As I write this, I am in my usual, normal daytime state. Sleepy.
My whole life I have dealt with chronic insomnia. I have had a persistent problem since about sixth or seventh grade with falling asleep and staying asleep.
I am not alone, either. According to NPR, 60 million others have this issue in the United States. It’s a super-common problem, as it turns out.
In June 2015, I bought a Fitbit Charge HR. It could track not only my workouts but also my sleep patterns. Since then, I have tracked more than 400 workouts but only two nights of sleep.
Why? Because the Fitbit told me the truth. The first night, I woke up 32 times. The second night, I woke up 37 times. (I didn’t really need the Fitbit to tell me that. I already was quite aware of that fact.)
Thank goodness for exercise, or I really believe it would be worse. There are several studies out showing that exercise can help insomnia. Several studies say it will take time — around three or four months to see improvement. Exercise can make you physically exhausted, but mentally your brain may need time to catch on.
In the big picture, exercise will help you when it’s time to get rest, and in the long run benefit you in more ways than one.
In the beginning of my marriage, my husband once told me that I do not sleep because I do not get enough exercise. What?? Are you kidding me??
Many women — and especially women over 50 — can have a really hard time turning off their thoughts. We wake up with racing thoughts of things undone, or deadlines, or issues with our children. If we can find something to worry about, we will. And once we wake up, we have a hard time turning those thoughts off.
Besides worries, there are many other things that can affect sleep, such as pain, medication, too many glasses of wine or too much caffeine. Maybe environmental issues are a trigger for you, or depression or anxiety.
Exercise is great at reducing anxiety and good for people who suffer from depression. It’s also a great time to run those thoughts through your mind and sort them out, rather that doing it when you’re trying to sleep.
Folks who get seven or eight hours of sleep a night tend to have a lower BMI (body mass index). But if you are a regular non-sleeper, how do you stay in your routine and get your exercise the next day so you can lower your BMI? Just make yourself do it.
Staying in a routine is super-important. Our bodies love a regular routine. Give yourself 30 minutes before you actually need to lay your head down to address the things you need to for tomorrow.
Try making a list for the next day: payroll due, two meetings, a school event plus a trip to the grocery store? Write that down. Get it onto paper and out of your brain.
Then try to make your bedtime predictable. If you are a bath person, take a warm bath. It’s great for relaxing but also for getting your thoughts in a row.
Another old standby for making us sleepy is reading.
A good night’s sleep is one of the most overlooked things we can do for our health. When we do not sleep, all kinds of hormones like leptin (which regulates body weight) and cortisol (which regulates changes in the body in response to stress) are affected, which can cause us to overeat plus a downward spiral of other bad things.
Look at it this way: Getting a good night’s sleep is like putting gas in your tank. Without that gas in our tanks, we cannot properly function, and our health is negatively affected over time.
Lack of sleep affects our ability to concentrate, our reaction time and our mood and memory. Remind me what we were just talking about?
Ann Angell is a certified instructor and personal trainer and manager of the Oxford YMCA. She’s over 50. "Fitness over 50" is published the third Sunday of each month.