Can hiking help you sleep better?

If you are having trouble getting rest at night, you have probably tried all the typical solutions.  Many people turn to sleeping aids in the form of medication to help them sleep.  Others try meditation, relaxing music or white noise to help them doze off.  

Did you know that hiking and other forms of exercise can do a great deal to help you sleep at night?

Lack of sleep and lack of exercise can be a vicious cycle.  If you aren’t giving your body the aerobic challenge it needs then, in exchange, you won’t sleep as well.  When you aren’t sleeping well, you wake up lethargic and without the motivation to exercise and so the cycle continues.

Hiking is an ideal form of movement because it uses every part of your body.  The obvious parts are your leg muscles and core but even your mind is being stimulated when you hike.  You need to stay alert to uneven terrain, obstacles ahead and often you are taking in the beautiful scenery around you.  Hiking creates awareness of nearly all of your senses.

Those that have trouble sleeping usually do because they have a hyper-arousal response to the stress system.  Hiking can lead to better sleep because it starts to mute the body’s response to stress, leaving the hiker more relaxed and able to drift off to sleep at night.

A physiological trigger that alerts the body that it is time to sleep is body temperature.  Body temperature naturally goes up in the daytime and drops at night time to clue the body into rest.  Hiking can raise and keep body temperature up as much as two degrees.  The temperature drops lower at the end of the day than if you hadn’t exercised and helps the body cool down to sleep at night.

One more added benefit of hiking is alertness.  Studies say those who feel more “awake” and alert during the day sleep sounder and longer at night.  HIking arouses those senses and rushes the body with endorphins which leave you feeling mentally stable and incredibly alert.  Being exposed to natural light during your hike can also improve your sleep at night because it reinforces the natural sleep-wake cycle.  

At day’s end, the hormones have dissipated, your body is winding down from the challenging hike earlier in the day, and you are ready to curl up in bed to enjoy a peaceful night’s sleep.

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