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Further wearying the weary
January 4, 2011 8:32 AM   Subscribe

In my ongoing quest to fix my messed-up sleep schedule, I was going to try a little exercise. How much is enough?

Things started going screwy back in July when I was dealing with some extra stress (a shifting work schedule and then the decline and death of a pet) and I haven't quite been able to recover. I used to have a gym membership, but cancelled it because I wasn't using it and needed the money too badly; my work schedule for the past year has had me getting up about an hour before my usual cicadian rhythm, and also got me home an hour later than usual, and by the time I got home I was too tired to think about making it to the gym -- especially when I was coping with my cat -- and so I cancelled it.

My cat died in August, but I still have the different work schedule, and I haven't quite been able to get back on top of a steady sleep schedule yet; I'll have trouble falling to sleep before midnight one night (which gives me only 6 hours of sleep), I'll wake up at 2 am and lie awake another hour another night, I'll wake up 2 hours before my alarm another morning...it's kind of all over the place. I've had only limited success with things like valerian, melatonin, or Benadryl -- they'll work fine one night, but then not work the next time I try.

It was something about the Benadryl last night that prompted me to try the exercise again. I GOT to sleep fine at 10:30 or 11, but then suddenly at 1 am I woke up feeling a strange sort of "I want to be awake and doing things" restlessness. (at the same time as the Benadryl was putting me in "I'm woozy and loopy" mode; that was pretty unpleasant.) I was thinking that weird 1 am attack was more a sign I just had energy to burn off, and THAT'S what's been waking me up or keeping me from falling asleep.

But I'm so mentally exhausted I don't want to push it, especially since I haven't been back to the gym in about a year; so I wanted to work my way back into it. I was thinking something as simple as a quick jog to my local park and back when I got home from work each night for the next few weeks (by that time, I'll also hopefully have a work schedule that is closer to my own natural pattern). If I do that, that'd be about a mile and a half jog each night.

The question is: would that be enough, if all I'm trying to do is wear myself out so I can get some sleep? Once I'm more rested I'll join my gym and resume the exercise I was doing, but I don't think jumping straight back into it would work if I'm still this sleep-deprived, so first and foremost is just fixing the sleep thing. Would a mile-and-a-half-or-so daily jog be enough for that purpose, especially since I'm already not quite firing on all cylinders anyway? I can also supplement/alter that with a donation-basis yoga class near me once a week.

Advise, please. thanks.
posted by EmpressCallipygos to Health & Fitness (17 answers total)
 
Would a mile-and-a-half-or-so daily jog be enough for that purpose

My experience has been that this will be fine. Depends on your baseline fitness level and a bunch of other things but walking briskly for a few miles is usually fine for me. As someone who sort of battles sleep stuff, anything you can do to lower your general anxiety level [and this includes being stressed about sleep] will help you stay asleep. Exercise does this, and it will help.
posted by jessamyn at 9:00 AM on January 4, 2011


I find that exercising late in the day revs me up too much. Consider walking a couple of miles before work every morning.
posted by mareli at 9:39 AM on January 4, 2011


Mareli, that would require me to wake up at 4 am, which would make things even worse.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:26 PM on January 4, 2011


And further to Jessamyn --

...anything you can do to lower your general anxiety level [and this includes being stressed about sleep] will help you stay asleep.

There's that, but I was also thinking that I felt more like I was having an attack like cats get when it's getting towards dusk and they suddenly start doing the Kitty Indy 500 through every room in the house out of the blue. I'd always read that that came from them just having excess energy that needed burning off -- and that made me suspect I may be having the same problem.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:39 PM on January 4, 2011


From my own experience, the jog is more likely to be helpful than not. Once you've gotten into a rhythm with it, you'll have a better sense of whether you want to step up the intensity or duration, or if it's doing well by you at the level you're at.
posted by Lexica at 5:54 PM on January 4, 2011


I know it might be hard to work into what you've described as a tough work / commute schedule, but my vote would be for walking. Perhaps at lunch instead of the morning, and then more in the evening? A long-ish walk (30 minutes, maybe a mile and a half?) is not as time-efficient as a run of the same length, but burns the same amount of energy and you can let your brain turn over...

You have my deepest sympathies -- I get moderately bad insomnia from time to time, and its a bloody curse. (And, of course, I'm sorry about your cat).
posted by bumpkin at 6:11 PM on January 4, 2011


Sure, it'd probably help. You might get more out of a short but intense workout, like interval training or weight lifting - not just as far as sleep, either.

You might also check out the AskMe on this same page about how light affects sleep patterns. In short, bright light in the morning and limiting blue light in the evening may be a big help. If you're spending your later hours on the computer, limit that or try a program like F.lux.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 12:42 AM on January 5, 2011


You might get more out of a short but intense workout, like interval training or weight lifting - not just as far as sleep, either.

