5 Ways Gardening Helps Insomnia

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Written by Terre Grable

April 10, 2019


Spring has sprung!  The morning air is crisp, the birds are chirping and the days are getting longer.  The arrival of spring also brings a new opportunity for better sleep.  And you do not have to look any further than your own backyard!  So what is this new opportunity?  Gardening!  Yes, gardening helps insomnia.  If you have visited this blog before, you already know one intervention we support for treating sleep difficulty is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBTI).  You may have insomnia, and you’re not alone.  Numerous people in the US experience insomnia each year.  It can last weeks, months or even years.  The good news is that it is treatable, and often without requiring any medication that will make you feel hungover the next day.  Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I) has been well researched and is the initial recommended treatment for treating insomnia.   In fact, CBTI has greater long-term efficacy than conventional sleep medications.   One factor of CBTI is to strengthen the natural sleep drive in order to expedite restorative sleep.  Gardening is a great way build your sleep drive though out the day.  Here are 5 reasons gardening helps insomnia:

Gardening helps insomnia by lowering blood pressure 

Insomnia is linked to many different medical issues.  Hypertension is one symptom that can have traumatic effects on your health.  Elevated blood pressure causes more strain, thereby putting you at risk for cardiac disease and stroke.  Gardening tasks have been confirmed to lower blood pressure in measurements of older adults when compared to non-gardening activities.  Decreased blood pressure indicates physical and emotional stress reduction and relaxation. 

One study looked at  the effects of basic gardening tasks with older adults.   The presumption was that gardening offered positive emotional and physical benefits both for older adults. The researchers supported this theory by looking at brain waves.  Brain waves serve as a great indication of identifying specific states of mind that we all experience throughout the day.  When the body feels relaxed it produces alpha waves.  An increase in alpha wave was present after gardening; thereby demonstrating an increased level of happiness and relaxation.  The researchers confirmed, “We can conclude that gardening enhances alpha brainwave activity in older adults compared with the control task” (Hassan, Quibing & Tao, 2018).  Because increased blood pressure and stress levels contribute to insomnia, the idea that gardening can promote improved sleep is supported.  

Gardening can promoting more restorative sleep.

Another study demonstrated the positive effects of indoor gardening with patients that had been diagnosed with mild to moderate dementia.  (Lee & Kim 2008). Although the South Korean study was relatively small and cannot be generalized, its observations are notable. Indoor gardening consisted of selecting the seed, planting the seed, watering the plants, chopping and eating the plants.  In this study, beans were the identified plant due to easy of use, its quick germination and results.   The study took place for 28 days.

It was observed that patients had decreased incidents of waking up in the middle of the night and naps during the day.  Their nocturnal sleep time increased and was more efficient.  Sleep efficiency refers to their sleep actually being restorative. Patients were more prone to gain proper rest and wake up feeling refreshed rather than tossing and turning in bed all night.  Hence, even indoor gardening helps insomnia. 

Gardening helps insomnia by reducing stress 

One of the common complaints of those the experience insomnia experiencing stress.  Stress manifests itself differently to others.  The same studies also showed a decrease in agitation and cognitive improvements in the older adults. Although the primary reason for reduced agitation could not be specified, researchers have considered that since behavioral incidence is related to sleep disturbance, then perhaps the improvement in sleep assisted the reduction in agitation.   Additionally, indoor gardening provided a way for daily activity and social interaction.  Hence, the increased socialization coupled with the increased restorative sleep contributed to the decrease in agitation.   The stress reduction of gardening is also worth noting. Gardening has been proven to promote relaxation among the elderly (Hassan, Qibing & Tao 2018). Involvement with something that decreases stress such as gardening will have a positive improvement on sleep.     

Gardening lowers anxiety

Gardening helps insomnia sufferers that also experience anxiety. Spending time in nature has restorative effects for human emotions. Having a garden creates an environment for you de-stress from the chaotic events of the day that can make it difficult to fall or remain asleep.  In fact, it has been observed that even just viewing pictures of nature rather than skyscrapers offers a calming effect (Urlich, et al 1991).   Gardens invite the opportunity to slow down and simplify; thereby helping one to detach from the busyness of life and step into a quieter evening.  Gardening has been apart of mental health profession for centuries with the common outcome of decreasing depression and anxiety symptoms (Clatworthy, Hinds & Camic 2013).  And it is equally as beneficial in contemporary society.

Gardening provides exercise

Exercise is often the last thing someone wants to do if they are having difficulty sleeping.  Yet, exercise has been proven to help relieve sleep difficulty.  Researchers from Stanford and Tufts University recently noted that gardening can be a form of aerobic, strength and flexibility exercises (Tufts University Health and Fitness Newsletter,  2000). “Weeding takes as much energy as shooting baskets or almost walking 4 miles per hour,” reported the authors.  Additionally, “For a 150 pound person, weeding and planting burn roughly 160 calories every 30 minutes; digging and mowing about 190 calories” (Tufts University Health and Fitness Newsletter,  2000).  Hence, an afternoon of gardening helps insomnia sufferers by offering an opportunity to be outside while exerting calories and strengthen his/her natural sleep drive.   

If you’re experience chronic insomnia, then gardening might be another thing you can do to help improve your sleep.  Research supports the idea that gardening can assist those that struggle with sleep difficulties.





Hassan, A, Qibing, C, Tao, J.(2018) Physiological and psychological effects of gardening activity in older adults. Geriatric Gerontology International ,18(8):1147–1152. https://doi-org.ezproxy.liberty.edu/10.1111/ggi.13327

Lee Y., Kim, S. (2008).  Effects of indoor gardening on sleep, agitation, and cognition in dementia patients—a pilot study. International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. 23(5), p 485-489.  Retrieved from https://www.wsmv.com/news/woman-attacked-at-popular-nashville-park-in-broad-daylight/article_ebcbb124-4c45-11e9-b77f-97e1b164bc95.html

Clatworthy, J., Hinds, J., & Camic, P. M. (2013). Gardening as a mental health intervention: A review. The Mental Health Review, 18(4), 214-225. doi:http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.liberty.edu/10.1108/MHRJ-02-2013-0007

Ulrich, R.S., Simons, R.F., Losito, B.D., Fiorito, E., Miles, M.A. and Zelson, M. (1991). Stress recovery during exposure to natural and urban environments. Journal of Environmental Psychology. 11(3), pp. 201-30. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0272494405801847

Passos GS, Poyares D, Santana MG, Garbuio SA, Tufik S, Mello MT. Effect of acute physical exercise on patients with chronic primary insomnia. J Clin Sleep Med 2010;6:270e5.

Gardening: An exercise that bears fruit in more ways than one. (2000). Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter, 18(4), 3. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/docview/196356922?accountid=12085

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