Is Exercise Before Bed a Bad Idea?
Is exercise before bed a bad idea? It has been discouraged in the past, as it was thought that it could make it harder to sleep. But, is that really the case? Let’s take a closer look.
The relationship between exercise and sleep
There are numerous benefits to regular exercise, including:
- Lower risk of certain diseases e.g. cancers & diabetes
- Improved mental health
- Weight loss
- Improved physical function
- Maintaining a healthy weight
Alongside these, it can also improve sleep in many individuals. This is because it can promote relaxation, reduce anxiety, realign your internal clock and increase core body temperature. When your temperature begins to drop, you may feel sleepy.
Can exercise treat insomnia?
It’s thought that just one reason for this is that sleep can relieve the symptoms of depression and anxiety, which often go hand in hand with insomnia.
What type of exercise is best for sleep?
When it comes to sleep, not all types of exercise were created equal.
Traditionally, experts have recommended not exercising at night as part of good sleep hygiene. However, several studies have since found that exercising in the evening can actually improve sleep.
Moderate aerobic exercise increases the amount of slow wave sleep you get, also known as a deep sleep, where the brain and body have a chance to rejuvenate. Your heart rate and breathing slow down, the growth hormone is released, and your body physically repairs itself.
While vigorous exercise right before bed can affect sleep in some individuals, in most cases, getting exercise is almost always better than getting no exercise at all.
Does timing matter?
There’s no one-size-fits-all rule for the best time to workout. Whether you’re a night owl, an early bird, or have time at lunch, the important thing is you get it done.
However, it’s recommended that most people stop performing moderate exercise at least 90 minutes before bedtime to ensure it doesn’t have a detrimental effect on sleep. This allows time for endorphin, adrenaline and core body temperature to drop to levels favourable to sleep. Low-intensity exercise, such as walking or yoga, can be performed at night with no impact on sleep.
In fact, multiple studies have found that evening exercise improves sleep quality.
When is the best time of day to exercise for sleep?
Again, the best time to exercise depends on the individual. Whenever you can fit it in is good – every time has its perks. In short: there’s really no bad time for exercise.
Working out in the morning, especially on an empty stomach, can help you burn stored fat, making it good for weight loss. It may also increase alertness in the mornings and help you get tired in the evenings.9
If exercising in the afternoon, your performance might be boosted compared to a morning workout, as you’ll likely have eaten a meal or two. Also, exercising between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. can shift your body clock forwards in the same way as an early morning workout.
This is often the most convenient time for many of us. Not only do night time workouts not disrupt sleep, it can also reduce levels of the hunger-stimulating hormone ghrelin, which can help with weight loss and maintenance.
How does exercise affect sleep?
Let’s get to the science behind exercise and sleep. What makes it so beneficial?
Relieves stress and anxiety
Exercise releases endorphins which can help combat stress and anxiety. As mentioned, these two things are sleep’s worst enemy, but exercise can relax you and act almost as anti-anxiety medication.10
Aligns body clock
Exercising outdoors increases exposure to natural sunlight, helping your body establish a good sleep-wake cycle. Even a walk outside every day can be beneficial. However, indoor workouts have still been shown to improve sleep.
Makes you tired
The more active you are during the day, the more your body pushes you to sleep at night and increases your sleep drive. This doesn’t mean you should feel exhausted after every workout, but, it’s recommended to generally be more active throughout the day.
Habits matter the most
Exercising before bed isn’t a bad idea, although you should avoid completing a very vigorous workout and trying to jump straight into bed. Habits matter more than the time of the day you work out.
Try to set aside some time; at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity a week or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity a week.11 Try to spread this out evenly, for example 30 minutes of exercise 5 days a week. The more you stick with it, the easier it will be to build healthy habits that ultimately improve your sleep.
Tired of being tired?
Exercise can be just one piece of the puzzle. Other ways to improve your sleep include:
Exercise more, sleep better
For most people, there’s no ‘bad’ time of day to work out. It’s really down to you, your schedule and how easily you can make it a habit. Exercise has numerous benefits for both physical and mental health, with improved sleep being just one of them. Even if you can only fit in 20 minutes a day, something is better than nothing. The more you stick with it, the easier it will be to keep it up.
- Exercise and Sleep – Sleep Foundation
- Can Exercising Before Bed Affect Your Sleep? – Healthline
- Exercise and Insomnia – Sleep Foundation
- Does exercising at night affect sleep? – Harvard Health
- Exercising for Better Sleep – John Hopkins Medicine
- Can Exercising at Night Hurt Your Sleep? – WebMD
- What’s the Best Time of Day to Exercise for Sleep? – Sleep Foundation
- How Exercise Affects Sleep – Sleep.org
- This Is the Best Time of Day to Work Out, According to Science – Time
- How Exercise Affects Your Sleep – Cleveland Clinic
- Exercise – NHS
- 17 Proven Tips to Sleep Better at Night – Healthline