An estimated 108 million Americans have difficulty sleeping and many rely on sleeping pills to make it easier to sleep.

Sleeplessness Epidemic

Figures from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that more than a third of the country's population do not get enough sleep and nearly 10 percent has chronic insomnia.

Insufficient sleep has been linked to a number of chronic diseases and conditions. A new study revealed that sleep deprivation may cause the brain to cannibalize itself. Researchers likewise found that lack of sleep may raise the risk for premature death due to cardiovascular diseases.

Insufficient sleep is also blamed for many motor accidents that cause injury and even death. Many of those having difficulty sleeping rely on medications to get their much-needed shuteye.

Safer Alternative To Sleeping Pills

Studies though suggest of a better and less dangerous option for people suffering from insomnia. Researchers said that for people with sleep problems, exercise can be a safer alternative to taking medications.

"There are more solid studies recently that looked at people clinically diagnosed with insomnia disorder, rather than self-described poor sleepers," said Christopher Kline, from the University of Pittsburgh. "The results show exercise improves both self-reported and objective measures of sleep quality, such as what's measured in a clinical sleep lab."

Although exercise may not be as effective as sleeping pills, experts said that it can be a better option when the potential downsides of taking pills are considered.

Dangers Of Taking Sleeping Pills

Sleep researcher Shawn Youngstedt, from Arizona State University said that these drugs are extremely hazardous and compared their dangers to smoking one pack of cigarettes daily. He noted that sleeping pills also cause infection, and falling and dementia in older adults. The pills also lose their effectiveness in just a few weeks.

Those with asthma or other lung problems such as emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) also need to be cautious when taking sleeping pills as these can interfere with normal breathing. Some people may also have allergic reaction to these pills.

"Yes, they're a quick fix to help you get a good night's sleep temporarily, but they're not a long-term solution to sleep problems in general — and they can be dangerous if used incorrectly," said Carl Bazil, from Columbia University.

Exercise Also Beneficial For Other Sleep Problems

In comparison, exercise is less expensive and relatively safe. Studies also suggest that physically active people tend to have reduced risk for insomnia. It can also help people with sleep apnea, a condition wherein the sufferer temporarily stops breathing during sleep.

In a study conducted by Kline and colleagues, they found that exercise alone during a 12-week study period can lead to a 25 percent reduction in symptoms of sleep apnea.

The recommended amount of physical exercise to get a good rest at night is two and a half hours per week and these involve moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, as well as strength or resistance training which targets each muscle group two days per week.

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