Insomnia is a significant problem in the United States, and for individuals grappling with mood and/or anxiety disorders, sleep loss can contribute to ill health, including immune function, cognitive functioning, and even cardiovascular problems.
However, use of medication for insomnia does not have a good track record. These medications have significant risks and adverse side effects, and often lose effectiveness over time. Those who, for whatever reason, choose to limit their medication use need to look for help in other ways.
A recent meta-analysis covering patients with mental illness and insomnia considered the effectiveness of exercise as a non-medication intervention. The eight studies analysed found significant patient-reported improvements in sleep quality when following exercise programs.
The studies included individuals with diagnoses including major depression, post-traumatic stress, and generalized anxiety disorder. The exercise programs included aerobic and/or resistance training as well as “mind-body” exercise such as tai chi or yoga.
Large improvements were found in patient-rated sleep quality and mood/anxiety, especially for those with depression and anxiety disorders. Results were better for those in group programs and programs that were supervised by an exercise professional. These results are particularly important because health care providers in the field of mental illness are strongly recommended to avoid “polypharmacy” or the use of numerous medications for a single patient.
Moodsurfing has looked at exercise as an important non-medication tool in the wellness toolkit over the past several years, and we have consistently found that exercise is an important part of everyone’s lifestyle. Perhaps reminding ourselves that by going to the exercise class today we are avoiding putting medications into our systems will be a helpful part of motivation.
Lederman O et al. Does exercise improve sleep quality in individuals with mental illness? A systematic review and meta-analysis. J Psychiatr Res 2019 Feb; 109:96. (https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpsychires.2018.11.004)