For some people, getting a good night’s sleep is as simple as cozying up in bed and closing their eyes. For others, restful sleep can be elusive. Poor sleep can be the result of a sleep disorder like sleep apnea or of behaviors like drinking coffee or alcohol before bed. Whatever the cause, it can be frustrating when you can’t fall asleep or consistently wake up exhausted and hitting the snooze button.
For people who have difficulty sleeping, it’s important to make lifestyle changes that help promote better sleep. Exercise is a common recommendation for people who suffer from poor sleep. However, some argue that exercise timing is important and that working out before bed may actually lead to worse sleep. We’ll go over whether working out before bed leads to poor sleep and give you advice on the best times to get active.
Does Working Out Before Bed Lead to Worse Sleep?
When we exercise, our bodies work harder and require more oxygen and energy to function at these higher intensities. As a result, our heart rates increase and our bodies increase adrenaline levels, which can make us feel wired. These effects are among the many reasons we exercise. High-intensity workouts such as HIIT (high-intensity interval training), cardio, and powerlifting help support weight loss, burn fat, and give us an energy boost.
But when it’s bedtime, we want to feel relaxed and sleepy. Logical reasoning would suggest that exercise before bed would make sleep worse, but it’s a bit more complicated than that. It’s true that some people suffer from poor sleep when working out before bed. These people tend to feel wired after exercising and have difficulty relaxing and getting restful shut-eye.
For the majority of exercisers, however, research indicates that working out before bed isn’t harmful to sleep. A 2011 study found that vigorous late-night exercise did not lead to decreased sleep quality. They did identify an increase in heart rate during the first few sleep hours, though this did not seem to affect overall sleep quality.
The National Sleep Foundation conducted a 2013 Exercise and Sleep Poll where 1,000 participants were analyzed for sleep quality and exercise. The poll found that, compared to people who didn’t exercise at all, 83% of the study participants reported improved sleep when they exercised at any time of the day. The study found no difference in sleep quality for participants who exercised right before bed.
New studies indicate that exercise can improve sleep for most individuals and particularly for people who suffer from insomnia. A meta-analysis published in 2018 by PeerJ examined nine studies and found that exercise improved sleep quality without adverse side effects. Participants reported decreased problems with daytime impairment and sleep disruptions.
If you’re someone who finds themselves wired after working out late at night, move your exercises earlier if possible. But for the majority of the population, research indicates that working out before bed isn’t detrimental to sleep.
If you’re worried about getting good quality sleep, start by monitoring your sleep habits with a wearable tracker like Biostrap. It’s also a good idea to talk with a qualified healthcare professional or a sleep medicine expert. A medical professional can help you understand your sleep situation and offer tips on how to get a better night’s rest. They may also provide information on the best times to workout to support your sleep.
The Best Times to Workout
Whether you find that late-night workouts interfere with getting ZZZs or you simply want to avoid issues with sleep when exercising, there are other times of day when you can get moving. Here are some of the best times you can exercise to support overall health and improve sleep.
It can be hard to wake up early and hit the gym or the trails, especially if you have to get your household out the door or head to work. However, getting up just a little earlier to fit in a workout can offer significant rewards. First off, people who opt for morning workouts tend to be more consistent. You’re less likely to forgo a workout first thing in the morning compared to the afternoon when your day has gotten busier.
Waking up early and at the same time also helps to regulate your body’s natural sleep/wake cycle, known as the circadian rhythm. This neurological process helps send signals to your body about when it’s time to be alert and when it’s time to wind down for sleep. By waking up early, your body will get into a natural rhythm of sleeping and waking, improving sleep overall.
Afternoon or Lunch Workouts
For people whose mornings are already chaotic, early workouts may not be the best choice. Instead, try working in an exercise routine during your lunch break or in the late afternoon. You’ll still have several hours before bedtime so you won’t disrupt sleep even if you tend to feel wired after working out.
As you workout, your body temperature increases, signaling your system to stay awake and alert. As a result, afternoon workouts can give you an energy boost that helps you power through the afternoon. Plus, the core body temperature begins to fall again around four to five hours after a workout, helping to signal your brain that it’s time for sleep.
The bottom line is, regular exercise has been linked to better sleep in general. That means any exercise is better than no exercise at all. If the only time you can fit exercise in is in the evenings, that’s ok.
For nighttime workouts, try to focus on less strenuous exercises that don’t get your blood pumping as intensely as cardio. Instead, try incorporating a walk into your evening routine, lift a few weights for strength training, or do a calmer activity such as yoga or pilates.
The time of day that you should exercise is really based on your specific sleep needs. Some people will find they need to do early morning workouts to maximize deep sleep while others don’t have adverse effects from nighttime workouts.
Sleep is a complicated process involving multiple physiological and psychological components so there isn’t one specific workout time that works for everyone. To identify the best time to workout and track how it affects your sleep, a wearable tracker device can help.
Monitor Sleep and Workouts With Biostrap
Biostrap is a wearable tracker that enables you to track heart rate variability and oxygen saturation levels, and offers physical activity classification capabilities to help you get the most out of your workouts. With this data, you can monitor your metrics and build workouts to help you achieve your fitness goals.
The wearable also features a comprehensive sleep lab tool that captures biometric readings every two minutes. You’ll get in-depth information on arm and leg movements, snoring, and other sleep disturbances so you can adjust your habits to improve sleep. You can even print out your sleep lab report to bring along to your doctor if you’re looking for new ways to improve your workout schedule, address sleep problems, and get a good night’s sleep.