Can’t Sleep? You Could Be Overreaching

By Charlene O’Hanlon

Gearing up to hit the gym? Go slow or else you could be up all night.

While experts agree that exercise is an excellent way to combat insomnia, taking your workout from 0 to 60 too fast can leave you more susceptible to colds and fatigue and keep you from falling (and staying) asleep, according to a study published in the journal “Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.”

“Overreaching,” or overtraining, can disrupt your sleep cycle because your body doesn’t have enough time to repair itself in between rigorous workouts. As a result, your body becomes stressed and is easily overloaded in a just a few days. That stress can weaken your immune system and make it tough for you to fall or stay asleep. It also compromises your body’s ability to stay healthy.

Overreaching is defined as a state of severe fatigue and performance decline that is not reversed quickly with rest. And the best way to keep physical training from leading to a poor night’s sleep is the slow and steady approach.

The research suggests increasing your cardio workout by no more than 10 percent per week. So if you’re just starting out on the treadmill, spend no more than 10 minutes a day on it the first week you work out. Then up your daily time on the treadmill by a minute for the duration of next week; add two more minutes the third and fourth weeks to reach a total of 15 minutes a day by the fifth week.

If free weights are more your speed, up the amount of weight you lift only after you’ve mastered doing at least 12 reps at either your current weight or your starting weight.

If you’ve already overdone it at the gym or out for a run and find yourself unable to sleep, don’t despair.

Just give yourself a few days off. When you do resume exercising, build up slowly rather than return at your overreaching level of intensity. Spend about one-quarter the time exercising as you did when you started having trouble sleeping. Then, stick to the 10 percent rule to tack on more time to your workout.