Insomnia, Exercise, Therapy, and Looking Beyond Prescription Drugs

Insomnia can be psychologically frustrating and physically draining, and the older a person gets, the more likely they are to have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. Some people’s sleep problems can be traced to life experiences or mental patterns that can be addressed with a therapist, counselor, or other mental health professional. Worry over work or finances, social anxiety, and overall stress may keep someone awake at all hours. In such a case, a psychotherapist can use cognitive behavioral therapy and other proven disciplines to help the individual learn to address these stressors and relax their minds. Yoga, meditation, Tai Chi, and other disciplines are also good tools for relieving stress and slowing the mind down.

But for some people, insomnia may not be a psychological issue. This is especially true with adults over the age of fifty, particularly women. In many cases, mature adults who struggle to sleep well are simply prescribed a prescription sleep aid. This is concerning for a few reasons. On one hand, people in this age group are increasingly more likely to be taking prescriptions for other health ailments, and the potential for interference is always a concern. Secondly, insomnia may be an indication of some other imbalance in the person’s physical or emotional life. Addressing that imbalance is a more effective, and healthy, solution than simply treating the symptom.

It’s for that reason that Tai Chi, therapy, meditation, and similar approaches have been strongly advocated by people in both the physical and mental health communities. A new study shows that aerobic exercise is one of the most effective non-pharmacological responses to insomnia, especially for middle aged and older women. In the study, participants who did 2-3 hours (total) or aerobic activity not only slept better and longer, but reported greater vitality throughout the day and lower rates of depressive symptoms in general.

© Copyright 2010 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Pauline

    Pauline

    September 19th, 2010 at 9:05 AM

    I went to my holistic “therapist” a few months agao and told her I have been having a horrible time trying to get some rest at night. It’s like I can go to sleep fine but I could not stay asleep all night, could I just get some kind of herbal sleep aid to try to conquer this? She remommended instead an evening walk for me along with a whole new diet regimen especially after lunchtime and this has been like a miracle for me. I was always afraid that exercise at night would wind me up and get me all anxious but instead it has the opposite effect for me. It lets me wind down instead of getting all revved up and within two hours I am typically able to go to sleep and get a full night’s rest. And all of this without drugs, just a few little lifestyle changes that I needed to make anyway. Thanks Kelli- you were my lifesaver!

  • Karen

    Karen

    September 19th, 2010 at 7:29 PM

    My husband suffers from insomnia. He takes forever to fall asleep and can’t stay asleep. I waken often to hear him pacing the house. He’s so tired too but will not take medication. He doesn’t believe in taking anything unless it’s life and death. I’ll suggest the aerobic exercise to him. He wouldn’t go for the yoga or meditation. Thank you for the help.

  • Jean Paul D.

    Jean Paul D.

    September 19th, 2010 at 9:06 PM

    Although I do not actually suffer from insomnia as such,I have trouble sleeping well whenever there is a problem at home,when something’s not right.

    I have also observed that even when these problems exist,working out actually helps me with my sleep and I don’t suffer as much.Without the exercise,the problem with sleep is enhanced and more severe.

  • Carla

    Carla

    September 20th, 2010 at 4:33 AM

    Any time that we can do something about a problem that is plaguing us without the use of prescription medication I really do believe that this is a step in the right direction. There are too many simple little health problems that could be resolved by making small changes instead of always having to rely on popping a pill daily.

  • CLAUDE

    CLAUDE

    September 20th, 2010 at 6:54 AM

    I have trouble falling asleep when there is something bothering me,when something is not right.And this leads to me being inefficient at work and sometimes even makes me ill.

    It just goes to show how some post of a tension can manifest itself into a physical problem.

  • Alana

    Alana

    September 20th, 2010 at 2:31 PM

    I find any kind of exercise helps me sleep better. I used to suffer terribly from insomnia. Some nights I’d cry because I was so tired and couldn’t sleep. I’m not into taking drugs either when there are more natural alternatives you can use first. I’m not fit and vigorous exercise would be too hard for me. A gentle form like walking is good too if you’re not gym material.

  • Walter

    Walter

    September 20th, 2010 at 4:15 PM

    Worry and insomnia go hand in hand. When I’m worried I’m up night after night until the small hours of the morning, tossing and turning. Being able to talk about your worries is an enormous help so don’t keep them all inside. Seeing a therapist for my sleeplessness was the best move I ever made.

  • ST

    ST

    September 20th, 2010 at 7:41 PM

    If i’m nt wrong prescription meds r declining and may one day even be completely phased out.

    A lot of ppl are giving more importance to other methods of med and are banking on such alternatives for almost all disorders.

  • Grant

    Grant

    September 20th, 2010 at 11:15 PM

    Eating more lightly the later it is in the day also helps. I was a fan of the late night delivery and having a Chinese meal an hour before you hit the hay isn’t smart. Your body needs less to concentrate on to allow you to sleep well. The indigestion doesn’t help either! When you feel like a big meal, and can have it earlier, that makes a difference.

  • Steve

    Steve

    September 21st, 2010 at 4:45 AM

    I have the hardest time sleeping when I am worried about something, sometimes these thoughts might just keep me up all night. I know that there is a big outcry against so mnay medications but sometimes that is the only way I can get any amount of sleep. Sometimes they do not even work if I am too stressed but usually they help me relax enough to at least get a few hours of rest.

  • mick

    mick

    September 21st, 2010 at 11:05 AM

    My problem isn’t not sleeping, it’s sleeping too much! Is there any help available for that? I could sleep round the clock and I never feel refreshed from it. I’m always tired.

  • Jane

    Jane

    September 22nd, 2010 at 4:51 AM

    @ Mick- I am no pro but have you been talked with about maybe being depressed? Being tired all of the time and sleeping to much is a classic symptom

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