Hard workouts make you very tired, yet you can’t fall asleep. You are struggling with sleeplessness for a few hours in a row, but strange anxiety in your head keeps you awake. Learn why this happens and how to defeat post-workout insomnia.
What causes insomnia
A heavy training or competition is a stress for the body. Exercises raise the pulse rate and the core temperature, increase sweating, stimulate nervous and endocrine systems, boost the secretion of cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline (norepinephrine). The higher workload, the longer the excitatory effect lasts.
An increase of the cortisol level
The level of cortisol, a stress hormone, rises after any workout. There is nothing bad about that since it helps the body adjust to the training workloads. If the workload is too heavy, and the cortisol level is still high, this may cause the sleep disturbances.
Normally, the cortisol level depends on the time of the day. It raises in the morning for you to waken up and reaches its maximum in around 30 minutes after awakening.
Then its level gradually decreases during the day and gets very low at night, before you go to bed. But if you go to the gym in the evening and face an unusual workload, your level of cortisol drastically rises and stay high till the moment you go to sleep.
A boost of adrenaline and noradrenaline
Intense muscle work at workouts enhances the secretion of adrenaline and noradrenaline. These hormones affect the central nervous system, and they are responsible for cheerfulness and vitality.
Once you are done with your training session, the level of adrenaline slumps quite quickly, while noradrenaline stays high for a long time. The 2011 study, “Follow-Up Alterations of Catecholamine Hormones after an Intensive Physical Activity”, determined that the level of noradrenaline can exceed the normal one for 48 hours after a workout.
An increase of the core temperature
The body temperature is consonant with circadian rhythms during the day. While you’re asleep, it slightly falls with a tendency to go up to the moment you wake up.
The study “The relationship between insomnia and body temperatures” confirms that some insomnia types, e.g. when you wake up in the middle of the night and cannot go back to sleep, are associated with a breach of core temperature regulation.
If you had a long workout or competition that lasted for 4-5 hours, it might take a while for the core temperature to drop again.
If you don’t consume enough water during a workout or competition, you may get dehydrated. Among other negative effects, dehydration reduces the level of melatonin, the hormone that regulates circadian rhythms and prevents the sleep issues.
When your body doesn’t get enough water, tryptophan (an amino acid that converts into melatonin) hardly gets into the brain, and it is used by the liver as an antioxidant. This results in the decline of melatonin secretion, which may cause insomnia as well.
How to avoid insomnia
Do breathing exercises after workouts
Breathing techniques are proved to be efficient in struggling with stress. To decrease levels of cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline, do the following exercise right after you had finished your training:
- Pick a quiet place, sit on a mat with an upright back or lay down on the back.
- Set the timer for 5 minutes, relax and close your eyes.
- Inhale on four counts, inflating the belly and then the chest.
- Exhale on six counts, releasing the air from the chest first, then from the belly.
- If you feel discomfort to breathe on four and six counts, choose a more comfortable rhythm, e.g. three and five or six and eight counts. The point is that your exhalation should be longer than the inhalation.
Follow your breath and try not to dive into your thoughts. It is a sort of meditation that will help you relieve post-exercise anxiety more quickly.
To cool the core temperature after workouts, take a cool shower or treat your body with a wet towel soaked in cold water.
And don’t forget to drink water during workouts and after them to avoid dehydration.
Set the appropriate temperature in your bedroom
The study “Effects of thermal environment on sleep and circadian rhythm” reported that the heat coming from the outside has a negative influence on slow-wave sleep. That is why it is essential to run the air conditioner in the room in order to fall asleep in cool air. The room temperature is advised to be around 20 degrees Celsius.
Get rid of stress
When you come to the gym for a hard workout after a stressful day, your body gets a double kick, and if the tension level does not go down the next day, stress becomes chronic that has a bad impact on the body.
Therefore, try to avoid stressful situations in your daily life, learn to relax and use breathing techniques, meditation and positive thinking.
Wait until your body adapts
Despite the increased levels of cortisol and adrenaline during workouts, many people train at evening time after office hours and fall asleep easily.
Insomnia only comes after unusually heavy training workloads such as competitions, a higher level of intensity, or a first workout after a long break. In one or two workouts your body will ajust to the new workloads, and the sleep problems will vanish.