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Forget Counting Sheep to Sleep -- Try Cardio Instead

By HERWriter
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Approximately 25 percent of the population is afflicted with sleepless nights and can reach as high as 40 percent in older people. Most moms and grandmothers usually told us to count sheep or have a warm glass if we couldn’t sleep.

However, evidence is emerging that aerobic exercise can offer relief from insomnia.

A study funded by the National Institute of Aging showed evidence that aerobic exercise may help with your sleepless nights. The study, conducted at Northwestern University in Chicago, Illinois, tracked 23 women 55 and older who were previously sedentary adults and who had difficulty falling or staying asleep.

After 16 weeks their average sleep quality improved after they followed an aerobics training program that included exercising on a treadmill or stationery bicycle. "Most of poor sleepers became good sleepers," said Dr. Phyllis Zee, the lead researcher in the study.

The improved sleepers in Zee's study also reported better moods, fewer depressive symptoms and enhanced vitality. "Vitality is everything," Zee said. "It's how somebody feels, how alert. If you think about the complaints of poor health, people will always say, 'I feel so tired.'"

And according to Dr. David Davila of the National Sleep Foundation, we really don't know why people tell us that exercise helps them sleep. But if people are normally active, reaching their aerobic goals, chances are they will sleep the right amount for what they need. Also, Davila said the low-grade sleep deprivation suffered by many time-pressed, under-rested Americans has a cumulative effect.

"There are fallouts for the average person. People have more car accidents and what they call 'presentee-ism', or poor performance, at work,” said Davila.

"There's no scientific evidence that people need eight hours, seven is fine," said Dr. Shawn D. Youngstedt, an expert on sleep and exercise at the University of South Carolina. Youngstedt said, "It's far clearer that exercise has wonderful benefits. It's better than drugs for diabetes, mental health, cancer prevention." If your schedule dictates that you can only hit the gym at 5 a.m.

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.