April is National Sleep Awareness Month, and with nearly 70 million Americans affected by sleeping disorders, it’s likely that fitness professionals will encounter clients struggling with insomnia. Promoting the link between exercise and sound sleep may both wake up a new market and enhance the exercise benefits of current clients. For clients seeking to improve their sleep, keep in mind the following tips when designing an exercise program:

  • First seek medical advice, to rule out any health problems that could be causing the insomnia.
  • Consider that prescription and over-the-counter sleeping aids both cause a number of side effects (high blood pressure, dizziness, poor coordination and delayed reaction time) that may require you to modify a client’s exercise program.
  • Consistent exercise often precedes consistent sleep; emphasize regular exercise and adjust the program as needed. Encourage clients not to wait for that elusive “good night’s sleep” to start their workouts.
  • Vigorous exercise four to five hours before bedtime is ideal. Accommodate clients with classes and training slots later in the day.
  • Use fresh air and sunlight to overcome drowsiness.
  • Teach and provide reminders for deep diaphragmatic breathing (both to increase oxygen supply and to enhance relaxation).
  • Suggest a hot bath one to two hours before bedtime. The drop in core temperature that follows promotes sound sleep.
  • Have clients set their body clocks by maintaining regular routines for exercise, work and sleep.
  • Eliminate the culprits: caffeine, alcohol and cigarettes, all of which disrupt the sleep cycle.
    Whether participants suffer from transient (temporary) or chronic insomnia, fitness professionals can help by giving those “sleepless in the gym” the support they need to start counting laps or repetitions instead of sheep.

(Reference: Hauri, P., & Linde, S. 1996. No More Sleepless Nights. John Wiley & Sons Inc.)

—Reported by Debra Atkinson, Department of Health & Human Performance, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa