Exercise Helps Combat Insomnia

April 23, 2018

Exercise Helps Combat Insomnia

 by: Becky Rhew, J.D.

Attorney, Natural Health Expert, Certified Master Trainer and Nationally Qualified NPC Figure Competitor


I have always felt that exercise helped me sleep. But I assumed the correlation was a basic one – exercise just exhausts you, right? However, there are in fact many scientific reasons why exercise helps us sleep!

If you’re experiencing insomnia, or simply want to catch more quality Zzzzzs, read on for your daily #fitspo, and to be convinced at how a regular exercise routine could be your best ally against your sleep woes!

1. Exercise increases Adenosine.
Adenosine is a chemical that builds up in the body during the day, as a result of movement and energy expenditure, and the build-up of this chemical causes a “sleep drive. Exercise causes a significant increase in adenosine in the brain. Adenosine makes us sleepy. You already influence your adenosine levels on a daily basis, even if you are not aware of it yet - lets think about your morning cup of Joe – coffee works to make us feel more alert, because caffeine actually BLOCKS the effect of the adenosine receptor - in other words, it is an adenosine receptor antagonist. So, if adenosine makes us feel sleepy, we can feel more alert by blocking its effects with caffeine!

Adenosine wears off during sleep, because it is continuously metabolized by the enzyme ‘adenosine desaminase,’ which eventually causes you to wake up – and thus you need to move and exercise again to repeat the cycle!

Research shows that there may be other ways to “biohack,” or activate the adenosine receptors without exercise: limonene, a chemical compound found in citrus rind, may activate adenosine receptors and produce a sedative effect.

2. Exercise Increases Sensorimotor Brain Rhythm.
Sensorimotor Rhythm (SMR) is a slow brain wave that is abundant during sleep. Researchers have found that insomniacs tend to lack SMR brain waves, while athletes have an abundance!

But you do not need to consider yourself an “athlete” per se in order to get these benefits! The obvious fix, for insomnia, is simply to get moving, and participate in regular exercise! For a quick “bio-hack,” however, research indicates that simply listening to audio tracks of recorded SMR brain waves may help your brain to make more of this brain wave, and it can in fact improve your sleep! A quick YouTube search for “SMR Waves” turns up many helpful audio tracks, which you can listen to with headphones in the evening.

3. Exercise Increases Serotonin
Serotonin is one of our primary relaxing neurotransmitters. In essence, serotonin makes us feel happy and sleepy – the best of both worlds, am I right? Serotonin is SO important to our overall feelings of wellbeing, that doctors prescribe millions of anti-depressants every year, which work by increasing the availability of serotonin in the brain – these are called SSRIs, or Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors.

There are several reasons why you may benefit from more serotonin. Your DNA might be such that your body either doesn't produce much serotonin, or it is used up too quickly after you make it. Furthermore, stressful life events can place EXTRA demands on our serotonin production – wherein you may need more serotonin at those times.

Luckily, there are SO many ways to increase your serotonin naturally! Sunlight exposure and exercise are two natural ways! Cardio in particular is shown to increase serotonin levels more so than other types of exercise.

4. How can you improve your sleep?
I hope that the takeaway here is an obvious one – having a regular exercise program can modulate several key hormones and bodily functions that are conducive to a good nights sleep!

Ready to get moving? Try the following HIIT Bootcamp Workout! Rest for 30-60 seconds between each move. Repeat the whole circuit 3 times. Ready, set, sleep….I mean go!

Jumping Jacks x 20
V-Up Abs x 20
Wall Sit 1 Minute
Skater Leaps x 30
Side Plank Twists x 25 on each side
Squat with Alternating Side Leg Raise x 30
Reverse Lunge to Raised Knee x 15 on each side
Push-ups x 20




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