Getting time for exercise can be difficult, and those who lead hectic lifestyles often have to decide between working out and getting enough rest—or squeezing in a late-night workout session in the hopes of getting both. But is working out before bed really that beneficial? The short answer is, it depends. Everyone has different needs and preferences regarding exercise, so there is no one size fits all answer. Working out before bed can be beneficial in certain circumstances, while it may be counterproductive in others. To help you make an informed decision about whether or not late-night exercise is right, we’ve broken down the pros and cons. We’ll also share our top sleep hygiene tips so you can get the most out of your late-night workout while still getting enough rest.
Why Is Sleep So Important For Exercise?
As we all know, getting a good night’s sleep is important for our overall health and well-being (21) (25). But when you’re exercising to lose weight or improve your body composition (aka the ratio of fat to muscle), a good night’s sleep is even more important (1).
Sleep deprivation has been linked to:
- Impaired performance – When you’re sleep-deprived, your body’s capacity for physical performance is reduced (18).
- Interference with muscle growth – If you’re trying to build muscle, sleep is even more important. Research has found that sleeping for at least seven hours a night helps your body to produce the hormones it needs to repair and grow muscle (14).
- Decreased motivation – Exercise can be hard enough without the added hurdle of fatigue! This means you’re more likely to quit if you’re sleep-deprived.
- Unhealthy cravings – The effects of sleep deprivation are linked to an increase in unhealthy cravings, which can easily derail any diet plan (23).
- Increased inflammation – Sleep deprivation has been linked to higher levels of inflammation, which can lead to a variety of chronic health issues (19).
Conversely, getting enough sleep helps:
- Boost energy and mood – Getting a good night’s sleep can help keep your energy levels and motivation up for your workouts (20).
- Increase performance – Sleep helps your muscles and brain recover, so you can maximize the benefits of exercise (16) (17).
- Support weight loss – If you’re trying to lose weight, getting enough sleep is essential. Studies have found that sleeping for at least seven hours a night can help regulate hunger hormones and support weight loss (15).
The Pros And Cons Of Working Out Before Bed
Now that we’ve discussed why sleep is so important for exercise, let’s get into the pros and cons of working out before bed.
Pro: Late-Night Exercise Can Help You Wind Down
For some people, late-night exercise can be a great way to unwind after a busy day. Research has found that moderate-intensity exercise such as running, cycling, or swimming can help reduce stress levels and improve sleep quality (2).
This is because physical activity releases endorphins and other hormones that can help you relax and clear your mind (8) (11). A late-night workout session can also give you a sense of accomplishment, which can help you fall asleep more easily.
Con: Working Out Too Close To Bedtime Can Impact Sleep Quality
While moderate-intensity exercise can help you wind down, working out too close to bedtime can have the opposite effect. This is because exercise too close to bed significantly reduces melatonin levels (12). Melatonin plays a key role in the sleep-wake cycle.
It is recommended that you finish your workout at least an hour before bedtime, so your body has time to cool down. If you are pressed for time, try doing a low-intensity activity such as yoga or stretching, which can help you relax without getting your heart rate up.
Pro: You’re More Likely To Adopt A Healthy Lifestyle
Working out late at night can be beneficial in the long run, as it may make you more likely to incorporate exercise into your lifestyle.
Think about those nights when you’re sitting for hours in front of the TV after work—you’re not doing your body any favors. Plus, research has found that late-night snacking can lead to weight gain (22).
By making time for exercise late in the evening, you’ll be less likely to indulge in unhealthy snacks and more likely to stick to a consistent workout routine.
Con: It Can Compromise Your Body’s Natural Circadian Rhythm
Your body has a natural circadian rhythm that is linked to the rising and setting of the sun. This rhythm helps regulate your sleep-wake cycle, and when disrupted, can lead to fatigue and difficulty focusing (5).
Late-night exercise can disrupt your circadian rhythm and interfere with your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle (9). This can be particularly problematic for those with pre-existing sleep disorders such as insomnia, as it can make it even harder to get quality sleep.
Which Exercise Is Good Before Bed?
Now that we’ve looked at the pros and cons of working out before bed, let’s look at which exercises you can do before bed.
Low-impact activities such as walking, yoga, or stretching are ideal before bed as they don’t raise your heart rate too much. Studies have found that low-intensity activities help reduce stress levels and can relax your body and mind so you can sleep more soundly (8).
Moderate-intensity exercises such as jogging, swimming, or cycling can also be beneficial before bed. These activities should be done at least an hour before going to bed to give your body time to cool down.
Intense exercises such as heavy weight training, HIIT, or sprinting should not be done close to bedtime. These activities increase heart rate and release adrenaline, which can make it difficult to fall asleep (10).
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What Counts As Good Sleep?
There are several aspects of good sleep, which can be summarized as follows (24):
- How quickly you fall asleep – one measure of good sleep is how fast you fall asleep. If it takes less than 30 minutes for you to get to sleep, then this is a sign of good sleep.
