The Effect of Exercise on Insomnia Symptoms

The Effect of Exercise on Insomnia Symptoms

Written by Ben Bunting: BA, PGCert. (Sport & Exercise Nutrition) // British Army Physical Training Instructor // S&C Coach.


Stressful or difficult life circumstances, like a major illness or a relationship breakdown, may temporarily cause insomnia. They can also lead to chronic insomnia if they occur regularly or are long-lasting.

Some people are more prone to insomnia than others. For example, you are more likely to experience insomnia if you're a woman (because menstrual cycles or hormone changes during pregnancy and during menopause can disrupt your sleep) and if you have a mental health condition such as anxiety or depression.

Insomnia Explained

Sleep problems are common, but chronic insomnia can interfere with your daily life and contribute to health problems. Insomnia can also make you irritable and anxious.

Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder, and it can be caused by many things. It is important to know what is causing your insomnia, because changing these habits can help you get better sleep.


Insomnia isn't just a minor inconvenience: It disrupts your sleep cycle, which can take a toll on your energy levels and mood throughout the day. While experts are still unlocking the mysteries of why our bodies need sleep, they know that when you don't get enough, your physical and mental health may suffer.

There are lots of things that can cause insomnia: stress, a lack of exercise, too much caffeine or alcohol, shift work and even some medications can all interfere with your sleep.

The good news is that insomnia isn't permanent, and episodes can come and go. It's also important to remember that the quality of your sleep is just as important as how many hours you get.

Poor-quality sleep hygeine can leave you feeling tired and irritable, but it also makes your body more vulnerable to physical and mental health problems, such as heart disease and diabetes.

If you're having trouble sleeping for three or more nights a week, and it's making you feel miserable or causing a problem in your daily life, you should talk to your doctor. You'll likely be asked to keep a sleep diary and talk about any underlying issues you're dealing with, including stress, medications you're taking and nicotine or alcohol use.

Stressful events, like a big project at work or the death of a loved one, can often cause brief sleeplessness. They may set off your body's "fight-or-flight" response, which triggers the release of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, says Ash Nadkarni, MD, associate professor of psychiatry at Brigham and Women's Hospital and an instructor at Harvard Medical School.

However, chronic stress can cause the switch to stay on, which blocks your ability to relax at night and can make it hard to fall back asleep after waking up in the middle of the night.

Other causes of insomnia include poor sleep habits (like staying up late to watch TV or getting revenge on your bedtime procrastination) and mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression.

Chronic pain and some medications can also interfere with sleep, as can certain neurological problems and conditions, such as Parkinson's disease and fibromyalgia.


Almost everyone has had trouble sleeping at one time or another. But if it becomes a constant problem, you might have insomnia. Insomnia causes daytime sleepiness and interferes with your daily activities. It also can raise your risk for certain health problems.

Insomnia is linked to or made worse by nearly every health condition, from heart disease to depression to cancer. It can even make it harder to get through a surgery. It can happen to anyone, but it's more common in older people and in people who have chronic health conditions.

Insomnia may be short-term or it can last a few nights or a few weeks (acute insomnia). Or it can be ongoing, lasting 3 or more nights a week over a period of three months or more (chronic insomnia). It's important to differentiate between these two types because the treatments for them are different.

A health care provider can evaluate your symptoms and determine if you have a health condition that's causing your insomnia, or if you have a mental illness that's contributing to it. He or she can recommend treatment for the underlying cause and refer you to a specialist for treatment of the insomnia.

To diagnose your condition, your doctor will ask about your family history and medical and sleep history. He or she will also want to know what kinds of things you try to do to fall asleep and stay asleep. You might be asked to keep a sleep diary to track your symptoms.



The causes of insomnia can vary widely, so there are many different treatments available. Insomnia is usually treated with lifestyle changes, rather than medication.

This includes addressing any anxiety, stress or depression that may be contributing to the sleep problem and changing daily habits that could be perpetuating the insomnia. This might include avoiding caffeine and alcohol, getting regular exercise and going to bed at the same time each night.

Treatments also include cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), a type of talking therapy that aims to change the thoughts and beliefs that are preventing people from sleeping well. It’s usually the first treatment recommended and can be done individually or as part of a group. It’s effective for both insomnia and anxiety and depression.

CBT is based on the theory that your mood and behaviour are closely linked. Changing the way you think can help to improve your mood and make it easier to sleep.

Your doctor will ask you about your current symptoms and how long they’ve been happening, as well as your general health history. It’s a good idea to keep a sleep diary for one to two weeks before your appointment so you can provide the most accurate information possible.

