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Insomnia: Is Exercise The Solution?

By: Luke Jun, Contributing Writer

Edited by: Elias Azizi, Editor in Chief

Sleep is something that America cannot get enough of. Coming off of the pandemic, the country experienced a record-high number of sales of melatonin in 2020. This seems to indicate unprecedented levels of sleeplessness. To quantify this, American consumers spent over 825 million dollars on melatonin, which was a 42.6% increase from the previous year. Although levels have subsided since then, sleeplessness continues to be a problem. Specifically, America’s lack of sleep has manifested itself in the form of insomnia. Insomnia affects around 70 million Americans per year and can be identified through its symptoms of having trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or getting good quality sleep. Stress, changes in schedule, and uncomfortable environments are possible causes of the illness. Furthermore, insomnia can be categorized into multiple types, all identifiable by their duration or severity. For instance, acute insomnia typically lasts a few days, while chronic insomnia lasts one month or longer. Onset insomnia causes difficulty falling asleep, whereas maintenance insomnia is the inability to stay asleep.

Not only does insomnia affect a wide-ranging demographic, but it also has severe physical and mental effects. Any form of insomnia causes an increased risk of potentially fatal medical conditions, including stroke, heart disease, and diabetes. Additionally, insomnia can contribute to mental health complications such as depression and anxiety. The illness also causes overall impairment, as it may affect one’s judgment and performance in school or work. Even worse, insomnia decreases life expectancy. Those with a form of insomnia have a 12% higher risk of death, and persistent insomnia can lead to a 97% higher risk of death. Insomnia and its ensuing disadvantages can be recognized when compared to high quality sleep. For teenagers, healthy sleep is typically considered at least 8 to 10 hours per 24-hour day. However, the prevalence of short sleep is around 80% among every demographic of high-school students. Even without diagnosed insomnia, teenagers’ lack of quality sleep can cause many of the health issues associated with insomnia. Fortunately, exercise may be a possible solution to obtain healthy sleep.

Multiple studies have found that a lack of exercise can be linked to insomnia. These experiments demonstrated that low levels of exercise increase the likelihood of developing insomnia. A cycle often is created that worsens the severity of the condition: the person feels tired and fatigued, making it difficult to engage in physical activity. However, this also means that exercise could help treat insomnia. Research reveals that exercise can allow those with chronic insomnia to fall asleep up to 13 minutes faster and to stay asleep for 18 minutes longer. An average of at least half an hour more of sleep can lead to a person feeling significantly better rested after rest. First, exercise initiates a change in body temperature, allowing the body to cool down and acclimate itself to a sleeping state. When one exercises, the body builds up heat, which is then released when the period of activity is finished. This “cool down” is similar to the process that the body experiences when preparing for sleep. The drop in body temperature sends signals to the brain to begin falling asleep. Exercise also helps to relieve mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. The release of endorphins during exercise has an alleviating effect on these issues, which are the primary causes of insomnia. Yet another catalyst for insomnia is the misalignment of the body’s internal clock, otherwise known as circadian rhythm. This biological clock controls the natural processes that regulate physical and mental behavior, which alters the sleep-wake cycle of the body. A misalignment of these processes can generate inconsistencies in the body’s natural behavior and create difficulty with performing core functions such as falling asleep. However, exercise can often help to reset and adjust the body’s circadian rhythms, allowing the body to boost serotonin hormone levels and regulate sleep at the correct times.

Although exercise is known to be beneficial in treating insomnia, some forms of exercise are more effective than others. Experts typically recommend moderately intense aerobic exercise as the best solution for insomnia. Examples of such exercise are brisk walks, swimming, and cycling. More specifically, the Mayo Clinic categorizes moderate-intensity exercises as those that utilize 50% to 70% of one’s maximum heart rate. On the other hand, vigorous exercise such as running and lifting has not been found to assist with insomnia. The benefits of moderate aerobic exercise on insomnia can be best felt through consistency. While the duration of exercise does not matter as significantly, an ideal exercise time would be at least 30 minutes per day. Additionally, this exercise begins to show its greatest effects when performed regularly for at least 4 to 6 months.

As insomnia continues to plague America, people must find ways to treat the illness. However, regular exercise appears to be a promising solution. Those who are suffering from insomnia should seek ways to get active.


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