Unusual exercise-induced insomnia

Posted , 126 users are following.

TL;DR: I have exercise-induced insomnia for which no one has been able to explain or provide a solution.

I used to exercise regularly. I would wake up every weekday at 6am, bike to the gym, and exercise for about an hour before work. I would usually jog or do some other cardio for 20-30 minutes, then do weight training for the rest of the hour. I had help from a personal trainer, so I knew what I was doing.

I felt great, and I was in the best shape of my life. I kept this up for about 3 years, before something strange happened: I would wake up around 2 or 3am, unable to fall back asleep. I was 33 at the time, and I know sleep patterns can begin to change around this age.

At first, I noticed that I slept much deeper on days I didn't exercise (e.g. weekends). Then I began waking up in the middle of the night, but would usually go right back to sleep. It got worse. Eventually, I would wake about 4 hours after falling asleep with a feeling like an intense adrenaline rush or panic. It would last about an hour, and I would have poor, restless sleep the rest of the night.

I did not have trouble falling asleep. I was in bed at 9:30pm every night, then would read a bit with lights out by 10pm. I would fall asleep within 10 minutes.

When this started happening, I adjusted my routine. I worked out during lunch, or in the evening. No change.

I tried doing more or less cardio vs weight training. No change.

Today, if I exercise at any point during the day, I will only get four hours of good quality sleep.

I've been to several doctors, sleep specialists, and neurologists. I've had multiple take home sleep studies, as well as one on-site at a medical institution. The only thing they've been able to confirm is that I do indeed wake after 4 hours if I have exercised, but no one can tell me why. Many doctors don't even believe my story -- they think it must be psychological stress that I insist on tying to a physical cause.

I have found that walking, low-intensity biking, and hiking are all acceptable forms of exercise that do not trigger my insomnia. I can hike 10 miles and be fine. But if the hike is over very steep terrain, or if I were to jog for 10 minutes, then I have insomnia. So the intensity is definitely a factor.

The sleep studies did reveal that I have very mild sleep apnea. My doctors have told me that normally it would not warrant treatment, but it could be related. However, the usual recommendation for such a mild form is simlply "get more exercise".

My current pet theory is this: following a day of excerise, one's muscles will repair themselves during sleep, usually around 3 or 4 hours into the night. This process requires oxygen from the blood, so if my sleep apnea lowers my blood oxygen levels, then the repair process might cause it to dip below some threshold; my body panics, sending adrenaline through my body to wake me up to address whatever is happening. However, my sleep studies showed my blood oxygenation stayed over 90% the entire night.

I'm currently trying out a CPAP treatment. I'm still adjusting to it, but so far it hasn't made any difference. There's no real reason to think that it will, but I'm willing to try anything at this point.

When I tell this story, most doctors look at me like I have three heads, so I thought I would seek the collective wisdom of the Internet.

Cheers!

13 likes, 351 replies

Report / Delete

351 Replies

Prev Next
  • Edited

    also, I thought this was interesting about dehydration and body temperature, even though it pertains to endurance athletes; my issue being connected with a much warmer body:

    "There isn’t too much you can do to change your hormonal response to exercise (although, being more fit and less stressed out will help), but you can absolutely influence your hydration status and its impact on your core temperature. Your body temperature dips slightly during restful sleep and starts to increase again as you awaken. People also sleep better in cooler environments compared to hot ones. When your body temperature remains elevated you are very likely to have trouble sleeping. Exercise elevates body temperature, and cooling the body becomes increasingly difficult when you are inadequately hydrated. Some level of dehydration is highly likely following long endurance events lasting more than 4-5 hours. It is essentially inevitable after ultraendurance events like Western States, the Dirty Kanza 200, or an Ironman. Dehydration also leads to an elevated heart rate, even hours after your workout or race. When these factors combine, athletes report feeling like they are radiating heat while lying in bed listening to their heart rate in their ears."

    https://trainright.com/cant-sleep-hard-workout-race/

    Report / Delete Reply
  • Posted

    Glad I found this and glad to see you are still here. 

    I've been going through EXACTLY the same thing for years. Last night I was up at 2:30am after a day back at the gym since more than a year off. I really did not exert myself at all, but yet that old friend keeps coming back even if I do something moderately physical. 

    Ive been to see about a dozen different doctors or more. So many different medications, supplements, meditation, etc etc. I was even on rohypnol for a short time as well- even that did not work! 

    I also have been on CPAP for a condition known as (mild) UARS. Started in 2012 and adhered to the treatment 100% of the time since then. There has been NO change. 

    Have any of you gotten bloodwork? 

    I am starting to suspect his condition could be hormonal. When I was 22 I had a few tests, and my doctor declared me as "healthy, normal." I did not take the report, but I asked the Dr. what the level was and trusted him. At the time my total testosterone was something like 330ng/dl, which, for a young, otherwise "healthy" man is completely atrocious as I understand it now. Two years ago I took the plunge and went on testosterone replacement therapy, even though my testosterone was still technically "normal" although still in the low 300's despite being active and taking care of myself.