Some medical conditions, such as arthritis or heart disease, can cause insomnia. The same is true for some medications, including antidepressants and medicines for high blood pressure or asthma.

Insomnia can sometimes be complicated to diagnose because there is no single test that can confirm the diagnosis. However, a standard physical exam and questionnaire can help your doctor rule out any medical reasons for your sleep issues.

Your doctor might also refer you to a sleep clinic for a polysomnographic test – this involves sleeping overnight in a laboratory while researchers monitor your sleep.

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The most effective way to prevent insomnia is by adopting healthy sleep habits. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same times each day, including weekends.

Avoid large meals, drinks and exercise before bed. Keep the bedroom dark and quiet, with good temperature control. Avoid over-the-counter medications that contain stimulants, such as caffeine, pseudoephedrine or nicotine.

Limit naps to 30 minutes or less, and don’t nap after 3 p.m. Exercise regularly, but not right before bed, and make sure to get enough light during the day. If you still can’t fall asleep or stay asleep, talk to your doctor, who may refer you to a sleep specialist.

Insomnia can be short-lived, and overcoming it is easy if you have the right strategies. But, the longer it goes on, the more difficult it is to break the pattern and the more likely you are to develop other health problems.

People with chronic insomnia are at a higher risk for high blood pressure, heart disease and other health problems. It’s important to understand how to recognize the symptoms of insomnia and to consult a healthcare provider for help.

A healthcare provider can help you improve your sleep by addressing any underlying medical issues or using medication to treat conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure, breathing problems and depression. Insomnia can also be a side effect of some medications, especially antidepressants, sedatives for pain and anxiety, and medications for high blood pressure and asthma.

Predisposing factors for insomnia can include mental health disorders, such as anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. They can also include shift work or travel, which can disrupt the body’s circadian rhythms. Women may experience hormone changes related to menstrual cycles, pregnancy and menopause that can interfere with sleep.

Studies have demonstrated that aerobic exercises such as walking can effectively relieve insomnia symptoms. But why? Researchers believe it may be due to changes in core body temperature.

Aerobic Exercise

Aerobic exercise (cardio) refers to any physical activity that increases heart rate and breathing rate while simultaneously engaging large muscle groups for sustained movement.

Examples of cardio activity include jogging, jumping rope, running, swimming and cycling - among others. Aerobic activities usually feature moderate to high intensities of intensity that can last over time.

Researchers recently conducted a study that demonstrated how regular aerobic exercise could significantly enhance sleep and mood in middle-aged and older adults suffering from chronic insomnia symptoms, similar to previous research examining its impact on insomnia and other sleep disorders.

The results mirrored similar conclusions reached in prior research studies examining exercise's influence over insomnia or other sleep disorders.

Engaging in aerobic exercise releases hormones that encourage feelings of relaxation and wellbeing, making it easier to sleep at night. Regular physical activity also can help prevent or alleviate insomnia by relieving stress and anxiety levels.

Regular aerobic exercise can improve sleep by helping to reset your internal biological clock. Many people suffering from insomnia have an irregularity in their circadian rhythms that causes them to tire themselves out later than necessary at night.

However, certain forms of aerobic exercise can help reset these rhythms by raising serotonin levels - making it easier for you to go to sleep more easily at nighttime.

Insomnia can be treated with medication, but many find exercise an effective non-pharmacological method of improving sleep quality. Exercise can increase lean muscle mass, aid weight loss and even reduce risk for dementia as you age - the perfect combination to ensure optimal health!

Committing to a regular exercise regime will lead to restful nights for everyone involved - make exercise part of your lifestyle plan today and you may just find more restful sleep as a result!


Yoga is an ancient Indian spiritual discipline involving physical, mental and spiritual practices that combine breathing exercises, postures, visualisation and meditation to control and still the mind, recognize an unattached witness consciousness untouched by everyday suffering while uniting us with our higher selves.

Yoga can improve sleep quality by decreasing anxiety and stress levels, increasing energy, bolstering immunity and relieving pain. Furthermore, yoga may help facilitate faster falling asleep as well as longer staying asleep times; for those having trouble do some gentle yoga stretches or breathing exercises prior to bedtime.

One study demonstrated that yoga practitioners experienced improved subjective sleep quality and fewer wake-ups compared to control group members, as well as shorter sleep latency and decreased medication usage. While these results appear promising, more research must be conducted in order to confirm them.

Those suffering from insomnia are typically under immense amounts of pressure and stress, yet yoga can provide a great way to manage both. By focusing on breathwork and relaxation techniques, yoga can help relieve both tension and anxiety while relieving headaches and lowering blood pressure. For optimal results it should be performed in an area without distractions.

