In medical circles, insomnia is considered a symptom rather than a disease. Various illnesses can cause insomnia -- as can caffeine, alcohol, smoking, depression, anxiety, stress, and arthritic pain. If you experience insomnia for a short period of time -- from two days to two weeks -- the problem is considered transient. But the NIH says that for 60% of insomnia sufferers the problem persists for three weeks or more, and in this case it's known as chronic insomnia.
Sleep Quality and Quantity
Quality sleep is essential for physical and emotional health. During childhood, sleep plays a key role in learning, memory, emotional well-being, immune function, and growth. Lack of sleep or poor quality sleep can cause fatigue, loss of energy, and memory problems. In adults, fatigue is frequently linked to car accidents and industrial accidents.
Medication can help treat insomnia temporarily, but the drugs can be addictive, requiring increasingly high doses the longer they are taken. Melatonin is often recommended as a natural sleep remedy. While it hasn't been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, it's widely considered safe and effective in alleviating transient insomnia.
But research also suggests that exercise may be even more beneficial than drugs, since it has no negative side effects.
Scientific Support for Exercise
Research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in January 1997 examined the impact of moderate exercise on sleep quality in older adults with moderate sleep-related complaints. During the study, 43 healthy men and women between the ages of 50 and 76 were split into two groups. One group exercised moderately for 16 weeks; the other group made no changes to their lifestyles. Exercise consisted of 30- to 40-minute aerobics classes four times a week. By the end of 16 weeks, the exercisers reported more improvement in their sleep quality than the control group.