    On TRT the problems seemed to start to go away, however I was forced to stop the treatments as I now live in a country which is exceptionally strict with it's TRT guidelines. 

    Another recurring theme on my tests are a low iron count (again, within normal range, however just barely). It hangs there, just one or two points at the bottom of the normal range- no matter how much iron rich food or even iron supplements I take. 

    Anyway, this is an absurd condition that seems to be limited to a VERY few people and doesnt seem to be understood by doctors just yet. 

    I suggest you get bloodwork done and make sure to take the results for yourself to see them! 

     

    Report / Delete Reply
    • Posted

      Hey Joe,

      I'm certain you are on the right track with hormones. I'm 54 and since I turned 46, thereabouts, my sleep disturbance has never disappeared. I had my testosterone checked by never thoroughly, not my cortisol or seratonin/dopamine levels. It all began after a panic attack  and my inability to sleep (suddenly) for seven days. I was put on medication to calm me down and sleeping tablets but that just made everything much worse. My way to counteract all of it was to exercise like a lunatic because it made me feel better even though I could only sleep in patches with ambien, maybe, and something else. Today, I still take an antidepressant for sleep but my exercising will keep me awake no matter what I take, although these days I never go near traditional sleep treatments. I take herbal remedies like Sleep Optimiser and Tranquil Sleep as well - I know, my body is wide awake and without all these additional inducements god knows. Anyway, I'm okay and at least have enough energy to exercise as much as I want if I can guarantee not disturbing my sleep. I never  took TRT because I have seen men take it and become dependent on high levels of it and watched their mood rocket and drop; it looked dangerous. Maybe at a later stage of its decline when I am older I may consider it on doctors advice.

      Report / Delete Reply
    • Posted

      Hi Joe,

      I know it's been a few years, but I hope you will see this. I am curious if you have gotten any answers about what is causing your exercise-induced insomnia. I have the same problem - no doctor can tell me what is causing it. Have you gotten any clues at all? It has gotten progressively worse for me and is taking a huge toll on my life and health. I hope so badly that it is something curable. Thank you very much for any reply.

      Report / Delete Reply
  • Edited

    I have exactly the same problem. I've been having sleep difficulties when I've been exercising for as long as i can remember. I'm 30 now.

    Have been using almost every sleeping pill, anti-depressant and even anti-psychotic to try to solve this. Also tried every natural remedies, but none (really) works...

    I've also visited every sleep clinic here in Holland and visited several neurologists, psychologists and tried different types cognitive behavior training (also for insomnia).

    No one (of medical profession) seems to know of heard of this problem. They all think "It's between the ears", ergo psychosomatic.

    Since 7 years i finally tapered of sleep meds (trying to find the right one, but there's none!) because i have to many adverse effects. I'm to sensitive to meds. Even though the on the lowest dose and cut my pills in 1/2 or 1/4.

    The problem i have is that (moderate to heavy) exercise induces insomnia. Whenever i do a heavy or intense workout i get extreme difficulties with sleeping. Even though I'm sleepy as hell, my sleep onset is delayed for several hours. I get frequent awakenings and sleep really 'light'. So i get hardly 4 hours of light sleep after an intense workout. Even though i worked out in the late afternoon... It's definitely exercise related because it only happens on training days. 

    What i do notice is that my body temperature (on training days) is way higher and nighttime sweats are common. I also have 'physical agitated feeling' which keeps my body awake... Maybe cortisol rush?

    You might think, if you read this, that i must be overweight or not in generally good health. But doctors say I'm extremely fit. I've done several medical check-ups and they even ask if I'm using ergogenic aids and had 'something' offered in the gym, because they don't see many that fit.

    After testing my cardiologist told my i almost had the same endurance as a professional racing cyclist! This makes it extra irritating since i love working out, but i can't...

    I do have some recommendations which do help me ease the symptoms:

    Magnesium bisglycinate, which is one of the best forms of magnesium because it's chelated with glycine.

    Both magnesium and glycine have sleep inducing properties because they are mildly sedative and relax muscles.

    Another great thing about glycine is that it's able to improve sleep quality and reduce sleep latency and appears to give you the benefit of subjective good night's sleep.

    This happens because of the decline in the core body temperature which might be the underlying mechanism 

    Report / Delete Reply
    • Posted

      Hi Lucas,

      I am curious if you have gotten any answers about what is causing your exercise-induced insomnia. I have the same problem - no doctor can tell me what is causing it. Have you gotten any clues at all? It has gotten progressively worse for me and is taking a huge toll on my life and health. I hope so badly that it is something curable. Thank you very much for any reply.

      Report / Delete Reply
    • Edited

      Well most symptons manifested after a really bad mono infections when i was 16. My official diagnose is CFS/ME (chronic fatique syndrome). But i think it's mainly because they don't know 'how to call it'.

      Lately i've done some reading about CFS patients that have antibodies against muscarinic cholinergic receptors which is causing exactly the same symptoms we endure.

      I can get all technical here, or if you're genuinly interested do a google search yourself 😉

      Anyhow, to solve this i found substances that are cholinesterase inhibitors, which inhibit the enzyme acetylcholinesterase from breaking down the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. And presto, i'm using the inhibitors for a couple months now, and feel better right from the start.

