Difficulties between the sheets can really put a damper on your life.
Your relationships can suffer, you may spend your days totally miserable, and you might even find your overall enjoyment for life takes a hit.
There’s no doubt about it. Life totally sucks when you’re deprived of…..
You thought I was going somewhere else with this, didn’t you? 😉
I used to spend hours lying awake in bed at night. I tried watching TV in bed, reading, journalling, listening to music, and counting sheep, but nothing worked.
Once alcohol and I became BFFs I
fell asleep passed out fairly quickly, but on those rare occasions I didn’t fall asleep with a beer can in my hand it was just me and my thoughts for hours on end.
Fast forward a few years later to when I broke up with booze and I was desperate for a solution that didn’t involve prescription sleeping pills. I discovered melatonin, a natural sleep aid, and while it helped for a bit, my tolerance for it built to the point that I was taking six pills before bed.
I had really started ramping up my fitness game when I stopped drinking, and after a few months being sober and getting sweaty on the daily I started to notice those hours I spent trying to fall asleep became less and less.
It seemed like a miracle! I attributed my new found sleepiness to all that exercise I was getting, but I didn’t know what, if any science was behind it, and to be honest I didn’t really care. I was just relieved!
Now that I’m working with clients who struggle with sleep issues my curiosity has been piqued again. These women are coming to see me once a week and most of them are getting another sweat session in on their own, so why are they still struggling to hit the hay?
After doing a bit of research, here’s what I found:
1. Not only does 150 minutes of physical activity each week seem to be the magic number for improving your cardiovascular health, it also seems to be the secret to improving your nighttime health.
One study found that men and women who engaged in 150 minutes of moderate-vigorous physical activity each week noticed a 65% increase in sleep quality compared to when they were not active. (Source) So even if these women are spending an hour with me each week and an hour exercising on their own, it may not be enough to improve their sleep.
2. Unfortunately, it can take up to 24 weeks of consistent weekly physical activity for the sleep-enhancing benefits of exercise to shine, with the average time taking around 16 weeks. One study found that while exercise DID help individuals suffering from chronic insomnia fall asleep quicker than when they weren’t exercising consistently, it took between 4 and 24 weeks. (Source)
On the flip side, all it takes is one or two nights of sleeplessness to negatively effect your energy levels and performance in the gym.
Seems kind of unfair, doesn’t it?
But PLEASE my friends, if you have been struggling with sleep despite getting some exercise, please don’t give up yet!
In addition to all the wonderful benefits exercise has, such as weight management, improved self-esteem, and increased strength to name a few, exercise can also:
- Help to manage the internal response of stress over the long-term, which means you’ll have less of that nasty cortisol pumping through your veins, which means you’ll be a more zen-like human being, and thus will have an easier time falling asleep.
- Result in less nighttime leg cramps. Have you ever experienced one of those?! I used to get them, and they are quite possibly the most excruciating (and confusing) thing to ever happen!
- Stimulate longer periods of deep REM sleep. It’s believed that REM sleep, or rapid eye movement sleep, is when our brain processes memories, emotions, and stress. The thought is that better REM sleep results in a better mood the next day.
Exercise and sleep go hand in hand. When practiced regularly for the long-term, exercise can help us fall asleep and improve the quality of sleep we do get. When we have a better sleep we have more energy to kill it in the gym, and then our bodies use that sleepy time to grow and repair so we can do it all over again.
SO, my challenge for my sleep-deprived readers is this: if you are struggling with sleep and aren’t exercising, get that body moving! Begin with 10-15 minutes of moderate physical activity each day, like a brisk walk, and work your way up to 150 minutes per week, or 30 minutes per day 5 times each week.
If you’ve been exercising one or two times each week, step it up! Get up to the 150 minute per week mark (preferably spread over the course of a few days) and maintain it!
And if you’ve been killin’ it in the gym or running every day for months and are still not noticing a benefit, try to adjust your workout schedule so your body has at least a few hours to wind down before going to sleep, and make sure you aren’t working yourself TOO hard. Over-training can be just as detrimental to sleep as not training at all.
Do you ever struggle to fall or stay asleep, or does you fall asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow? Have you found any natural cures to sleeplessness? I’d love to hear about them (and I’m sure my clients would as well!)!