There are various styles of yoga to suit individual needs, so it's essential to find one that best fits. One popular form is yin yoga - gentle yet restorative it helps reduce stress and anxiety associated with insomnia as well as being excellent for newcomers to yoga.

Yoga practice can help improve sleep by increasing flexibility and relaxing your body. Props can make poses more comfortable - for example bolsters or blankets can make holding poses for longer and breathing deeply easier. Yoga will also strengthen muscles which may prevent injuries.


Stretching can help people fall asleep faster and improve quality by relieving tension. Stretches designed to relax neck and upper back muscles may be particularly helpful for insomniacs; tight muscles make falling asleep harder and disrupt REM sleep; plus stretching can improve blood flow, helping with muscle recovery and decreasing inflammation.

Studies examining exercise and sleep have focused on different forms of resistance exercise and stretching; most have discovered that moderate intensity resistance exercise and stretching both improve subjective sleep quality and mood; however, due to small sample sizes it has often been difficult for researchers to detect significant differences among treatments.

As with all exercises, overdoing your stretching may result in injury. Controlled breathing while stretching can also help your body remain relaxed and hold stretches for the appropriate period. If pain or discomfort occurs while stretching, stop immediately in order to prevent injury.

Apart from yoga, other stretch exercises may help improve sleep. One such stretch exercise is the "Cat-Cow" stretch which targets both lower and upper back muscles. Simply lie on your back with legs straight. Arch your back by tightening abdominal muscles and squeezing buttocks together while tucking tailbone underneath ("cat"); let back sag toward floor with neck forward flexed forward as neck extends forward (cow); repeat this exercise five to 10 times for best results.

Establishing an evening stretching routine can be an excellent way to prepare for sleep. People suffering from insomnia may benefit from such exercise, which could serve as an alternative to sleeping medications that may have unwanted side effects. Engaging in this activity is easy and inexpensive - you can even do it from the privacy of your own home! For more information regarding its effect on insomnia consult your doctor or sleep specialist.


Walking can be an effective and low-intensity exercise to treat insomnia. Studies have demonstrated its efficacy at increasing total sleep time, improving ability to fall asleep more quickly at night, and improving quality. Plus, walking boosts energy and mental clarity - plus it can be done alone or with friends/family making it an excellent solution for individuals who may find more strenuous exercise difficult or impossible.

Researchers have long held the view that walking is predominantly an unconscious process governed by reflexive spinal activity rather than conscious cognitive control. But according to a new study published in Scientific Reports, according to Krebs and his team of student volunteers were used in experiments designed to test this idea by playing and slowly shifting metronome frequencies, leading them to unconsciously match their steps with those played out on treadmills by researchers.

Results from the six-month study demonstrated that participants who engaged in walking exercises experienced improved subjective and objective sleep quality, with PSQI scores and TST significantly higher among the walking group than usual-care group; suggesting that including walking into daily life routine can be an effective means of increasing rest-activity rhythms for lung cancer patients with poor rest-activity rhythms.

Research needs to be completed on how exactly walking can promote sleep, but it could be any combination of rhythmic movements, exposure to natural light and reduced stress could play a part. Furthermore, sharing walking time with someone could give an extra emotional and psychological boost that leads to improved restful slumber.


If you're experiencing insomnia, engaging in regular physical activity could help. Studies have demonstrated that people who exercise on a regular basis tend to enjoy better restful nights of restful slumber compared to those who don't engage in exercise routines as often. Furthermore, regular exercise provides relief from stress and anxiety--common causes of insomnia.

Exercise has been found to improve sleep by increasing time spent in deep slow-wave sleep (also known as non-REM stages 3 and 4) which provides restorative benefits like immune system health, muscle repair, memory processing, hormone balance, blood circulation, etc.

However, the effects of exercise on sleep vary for each person and depend on their type and intensity of workouts. Excessively strenuous workouts can activate your body's natural stress response systems which in turn could increase heart rate and blood flow as well as hamper relaxation before bedtime.

Exercise too close to bedtime may keep some people awake as the endorphins released during exercise can help stimulate your brain, making you feel alert. Therefore, it is advisable to exercise at least several hours prior to bedtime so the effects of endorphins have worn off by the time it comes time for sleep.

Medium aerobic exercise has long been considered one of the best solutions to enhance sleep quality and combat symptoms of insomnia. According to a 2022 scientific review using self-reported ratings on Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI) and Insomnia Severity Index (ISI), physical activity was found to lead to reduced PSQI scores, lower ISI ratings, reduced daytime sleepiness, and overall improved nighttime restfulness.

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