Bearing in mind that I cannot yet at this time join a gym and do not have access to any kind of exercise equipment of my own, what would you suggest?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:43 AM on January 5, 2011


...Oooh, that looked like I was being snarky and I honestly wasn't; that wasn't, "oh yeah, like what, wiseguy?"

That was more, "...okay, how can I do something like that for the time being? Would running up and down a couple flights of stairs do it? or...ten minutes of push ups, or something like that?"
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:45 AM on January 5, 2011


I started a little interval training recently, and one of the things I love about it is that it's so FAST - it takes half the time of my other exercise stuff.

Here's what I do (I live in San Francisco, where there are hilly streets all over the place):

- I warm up with slow jogging for 5 minutes. Once around the block or so is about 5 minutes.

- I stretch briefly.

- I do interval sprints: I run up the block (it's slightly uphill) as fast as I can, which takes about 30 seconds. I walk or jog back down, which takes about 60 seconds. As I start getting worn out, sometimes I walk around at the bottom of the hill for another 15 or 30 seconds.

- I do 7 sprints. That's, what, 14 minutes?

- I jog and walk around the block once to cool down.

Done. About 30 minutes. And I am REALLY tired at the end of it.

You can read about Tabata or HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) all over the web.

You can also do a little bit of weight lifting/resistance training type stuff by just doing crunches or pushups. Pushups definitely tire me out well.

Finally, you might read up a bit on sleep patterns. I was fascinated to learn that before we had electric light everywhere, people often used to wake up in the middle of the night. They'd stay awake for an hour or so, then fall back asleep. There was nothing worrying about this; most people did it. So, one the one hand, you want to get as much sleep as you need to feel rested; but on the other hand, waking in the middle of the night isn't necessarily a horrible thing, and if you can take it in stride and not let it worry you, that might help you fall back to sleep more easily.
posted by kristi at 10:45 AM on January 5, 2011


Wow. That's....even more do-able than the park option. (My block is on a big horkin' hill as it is.)

Thanks!
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:13 AM on January 5, 2011


Pull-ups and chin-ups are another good thing you could add, but you'd probably need a door pull-up bar. If you really like that stuff, you could look into full bodyweight resistance programs like Naked Warrior, Never Gymless, Convict Conditioning, etc.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 12:31 PM on January 5, 2011


the last bit of kristi's post, about sleep patterns and waking up in the middle of the night is reminding me of something I read about Ben Franklin and others of his era... waking up in the wee hours for a while. Sometimes to write... sometimes to think, sometimes they even went for walks. Then went back to sleep. It was a recognized thing that happened, to sleep in chunks. Will try to track down the thing I read... when I'm less sleep deprived myself.
Also, will see if I can cobble together some yoga/Pilates ideas to help you exercise and unwind at night.
posted by SaharaRose at 5:47 PM on January 6, 2011


Finally, you might read up a bit on sleep patterns. I was fascinated to learn that before we had electric light everywhere, people often used to wake up in the middle of the night. They'd stay awake for an hour or so, then fall back asleep. There was nothing worrying about this; most people did it. So, one the one hand, you want to get as much sleep as you need to feel rested; but on the other hand, waking in the middle of the night isn't necessarily a horrible thing, and if you can take it in stride and not let it worry you, that might help you fall back to sleep more easily.

When I read this, I found it deeply comforting for some reason. Now waking up in the middle of the night doesn't provoke the dread and anxiety that I might not ever get back to sleep. It can sometimes be quite nice.

I've heard it from a number of places, but I first read it in Sleep Thieves, by Stanley Coren (serious psychologist but most noted for a series of bestsellers on dogs.) This was my bedside book for a while, and ironically, what I often read when I couldn't sleep.
posted by bumpkin at 7:48 PM on January 6, 2011


For the record, it's not strictly the waking-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night that's the problem. It's the losing-that-sleep-as-a-result-because-you-can't-sleep-in-because-you-need-to-leave-for-work-at-stupid-o'clock-as-it-is-already that's the problem.

On the weekends, it's no big thing to wake up two or three times - because I just sleep until ten to make up for it. The weekdays, I have no such luxury.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:01 PM on January 6, 2011


I know I might get a tin-foil-hat award for this comment, but I found I was able to sleep better when I unplugged the wireless router near my bed in the evening. Magda Havas has compiled a bunch of research on this-- might be worth a try!
posted by enzymatic at 2:02 PM on January 16, 2011


Actually, enzymatic, I don't have anything electronic in my room save for a lamp and an alarmclock anyway. And my question was more about exercise.

But I'll take that under advisement.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:53 PM on January 16, 2011


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