According to scientists, a long run or an intense session at the gym could help you sleep at night.
A study of over 30,000 middle-aged adults found that those who regularly had their heart pumping were less likely to need pills to help them sleep.
Norwegian researchers reviewed the volunteers’ medical records and prescription data.
One of the experts said: “These results suggest that being physically fit may also help you sleep better.”
Fitter participants were up to 15% less likely to seek out potent drugs such as benzos, which are taken by millions of people in the UK and US.
Doctors should consider advising people with sleep disorders to exercise, depending on the results, the team said.
According to the NHS, a third of the adult population in the UK struggles with bouts of insomnia at some point in their lives. Sleep problems have been linked to health conditions such as diabetes, depression, dementia and hypertension. Those who toss and turn at night often need some kind of sleep aid, such as sleeping pills
What is insomnia?
People with insomnia have trouble sleeping.
The problem, which affects one in six Britons, can usually improve if sufferers change their sleep habits.
Symptoms include difficulty sleeping, waking up multiple times in the night, waking up in the morning, and difficulty going back to sleep.
It can be triggered by stress, anxiety or depression, noise, a room that is too hot or too cold, an uncomfortable bed, shift work, alcohol, caffeine or nicotine, and recreational drugs.
Adults need seven to nine hours of sleep per night.
Insomnia may be short term – lasting three months or less, or long term if it persists for more than 12 weeks.
Treatments include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) sessions with a therapist, which can help change thoughts and behaviors that keep people up at night.
General practitioners rarely prescribe sleeping pills due to their side effects and drug addiction.
The study, led by a team from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, wanted to find out whether physical health affected the likelihood of a person seeking sleeping pills.
They looked at 34,357 people with an average age of 52.
They used data from a National Health Study, which measured participants’ resting heart rate, waist circumference and self-reported levels of physical activity.
The researchers linked this data to the Norwegian Prescription Database, which contains data on all drugs dispensed in pharmacies.
The study results, published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, show that 5,800 volunteers sought sleeping pills during the 14-year study.
These included zolpidem, zopiclone, benzodiazepines and melatonin – which are available on prescription for sleep problems in the UK and US.
This means that about 17% of the participants’ sleep problems were severe enough to require a doctor to prescribe sleeping pills.
But participants who were in the best physical condition and exercised the most used fewer of these prescription sleeping pills.
However, the strength of this finding varied between groups.
Active men over the age of 65 were the least likely to seek sleeping pills, suggesting they benefited the most from exercise.
The results show that fitter men were 15% less likely to need medication for their bothersome sleep problems.
However, the consumption of sleeping pills was not reduced as much among the fittest women (12%).
But the researchers insist that this does not mean that women will not see the benefits of exercise on sleep.
Study author Linda Ernstsen, an associate professor of public health and nursing at the university, said: “We observed that people who were in better physical condition had a lower risk of taking prescription sleeping pills. “
She added: “These results suggest that being physically fit may also help you sleep better.
“The corresponding percentage risk for the fittest women was much lower. But women who have trouble sleeping can still benefit from better physical fitness.
Because the study followed participants for more than a decade, the researchers believe the results should influence the sleep advice doctors give to their patients.
Professor Ernstsen added: “Our findings support the idea that improving or maintaining physical fitness may be an effective alternative to preventing sleep problems.”
Strength training and aerobic exercise, such as running, bicycling, or swimming, are thought to improve sleep and reduce the need for sleeping pills.
But the researchers did not explain why exercise could help with sleep disturbances.
Experts believe it depends on changes in your core body temperature.
This is because when you exercise, your body temperature rises and then drops once you are done with your workout.
The drop in temperature mimics the change in temperature that occurs when you fall asleep, which could trick your brain into thinking it’s time to sleep, according to a 1997 study.
Insomnia often goes hand in hand with anxiety and depression, as worrying thoughts and stress can affect your sleep.
Therefore, exercise could help beat insomnia by improving your mental health through the release of endorphins.
Another reason experts believe exercise helps with insomnia is because it regulates your biological clock.
Certain forms of exercise, including running, stimulate serotonin, a hormone involved in the sleep-wake cycle. This hormone may improve the brain’s ability to regulate sleep.
It is believed that 50-70 million adults in the US suffer from insomnia and a third of the adult population in the UK struggle with bouts of insomnia at some point in their lives.
Sleep problems have been linked to health conditions such as diabetes, depression, dementia and hypertension.
Those who toss and turn at night often resort to some kind of sleep aid, such as sleeping pills.
But doctors try to steer people toward drug-free treatment, such as therapy, and rarely prescribe sleeping pills for fear of their side effects.
Serious injuries, including falls, broken bones, and even death, have been linked to long-term use of these drugs.
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