is in the morning, particular if you go outside to do it. Having sunshine on your eyes helps to set the body's internal clock so that it knows when it is daytime and when it is sleep time.  Exercise in the evening should be avoided, as it can make sleep more difficult. If you have just moved into a new house, you should look at the differences in your sleep environment compared to your previous home. Make sure that the bedroom is dark, quiet and cool and that your bed, mattress and pillows are comfortable for you.

  • 2

    Thanks

    Jade Hucker

    Clinical Psychologist, Psychologist

    I am a Clinical Psychologist with experience in Chronic Pain Management, Weight Management, Depression and Anxiety. View Profile

    The short answer is yes. But it is not that simple.
    As others have mentioned most agree that exercise can help with insomnia.
    However, when it comes to getting good sleep, you need to work out what works for you. Yes there are general sleep hygiene guidlines that research has shown can promote good sleep patterns, but these are fairly general and may or may not make any difference for you.
    If you ask insomniacs what they do to get to sleep, most will respond with a long list of strict rules that they must follow (e.g. the temperature must be 25 degrees, I have to go to bed at exactly 10pm, I must brush my teeth and turn the light off in that order, I never eat anything after 8.30pm, and so it goes on).
    If you ask a “good sleeper” what they do to get to sleep, most will respond with “I close my eyes and go to sleep”.
    The sleep rules including exercise and timing can actually make us more anxious which is not conducive to good sleep.
    Obviously keeping general good health (exercise, healthy eating, etc) will help maintain good sleep patterns but try not to get too bogged down in the specifics

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