Updated: Mar 3
The ongoing coronavirus crisis has made getting a good night’s rest significantly harder. Some experts even have a term for it: ‘coronasomnia’ or ‘Covid-somnia’. This is the phenomenon that’s hit people all over the world as they experience insomnia linked to the stress of life during Covid-19.
In the UK, an August 2020 study from the University of Southampton showed that the number of people experiencing insomnia rose from one in six to one in four, with more sleep problems in communities including mothers, essential workers and BAME groups.
With the pandemic into its second year, months of social distancing have rocked our daily routines, erased work-life boundaries and brought ongoing uncertainty into our lives – with disastrous consequences for sleep. Our health and productivity could face serious problems because of it.
Life can get extra hard if you're consistently having trouble falling asleep, or experiencing poor quality sleep. There is a risk it can lead to long-term health impacts including obesity, anxiety, depression, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Sleep insufficiency – which many health authorities classify as less than seven hours a night – also affects your work; many studies have shown that it makes you more likely to make mistakes, wrecks your concentration, increases reaction times and affects your moods.
How Can Exercise Improve Your Sleep?
The good news is that exercising regularly and consistently can help relieve your sleep problems and overall wellbeing.
1. Improve sleep quality.
Exercise can contribute to more sound and restful sleep. Physical activity increases time spent in deep sleep, the most physically restorative sleep phase. Deep sleep helps to boost immune function, support cardiac health, and control stress and anxiety.
2. Increase sleep amounts.
In addition to improving the quality of sleep, exercise also can help you increase the duration of your nightly rest. Being physically active requires you to expend energy, and helps you feel more tired and ready to rest at the end of the day. Research indicates that exercise - in particular, regular exercise that’s part of a consistent routine—can help boost sleep duration, in addition to sleep quality.
3. Reduce stress and relieve anxiety.
A regular exercise routine can help to reduce your stress levels. Stress is a common cause of sleep problems, including trouble falling asleep and sleeping restlessly during the night. Exercise is a potent remedy for anxiety and other mood disorders - just 5 minutes of exercise can trigger anti-anxiety responses in the body. Mind-body exercise such as yoga and Pilates can help quiet the parasympathetic nervous system, which can help you relax. Research shows that mind-body exercises such as yoga, gentle Pilates and stretching can help to lower cortisol levels and reduce blood pressure, as well as having positive effects on mood.
4. Help with insomnia and other sleep disorders.
Scientific evidence indicates that exercise can be an effective natural therapy for insomnia. We have a lot to learn about how exercise may help treat insomnia and other sleep disorders. Studies suggest that aerobic exercise may be particularly effective in helping reduce insomnia symptoms. Research also indicates that for people with insomnia, the benefits of exercise kick in over time, rather than immediately. Studies have also found that exercise can help lower the severity of sleep-disordered breathing and may help to reduce the severity of obstructive sleep apnea.
5. Exercise may realign your internal body clock.
Some people experience insomnia due to a misaligned internal body clock. A disruption of one’s circadian rhythms can cause them to naturally feel tired later at night than “normal.” Depending on the time of day they exercise, it can help reset their body clock and help them fall asleep earlier. Some forms of exercise, like running, boost serotonin (a hormone involved in the sleep-wake cycle), which may improve the brain’s ability to metabolize serotonin and regulate sleep.
When Is A Good Time To Exercise?
For some people, exercising too late in the day can keep them up at night. In addition to elevating your mood, the endorphin release associated with exercise can energize your brain, leading some people to feel more alert. For this reason, experts recommend avoiding exercise at least 2 hours before bed so those effects can wear off. However, the drop in body temperature that occurs after exercising can begin 30 to 90 minutes later, which may help with falling asleep.
To figure out the right time for you to exercise, consider keeping a sleep diary. Record when you exe