Older Adults Sleep Better After Exercising

Aerobic exercise may reduce insomnia in the elderly

You’re never too old to benefit from exercise, especially if you’re one of the nearly 50 percent of older Americans who complain of suffering from sleep problems.  Results from a new senior-focused study, suggests that regular physical activity may increase the quality of sleep for older adults with insomnia.  In fact, seniors who worked out just a few times a week averaged more than an hour of extra sleep per night.

Though the elderly are often stereotyped as people who sleep all of the time, they are even more prone to chronic sleep troubles at their age.  Unfortunately, research on the benefits of exercise on sleep generally concentrates on young, healthy individuals.  Aiming to replicate these results for the older sect, Neurology professors at Northwestern University recruited seventeen adults (16 women and one man) over the age of 55 who suffered from insomnia to participate in a four-month study.

Half of the subjects were put on a steady exercise regimen.  For the first month, participants attended classes with a leader who would teach them proper techniques, but thereafter they completed fitness activities on their own four days a week in the afternoon or evening.  The other half of the subjects served as the control group and spent an equivalent amount of time engaging in stimulating yet non-physical activities such as attending museums, meetings, religious services, and bingo.

In the end, the non-exercise group only increased their amount of sleep time by 12 minutes a night and showed no difference in their amount of sleep disturbances, like waking up in the middle night.  On the other hand, the exercising seniors averaged an astonishing extra 75 minutes of sleep per night, in addition to experiencing a 33 percent reduction in sleep disturbances.  The experts clarify that a whole extra hour of sleep probably wouldn’t be typical to someone who already sleeps a normal amount, but was crucial to the test subjects who formerly slept only about 5.5 hours per night.

Although the study is not without its flaws, the findings are hopeful.  The professors hope their work will inspire further investigations that include a larger sample size, better gender distribution, and more precise method of measuring sleep quality than a questionnaire.

In the meantime, older adults with sleep issues should consider increasing their exercise regimen.  The good news is that even easy physical activity is successful.  Though the exercise group was encouraged to complete a variety of aerobic activities including using treadmills and stationary bicycles, 70.6% of the time, they kept it simple by walking and jogging.  A midday stroll may prevent counting sheep at night.

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