The healthiest way to improve your sleep: exercise

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If you’re one of the third of all Americans who suffer from insomnia — roughly 108 million of us — put away your sleeping pills. Science has a much safer solution.

“There has been more and more research in the last decade showing exercise can reduce insomnia,” Rush University clinical psychologist Kelly Glazer Baron said. “In one study I did, for example, older women suffering from insomnia said their sleep improved from poor to good when they exercised. They had more energy and were less depressed.”

“There are more solid studies recently that looked at people clinically diagnosed with insomnia disorder, rather than self-described poor sleepers,” agreed the University of Pittsburgh’s Christopher Kline, who studies sleep through the lens of sports medicine. “The results show exercise improves both self-reported and objective measures of sleep quality, such as what’s measured in a clinical sleep lab.”

Exercise is not quite as effective as sleeping pills, admits Arizona State University sleep researcher Shawn Youngstedt, but if you consider the potential downsides of pharmaceutically induced shuteye, the equation shifts.

“Sleeping pills are extremely hazardous,” Youngstedt said. “They are as bad as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. Not to mention they cause infections, falling and dementia in the elderly, and they lose their effectiveness after a few weeks.

“It’s less expensive, healthier and just as easy to exercise,” he said, “and there’s an added bonus: Research suggests those who are physically active a have lower risk of developing insomnia in the first place.”

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