Drum – roll please
A little aerobic exercise !
A little disappointed ? Sick of hearing about the wonders of exercise ?
Exercise on trial as a sedative-hypnotic
The process of developing a new sedative-hypnotic (pharmacological name for drugs that act as sleeping pills), would include a clinical trial. In the trial, patients suffering from insomnia, would sign up and receive either the “special pill” or alternatively the placebo, a sugar substitute. There would be careful monitoring and an evaluation to decide if the drug had delivered on its promise of “a good night’s sleep”.
Researchers at Northwestern Medicine decided to put aerobic exercise to the test, to find out if it could be prescribed as a sedative-hypnotic to the sleep deprived, instead of a more conventional “sleeping pill”.
They designed a “clinical trial” in which self confessed insomniacs, tried out two non-pharmacological interventions for their sleep starvation. A stint of aerobic exercise was the treatment received by the experiment group while the control group got a little “education”.
NOTE : Unlike a drug trial, it was a little difficult to disguise which group you were in, so the study would not be considered to be double blind. Randomized double blind is the gold standard for clinical trials.
Aerobic exercise on trail
The study enrolled 23 couch potatoes, mainly older women, who reported that they either couldn’t fall asleep and/or stay asleep, which made functioning during the day tough going.
The women were assigned into an exercise group or an “education” group.
The exercise group were put through their paces 4 x a week for 40 minutes. They either walked on a treadmill or cycled on a stationary bicycle. The exercise intensity was set to get their heart rate up to 75 % of its maximum, so it was definitely more than the equivalent of a leisurely stroll around the block.
The other half of the group (the control) also had activities scheduled 4 x a week. The activities they engaged in were a little more cerebral – instead of exercising the body, they exercised the mind by pursueing education based activities. Among the activities were a couple of lectures as well as cooking classes.
Both groups received a little education on sleep to ensure they weren’t stacking the cards against sleep. The lecture covered the basics of sleep hygiene. Stuff everyone knows but sometimes forgets to do……..
Did exercise work ?
The researchers don’t report whether some of the participants slept during the extended education sessions, but the exercising group definitely felt better about how well they were sleeping.
The questionnaires completed by the two groups at the end of the 16 week programmes , revealed the exercise group felt they were sleeping better. They also reported feeling less depressed, more alive and less sleepy during the day.
The researchers were able to put a number on this reported “improved sleep”. The exercise group dropped their Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index scores by an average of 4.8 point. (Dropping is good – the higher the score, the worse night you’ve had !).
The “education” group had a good time, but didn’t end up with significant improvement in their sleep patterns.
If only exercise came in a pill
Exercise really is good medicine – it is good for
- Weight management
- Cardiovascular health
AND SLEEP !
Pity it isn’t as easy to swallow as a pill – more people would use non-pharmacological approaches to manage their health.
Aerobic sleep relieves insomnia – Institute of Women’s Health at Northwestern University news site
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