While logic dictates that regular exercise can boost sleep, a small new study finds that for people suffering from sleep disturbances or insomnia, the answer may not be so simple.
Research from Northwestern University in the U.S. finds that for insomniacs, sleep may have more of an impact on exercise than exercise has on sleep, at least initially.
For the research, the scientists first looked at a 2010 study from the same university involving 17 adults with insomnia. All of the subjects, mostly female, were in their 60s and sedentary. After 16 weeks of physical activity training, subjects reported improved sleep. But the scientists wanted to know more, such as did exercise have an immediate effect on the subjects' sleep?
In the new study, published last week, head researcher Dr. Kelly Glazer Baron and her team recruited 11 female insomniacs to undergo a 16-week program of 30-minute workouts three to four times a week, while keeping sleep diaries.
In their daily logs, the subjects rarely reported sleeping better after they had worked out during the day, and they exercised for shorter amounts of time on the day after a poor night's sleep. Plus after two months, the subjects reported no improved sleep after the exercise program, but after four months, they started showing improvements, as in the original study.
While prior research has shown that for most people, exercising can improve sleep, for insomniacs the relationship may be a bit more convoluted, the new evidence suggests. The rationale? Head researcher Baron told the New York Times that people with insomnia tend to be "neurologically different" and have a "hyper-arousal of the stress system." Breaking a sweat in the gym one day isn't likely to override the system, she said, and could even exacerbate it.
Still, if you struggle with insomnia and currently don't exercise, Baron said that it's advisable to start -- but don't expect miracles. The process could take months, which can be frustrating for someone suffering from sleep deprivation.
"If you have insomnia you won't exercise yourself into sleep right away," she said in a press release. "It's a long-term relationship. You have to keep at it and not get discouraged."
Also on HuffPost:
Keep Up With Your Commitments
Just like any relationship, sleeping better also requires you not to cheat -- your schedule, that is. Try to sleep around the same time each day to fall into a daily routine.
Get 7 To 8 Hours Of Sleep
They say you need seven to eight hours of sleep every day -- Cederberg says 'they' are right. She says most adults function the best with at least seven to nine hours of sleep per night.
Turn Off The Lights
To ensure a good night's sleep, make sure your room is dark. Close the curtains, turn off your lamp and the television. Cederberg says the smallest amount of light could affect your sleep -- use an eye mask if you need to.
Test Your Pillows -- Really
Cederberg suggests spending a day testing out different types of pillows, like feather or foam ones, to see which one is the best fit for you. You should never test a pillow if you're tired though -- you may just like everything in the store.
Exercising isn't only good for your health, it can give you energy throughout the day. Challenging your body will also help you rest better, Ceberberg says.
Keep Your Bedroom Clean
Make sure your room is tidy before you sleep. Switch up your linens once every two weeks, keep your room dust free and Cederberg recommends adjusting the temperature to 18 degrees Celsius for the best zZZ environment.
Block Out Noise
If you live in the city, the sounds of cars and buses may be your morning wake up call (or the annoyances keeping you up at night). Cederberg suggests using ear plugs to block out unwanted noise.
Put Your Phone Away
Another distraction before sleeping is playing with your phone or answering texts. Put your phone in another room to help fall asleep with a clear mind and not worry about a meeting the next day.
Say No To Heavy Meals
Midnight snack cravings? Try to say no. Eating heavy foods right before bed will make it harder for your body to digest and make you tired the next morning.
Find A Good Mattress
Even though pillows ensure a good night's rest -- a good mattress is just as important.