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Experiences with Insomnia and Exercise

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Posted 10 years ago

As a clinical psychologist in-training, insomnia is a common complaint of the patients who seek out mental health services. Although insomnia may not be the primary reason they are coming to see a psychologist, its effects (daytime drowsiness/fatigue, difficulty concentrating, increase of depressive and/or anxiety symptoms, etc.) often exacerbate their primary complaint. There are many factors that can trigger insomnia-- stress being a common one-- and level of exercise is something I always assess for when patients report they are having sleep problems. In my experience, patients who are less physically active/fit or whose exercise level has changed dramatically in recent times often have more complaints of insomnia. One of my recommendations is always to re-start or begin a regular, moderate exercise routine preferably in the AM but sometime during the daytime hours. Physical exertion has been proven to have many tertiary benefits such as stress reduction, anger management, and better regulation of sleep patterns.

In addition to exercise, I also recommend Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for insomnia which includes such techniques as stimulus control therapy, paradoxical intention, and sleep restriction. Stimulus Control Therapy re-associates the bed and bedroom with sleeping by limiting the amount of time spent in the bedroom for non-sleep activities. In other words, the bedroom is for sleep and sex only! Paradoxical Intention Therapy urges you to do the opposite: i.e. rather than trying unsuccessfully to fall asleep night after night, you should try to stay awake. Often turning your attention to doing something else can help remove the fear/stress of not being able to have a good night's (or any) sleep. Sleep Restriction Therapy reduces the amount of non-sleeping time a person spends in bed to further strengthen the connection of the bed with sleep.

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