Post Workout Insomnia

Q: I often don’t sleep well after a 45-60 minute midday or morning weight lifting workout. I try to stay fueled and hydrated afterwards. My schedule has me doing weights twice a week. I’ll wake up hours early. I’ve read that it’s caused by too much cortisol, adrenaline, and norepinephrine. Am I overdoing it? My workout schedule is currently 7-8 hrs wk and I sleep well otherwise after OD or interval workouts. Having a beer in the evening helps but causes other issues like dehydration and some sleep apnea. Should I back off and have more frequent shorter weight sessions, take a sleep aid like chamomile, melatonin, or something else like eating before bed? I’m 47, a fairly fit ectomorph, and am training for some ski marathons.
Mike in AK

A: In general, exercise increases cortisol, norepinephrine and adrenaline which makes it difficult to fall asleep…if your workout is close to bedtime. Since your workout session is morning/midday I would assume that acute hormonal response to exercise is not the culprit to your sleeplessness. However, it is a possibility if your morning session is particularly taxing.

Over-exercising or improper recovery can also cause insomnia. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t be quick to diagnose overtraining with just this one symptom. Classic overtraining symptoms include low energy, generally feeling worn out, prolonged muscle soreness, frequently sick, irritability, unintentional weight loss and higher resting heart rate. If you are experiencing more than two of these, you may be overdoing it. In that case, go lighter on your workouts and see if your sleeping and training become better.

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If you are not tracking your resting heart rate in the morning, doing so can be a great tool to monitor your body’s internal stress. If you find that your heart rate spikes one morning, that can be a sign that your body has not come back to homeostasis (full recovery). There are several methods for obtaining the resting heart rate. The method I suggest is to lay flat on your back for 3 minutes, then come to standing and stand still for another 3 minutes. Do this first thing in the morning after you wake up. Grab the average heart rate for the total 6 minutes to get your heart rate average for the day.

Sleeping aids are certainly an option, through you don’t want to rely on them. Understanding that they will be a “quick-fix” and may mask underlying sleeping problems is important.

First I would suggest trying to fit the strength session in earlier in the day to see if that changes anything. If you’re still having problems, I would try shortening or lightening your sessions. Next, monitor your morning heart rates for a few weeks to check that they are normal, consistent and within a healthy range for you.

Goodnight and good luck!!

Karmen M. Whitham
CXC Development Coach
karmen.whitham@cxcskiing.org