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  • Writer's pictureChristie Bolster

Research Shows That Hiking Can Actually Provide Relief For Insomnia

Hiking once a week cured my insomnia. Now I fall asleep and stay asleep. Let me tell you how.

If you're like the thirty-odd percent of people who have struggled with chronic insomnia, then it's likely you're no stranger to tossing and turning at night. For those who struggle with it, insomnia can be incredibly stressful and frustrating -- not to mention, seriously exhausting. After spending so many sleepless nights staring up at the ceiling, just hoping that you'll be able to get a little bit of shut-eye, it's normal to want to give up hope.

However, don't give up just yet! While insomnia (which is often characterized by not only the inability to fall asleep, but also to stay asleep) can be a fairly serious sleep disorder, there's still hope for you yet. I, too, struggled with insomnia, often laying in bed for hours before finally rummaging through my medicine cabinet in hopes that I could find something to knock me out. Then I discovered hiking, and suddenly all of my sleep woes became a thing of the past.

Wait, Hiking Once A Week Can Cure Insomnia?

With so many doctors and pharmaceutical brands out there trying to peddle their cures, it may seem surprising to realize that the cure to chronic insomnia can't be found inside a medicine bottle. In fact, it won't even be found inside your house. The answer to a good night's sleep is actually outside, and you can find it while on a nice, long nature hike.

Hiking is not only a fantastic cardiovascular workout. It's also remarkably soothing and calming to the mind. But how does that explain how hiking can cure insomnia? A brisk, stimulating hike should seem like the very opposite, and in fact, might even seem invigorating. It just doesn't hold water. Ah… but wait. Once you look at the science behind it, it actually starts to make sense.

Improved Health And A Better Night's Sleep

First and foremost, if you want to understand how hiking can help you sleep better at night, then you need to take a look at it from a health standpoint. For many people who struggle with insomnia, it's important to realize that this sleep disorder is actually a secondary disorder. That is, your insomnia is actually a side effect of something else going on inside your body.

Take, for instance, sleep apnea. While the exact cause of this sleep disorder can depend on a number of different factors, cardiovascular health does play a large role in it. For people with sleep apnea, they often wake up many times in the night due to periods of not breathing (the "apnea"). By improving your cardiovascular health, you can minimize the incidences of periods of apnea, securing a better night's rest.

This goes for other health considerations too. Research has shown that people who struggle with hypertension also have trouble with sleeping. By taking the time to get into shape with hiking, you can reduce your symptoms of hypertension. This means that you'll be more likely to fall asleep the moment your head hits your pillow. These findings are also true for many other conditions. If you treat the condition, then you can treat the resulting insomnia.

Hiking, Cardiovascular Exercise And Rest

You might be thinking that exercise is the last thing you need when you can't sleep. After all, we've all heard of the "runner's high," that period of extreme happiness that follows a good workout. The same can be said for hiking, and if you're feeling extra perky and chipper, doesn't that mean you'll also struggle with sleep tonight?

Nope. While hiking can release endorphins, a hike in the middle of the day doesn't automatically translate to poor sleep at night. Studies have shown that if you raise your heart rate a little bit during the day, you will actually sleep better at night. If you think about it, it makes sense: exercise can help tire you out, meaning you'll be more likely to rest better at night. And because hiking is considered a form of gentle exercise, you don't even need advanced training to do it.

The Mental Benefits Of Hiking Once A Week

Finally, you don't want to overlook the mental benefits of hiking. There are quite a few ways that hiking can help boost your mental wellbeing, quickly leading to a better night's sleep for you. For starters, hiking can help calm and relax you. This can quiet down the internal "chatter" in your head that is keeping you up at night. With all of your anxieties put to rest when you hike, you can be put to rest when you go to bed.

In addition, exposure to natural sunlight can help improve your circadian rhythm. That is, it can help bolster your sleep-wake cycle, allowing your body to recognize when it's finally bedtime. With so many of us stuck indoors all day, chipping away at our jobs on computers, taking the time to get outside to enjoy a hike (even if it's just for an hour or so) can make a world of difference when combating chronic insomnia.

If you've been fighting with your body to allow you to rest at night, you're not alone. Millions of people struggle with insomnia, making it one of the most common disorders out there. However, by making hiking a regular part of your current lifestyle, you can finally kick your restlessness to the curb. With so many known benefits of hiking, why wouldn't you want to start a hiking habit today? Your body -- and your mind -- will thank you for it!


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