- How long you stay asleep – the length of time you remain in bed is another indicator of good sleep, as it indicates that you’re going through all the necessary stages of sleep.
- How many times you wake up – waking up multiple times during sleep could be a sign of poor quality sleep and can be caused by a variety of factors such as stress and sleep disorders.
- How alert you feel during the day – if you’re still feeling drowsy and fatigued during the day, this could be a sign that you’re not getting enough restful sleep.
How To Better Manage Working Out Before Bed
If you choose to exercise before bed, there are a few things you can do to help manage your sleep. These sleep hygiene habits may help:
Having A Regular Bedtime
The human body thrives on routine, especially when it comes to sleep. The more consistent you can be with your bedtime, the better.
When your body gets used to a certain bedtime and wake-up time, it will naturally begin to get sleepy around the same time each night. This is thanks to your internal clock or circadian rhythm.
The circadian rhythm is a 24-hour cycle that regulates the body’s sleeping and waking patterns, as well as vital functions such as appetite, heart rate, and metabolism. When you disrupt this rhythm by exercising late at night, it can be more difficult to get quality sleep (4).
However, if you plan for your workout to be earlier, and set aside a certain time to do it each day before proceeding to bed an hour later, your body will eventually adjust and you’ll get used to exercising before bed.
Avoiding Stimulants Before Bed
Stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine can interfere with your natural sleep-wake cycle, making it hard to fall asleep (7). Try to avoid caffeine and nicotine at least 6 hours before bedtime if you can, or opt for a decaf coffee or tea instead.
Note that many pre-workout supplements contain stimulants as well, so read the ingredients and opt for ones without caffeinated ingredients if you plan to work out close to bedtime. You might want to fuel yourself with a light snack with some protein, carbs, and healthy fat instead.
Wind Down With A Relaxing Routine
Exercise can be part of your bedtime routine, but you should also make time to wind down and relax before going to sleep.
Consider spending the last hour of your day engaging in calming activities such as reading, journaling, or stretching. This can help your body and mind transition into a restful state and make it easier to fall asleep.
Minimize Day Time Naps
Naps can help restore energy, but if you’re having trouble falling asleep at night they may not be your friend. Try to limit naps during the day, and if you must nap, opt for a short (20-30 minutes) power nap in the afternoon.
Beware Of Blue Light
Blue light from devices such as computers and mobile phones can also disrupt your circadian rhythm, so avoid using these for at least an hour before bed (3). If you must use a device, consider using a blue light filter to reduce the amount of blue light emitted from the device.
Make Temperature Considerations
To fall and stay asleep, your bedroom should be dark, quiet, and relatively cool. The optimal temperature for sleep is usually between 60 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit (15.5 to 19.4 degrees Celsius). If your bedroom is too warm, consider using a fan or air conditioning to cool it down.
Choose comfortable clothes to sleep in, as tight or uncomfortable clothing can interfere with your ability to get quality rest. Cotton and other lightweight fabrics are usually best for sleeping as they’re soft, breathable, and lightweight.
Avoid Eating Spicy, Greasy, Or Heavy Meals Before Bed
Eating a heavy meal right before bed can make it harder to fall asleep as your body works to digest the food. To facilitate healthy digestion, avoid eating within the two to three hours prior to sleeping (6).
Also, foods that are greasy, spicy, or acidic can cause heartburn, which may make it more difficult to get comfortable and fall asleep (13).
Below are some ideal late-night snacks that are healthy and easy to digest. They also make great post-workout snacks if you’re exercising at night:
- Greek yogurt or cottage cheese with berries
- Hummus and celery sticks
- Almond butter and banana slices
- Apple slices with nut butter
- A few nuts or seeds
- Hard-boiled eggs
- A smoothie with frozen fruit and milk or plant-based milk
- Kale chips
- Avocado toast
- Popcorn with a sprinkle of nutritional yeast
- Homemade trail mix.
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Don’t Lie In Bed Worrying Or Stressing
If you find your mind racing with worries after getting into bed and you can’t seem to shut it off, try getting out of bed and reading a book or engaging in a calming activity such as deep breathing or guided meditation.
If you can’t seem to quiet your mind, try writing down some of your worries in a journal before getting back into bed. This can help to get your anxious thoughts out of your head and onto paper so that you can relax and fall asleep more easily.
The problem with tossing and turning for 20 minutes or more is that it can start to feel like a chore, so you may begin to associate your bed with stress and anxiety.
Working out before bed can be beneficial if you are able to do it the right way. Make sure you finish your workout at least an hour before bedtime and opt for low-intensity activities such as yoga or stretching. However, if you have pre-existing sleep disorders such as insomnia, late-night exercise may not be the best option for you.
In any case, make sure to practice good sleep hygiene and get enough rest—this is just as important as exercise for your overall health and well-being.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
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