We spend about a third of our lives asleep. Sleep helps keep our brain, body, and immune system healthy. But from birth to adulthood, sleep patterns keep changing. As we grow older, coupled with responsibilities, we find ourselves not sleeping enough and sometimes, it is harder to fall asleep.
Most people who are between 18 and 60 years of age need seven to nine hours of sleep but this is sometimes not possible for reasons such as ongoing pain, depression, diabetes, heart disease, prostate and bladder issues which may cause lots of nighttime bathroom runs, interrupting sleep, sleep apnea or you simply make less melatonin.
You might need to make a few lifestyle changes and practice good sleep hygiene habits. These include going to bed and waking up at the same time every day and making sure your room is cool, dark and quiet.
According to Annette Grace Nakalyango, a physiotherapist at Mulago National Referral Hospital, working out is good for your body and mind. It will also help you fall asleep more quickly and improve the quality of sleep.
However, if you exercise very close to bed time, you may take long to sleep because the body releases endorphins, which are chemicals that keep the brain active. Therefore, it is better to exercise about two to three hours before sleep time.
Pains and aches can ruin a good night’s sleep, causing you to toss and turn in bed. Incorporating flexibility training such as stretching into your exercise routine or using a roller will loosen tight joints and relax stiff muscles to help you sleep better.
“Adding simple stretches to your bedtime routine can improve blood flow and increase the amount of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep,” says Nakalyango.
Moderate aerobic exercises are helpful, especially if you have insomnia. Exercises such as swimming, biking, jogging or brisk walking increase the amount of deep sleep you get. These exercises require you to burn more energy so you will feel more tired at night.
“Even just 30 minutes of this type of workout a day can decrease your risk of developing anxiety and depression, stabilising your mood and decompressing the mind; a process that is important while transitioning into sleep,” says Nakalyango.
The use of mindfulness, muscle relaxation coupled with breathing techniques can lower one’s heart rate, relaxe muscles and relieve stress, thereby promoting restful sleep. Breathing exercises can also improve the body’s production of melatonin, a hormone responsible for sleep.
Many times, people take shallow breaths which only involve the neck muscles but Nakalyango says it is important to take deep breaths that engage the diaphragm as well.
To practice this, lie down in a comfortable position with one hand on the chest and the other on the stomach and close your eyes. Take deep breaths by slowly inhaling through the nose and ensure that the hand on the chest stays still while the one on your belly rises with your breath.
“Remember to keep your mouth closed, your jaws relaxed and inhale through the nose to the count of four. Hold your breath for several seconds then exhale, allowing the hand on your stomach to slowly fall,” she advises.
These are sometimes known as strength training. They focus on building muscle strength and can include sit-ups, push-ups, lunges, squats, working out with resistance bands and weight lifting. These improve sleep and also lower anxiety and depression symptoms that hinder sleep.
According to Nakalyango, yoga is another type of a resistance training exercise that focuses on meditation, posture improvement and breathing. It reduces pain in the neck and lower back but most importantly, it relieves stress, which silences your mind giving you quality sleep.
Before going to bed, try resting in child’s pose and quiet your mind. Kneel on the floor while sitting on your knees then lean forward to place your forehead on the floor. Ensure that your buttocks remain on your heels and have your arms stretching above your head and the palms resting on the floor.
Slowly move the arms by your sides so that the fingertips touch your toes. Stay in this position for as long as you feel comfortable.
Generally, Nakalyango says, most exercises will help you sleep better but it is important to engage in regular physical activity. Even with these exercises, if you are always sleepy during the day, wake up a lot at night, snore or stop breathing in your sleep, you may need to be treated for insomnia.
Some people may find that exercising close to bedtime seems to keep them up at night. How does working out affect the mind?
● Aerobic exercise causes the body to release endorphins. These chemicals can create a level of activity in the brain that keeps some people awake. These individuals should exercise at least one to two hours before going to bed, giving endorphin levels time to wash out and the brain time to wind down.
● Exercise also raises your core body temperature. The effect of exercise in some people is like taking a hot shower that wakes you up in the morning. Elevation in core body temperature signals the body clock that it is time to be awake. After about 30 to 90 minutes, the core body temperature starts to fall. The decline helps to facilitate sleepiness. However, despite these biological responses to exercise, other people find that the time of day they exercise does not make a difference. Therefore, know your body and what works for you. www.hopkinsmedicine.org