Why you may have trouble sleeping after exercise

Published: 31st August 2010
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Despite doing lots of strenuous exercise, you may find that you actually have trouble sleeping. There are good reasons for this. Exercise triggers the release of lots of hormones which fight fatigue. If you do a lot of exercise, you will automatically trigger a range of hormones which may lead to you ‘buzzing’ when you go to bed, instead of sleeping.

What else is going on?
Exercise decreases the stress hormones such as cortisol and increases endorphins which are the body’s natural ‘feel good’ chemicals. When endorphins are released through exercise, your mood will be boosted naturally. Endorphins are a class of hormone-like substances that are produced in the brain and their function is to act as the body’s natural painkillers. During exercise, these endorphins are released, and this can produce feelings of euphoria and a general state of wellbeing. In fact, the endorphins produced can be so powerful that they actually mask pain. In addition to endorphins, exercise also releases adrenaline, serotonin, and dopamine. These three chemicals work together to make you feel good. Adrenaline quickens your heart beat and is probably better known as the chemical associated with the ‘fight or flight’ response. Serotonin acts as a chemical messenger transmitting signals between nerves and dopamine is a brain messenger, produced just before the release of adrenaline. Physically active people recover from mild depression more quickly and exercise is strongly correlated with good mental health as people grow older. So even if you don’t get any sleep it is good to know that exercise will not make you depressed!

Types of exercise to release endorphins
The best type of exercise for improving your mood is cardiovascular exercise and aerobics. This is because vigorous exercise helps to release the chemicals necessary for the mood-raising high. Yoga is also great because it reduces tension and stress while improving the mood. It focuses on stretching, breathing and postures that release negative emotions in the body.

How long do you need to exercise to feel the benefit?
Even if you only exercise for a short period of time, your mood will be improved. Just ten minutes of moderate exercise is enough to improve your mood, your vigour and also decrease fatigue. However, to obtain all the benefits from exercise, not just the mood improving aspects, you should do at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise every day. If you engage in lots of strenuous exercise then it may be advisable to think about when you do it so that you benefit from the health-giving properties as well as enjoying a good night’s sleep.

Siobhan Hargreaves is Director of Kick-Start Boot Camp, which offers residential fitness holidays to help people alter their lifestyle. 4 and 7-day weight loss boot camps for women and 4-day fitness boot camps for men are held regularly at Kick-start's headquarters in the East Midlands.

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