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Sleep Like a Baby

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If you get up tired and feel Ike you have no energy to face the day, it's time to stop fretting. Grab your walking shoes, and step out of the house. No, I'm not kidding. Before you toss this idea aside, let me explain why.

Research shows that regular aerobic exercise, such as a brisk walk or a heart-pumping Zumba class, can make it easier to fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. Yoga has also been shown to be an all-natural sleep aid. A study published in the Indian Journal of Medical Research found that insomniacs who practised yoga for 6 months fell asleep 10 minutes faster, slept an hour longer, and woke up feeling more refreshed than those who didn't practise yoga.

Of course, all that lab research doesn't mean a thing if it doesn't work in the real world of work deadlines, financial worries, changing hormones, and a slew of other variables that can make it difficult to sleep soundly. So to see if adding a little sweat to a daily routine would really help the average 40-plus woman sleep better, we asked 15 previously sedentary and sleep-deprived women to put the theory to the test. The youngest was 40; the oldest, 64. Their challenge: aim to do 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity 5 times a week, as well as a few relaxing yoga poses before bed, for 5 weeks.

And guess what? It worked. At the start of the programme, the women had trouble either falling asleep or staying asleep or both. Four of them took over-the-counter sleep aids regularly. At the end of the programme, everyone was sleeping more soundly on a regular basis, they found it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep naturally, with fewer wakeful periods during the night. Even 64-year-old Lorenda Murr, who had taken prescription and OTC sleep aids for more than 8 years, slept well. As a bonus, the women had more energy, and each lost an average of 3 kilos and 8 inches; some women dropped as much as 4 to 4.5 kilos.

"I've had trouble staying asleep ever since going through early menopause at age 37," says Dana Dornburgh, 41, a high school guidance counsellor in New York. "It was normal for me to go to bed at midnight, lie awake from about 2 until 4, and then get up for work at 6 AM. I was exhausted all the time and reached for sugary snacks like chocolate to get through the day. But once I started exercising, I began sleeping consistently through the night. I have also dropped 2.7 kilos, feel great, and no longer find myself craving an energy boost from candy."

Exercise Helped Real Women Score More Shut-Eye
Laurie Schmidt, 53, an ad designer in Wisconsin, used to wake up 12 to 18 times throughout the night, sometimes lying awake and watching the clock for up to an hour. "It was awful, I was averaging only 4 hours of solid sleep a night. Often, I'd end up taking a sleep aid and wake up with a groggy headache," she says. The good news: Soon after upping her activity, she saw a huge, positive change in her sleep habits. While Schmidt still wakes up for a few minutes 2 or 3 times during the night, she no longer has trouble falling back to sleep. "Now I walk almost daily, even if it's cold out. The yoga helps me relax and signals my body that it's bedtime. You hear myths that once you hit menopause you'll never sleep well again, but exercise changed that for me."

So how does sweating help you snooze? "A good workout releases feel-good chemicals called endorphins that lift up your mood and enhance your self-image," says Dr MS Kanwar, senior consultant, Sleep, Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine at Delhi's Indraprastha Apollo Hospital. This reduces negativity and anxiety, which often prevents you from sleeping soundly, explains the doctor. At a more basic level, a vigorous workout exhausts you physically, says Prevention advisor and Reebok master trainer Nisha Varma, ensuring that your body is craving for rest by the time you crawl into bed; if you sat at a desk all day, pent-up energy could keep you tossing and turning.

By Jenna Bergen

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