      I'm benchpressing 130kg now again 😃

      Report / Delete Reply
    • Posted

      Thanks for posting your reply. My story is very similar to your in most every way. Also had mono at 16yo as well.

      I plan on spending the day researching cholinesterase inhibitors and the most effective ones. Much appreciated. Sending you a PM as well. Thank you!

      Report / Delete Reply
  • Edited

    Wow, over the past 5 years I thought I had been to the end of the internet and back and never did find anyone with similar symptoms, until now.

    All your stories and symptoms are almost exactly the same as mine. My started 5 years ago with what appears to have been caused by severe overtraining. I wasn't winning bike races one day and could barely turn the pedals the next day. Severe insomnia, chest pains, very low T, messed up cortisol curve etc.

    i have seen several specialists and have even travelled to Colorado to meet with a sports doctor who specializes in OT recovery. He reviewed all my blood work from the past 5 years and could identify where my problems started and could see that all parameters had returned to normal. He could not see anything to cause my insomnia and thought it was all mental. He prescribed me high volume, very low intensity riding, with HR less than 115.

    Even at this low intensity, my sleep is terrible. Walking for hours is no problem, but any activity, yard work etc, that elevates my HR over one hundred, causes my HR to remain higher for the rest of the day. When I try to sleep, I feel hot and fall asleep for a couple of hours then wake every half hour or so. 

    I truely believe that my body is reacting to the stress of exercise and flooding my body with hormones or chemicals. 

     

    Report / Delete Reply
    • Posted

      Welcome. I've had the same feeling for years. Have been visiting allot a specialists who all tell me something different.

      Allot of times i get to hear it's all between the ears. I've visited numerous of sleeping clinics but none did ever hear of this condition.

      Lately it's been getting better though.

      What i noticed is that i hardly sweat during workouts -> so my body has problems with dealing with the temperature.

      So i take more time in between sets and do a cooling down (with stretching). Also a "colder" shower after the workout helps allot and drink allot during the workout.

      When i don't do this, i get severe night sweats and insomnia. Even though i worked out in the early morning...

      Another thing i noticed is that it has something do to with your sleep. If i sleep bad for longer periods of time, these symptoms seem to worsen.

      I've been giving hydroxyzine (or atarax) for sleeping now. So my sleep efficiency is allot higher and I'm better rested. This works immensely to solve 80-90% of the symptoms.

      I guess it has something to do with HPA axis chronically elevated by bad sleep?

      I've been working out on a daily basis again. But started with 20-30 min a day

      Report / Delete Reply
    • Posted

      I am curious if you have ever gotten any answers about what is causing your exercise-induced insomnia. I have the same problem - no doctor can tell me what is causing it. I also sweat very little when exercising, which I had not seen others mention before, but think this seems like a clue. My body temperature raises at night instead of lowering like it is supposed. Have you gotten any clues at all? It has gotten progressively worse for me and is taking a huge toll on my life and health. I can't even walk around the block without my sleep suffering significantly. I hope so badly that it is something curable. Thank you very much for any reply.

      Report / Delete Reply
  • Posted

    Welcome. I've had the same feeling for years. Have been visiting allot a specialists who all tell me something different.

    Allot of times i get to hear it's all between the ears. I've visited numerous of sleeping clinics but none did ever hear of this condition.

    Lately it's been getting better though.

    What i noticed is that i hardly sweat during workouts -> so my body has problems with dealing with the temperature.

    So i take more time in between sets and do a cooling down (with stretching). Also a "colder" shower after the workout helps allot and drink allot during the workout.

    When i don't do this, i get severe night sweats and insomnia. Even though i worked out in the early morning...

    Another thing i noticed is that it has something do to with your sleep. If i sleep bad for longer periods of time, these symptoms seem to worsen.

    I've been giving hydroxyzine (or atarax) for sleeping now. So my sleep efficiency is allot higher and I'm better rested. This works immensely to solve 80-90% of the symptoms.

    I guess it has something to do with HPA axis chronically elevated by bad sleep?

    I've been working out on a daily basis again. But started with 20-30 min a day

    Report / Delete Reply
    • Posted

      One is the strangest symptom over the last 5 years has been the sensitivity to any loud noises,especially in the evening. My startle response is crazy and even the slightest noise can make me jump.  Never had this before.

      Another symptom that I have been left with is missed heart beats for a few days after any exercise. Maybe every 5 mins or so, I will feel the missed beat that kinda takes my breath away.

      I really feel like my HPA has suffered some kind of permanent damage. 

      Report / Delete Reply

Join this discussion or start a new one?

New discussion Reply

Report or request deletion

Thanks for your help!

We want the forums to be a useful resource for our users but it is important to remember that the forums are not moderated or reviewed by doctors and so you should not rely on opinions or advice given by other users in respect of any healthcare matters. Always speak to your doctor before acting and in cases of emergency seek appropriate medical assistance immediately. Use of the forums is subject to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy and steps will be taken to remove posts identified as being in breach of those terms.

newnav-down newnav-up