Exercise at This Time of Day for Optimal Sleep

Written by

Dr. Michael Breus, PhD, DABSM, FAASM, Clinical Psychologist, Sleep Medicine Expert
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Numerous studies have shown that, generally, exercise improves sleep. But, exercise may impact the body differently depending on the time of day a person exercises. We look at the benefits and drawbacks of working out before bed and discuss the best time to exercise for a good night’s sleep.

Is It Bad to Work Out Before Bed?

When giving sleep hygiene advice, experts often warn that late afternoon and evening exercise can disrupt sleep. Some sleep researchers speculate that, as a result, many individuals who are unable to exercise earlier in the day may skip workouts altogether. However, a growing body of evidence suggests that working out before bed does not make it harder for most adults to fall asleep and may even help some get better rest.

One recent survey found that individuals who exercise in the evening take approximately the same amount of time to fall asleep as those who do not exercise at all. Other studies suggest that rather than causing wakefulness, evening exercise appears to have a neutral or positive effect on most people’s sleep quality.

Is It Good to Work Out Before Bed if You Have Insomnia?

Evidence suggests that regular exercise can help people with insomnia fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. Most studies of exercise and insomnia do not compare the effects of exercise performed at different times of day, however. Generally, engaging in exercise may be able to help break the cycle of insomnia and physical inactivity since one often worsens the other.

If evening is the only time you have available for exercise, you might benefit more from exercising at night than not exercising at all. Multiple studies suggest that people with insomnia benefit from aerobic workouts that build cardiorespiratory strength and that not engaging in regular physical activity increases a person’s risk of insomnia. That said, if you notice nighttime exercise makes it more difficult for you to fall asleep, you might want to avoid it.

The Best and Worst Times to Exercise for Sleep

There is no scientific consensus regarding the best or worst time of day to exercise for sleep, and research provides few conclusive answers. One study noted that participants who exercised in the morning fell asleep faster at night, while those who worked out before bed stayed asleep longer. Another found that vigorous exercise before bed increased heart rate, making it difficult to fall asleep. A third study determined that exercise timing does not affect sleep quality at all.

In general, it is fine to work out at any time of day. That said, some researchers suggest that you should stop exercising at least 90 minutes before sleep. This time allows heart rate to slow down and body temperature to return to normal. Experimenting with different exercise times can help you determine what works best for you personally.

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Safe Exercises To Do Before Sleep

Exercise is a healthy way to release some energy before starting your bedtime routine. Leisurely, moderate-intensity workouts and mind-body activities can be especially beneficial for getting a good night’s sleep. These include:

  • Yoga
  • Tai chi
  • Resistance training
  • Aerobics
  • Walking
  • Stretching

If you find that engaging in a certain type of exercise makes it difficult for you to fall asleep, try a gentler form of movement that does not increase your heart rate as much.

Tips for Working Out at Night

Working out before bed can improve your sleep quality and help you fit physical activity into your schedule. Here are a few tips to help you get the most out of your evening workout session and get better sleep.

  • Time It Right: One study found that people who performed moderate or intensive exercise three hours before bed fell asleep faster than those who did not. But, the body needs about 90 minutes to return to a resting state after exercise. Avoid working out immediately before heading to bed.
  • Strengthen the Mind-Body Connection: Types of exercise that combine physical activity with mindfulness, such as yoga, are linked to better mental health as well as improved sleep. If you struggle with anxiety or racing thoughts before bed, try a mind-body workout to release tension.
  • Listen to Your Body: No single exercise regimen fits every body or lifestyle. If you suspect that your evening workout routine is keeping you awake at night, try another type of exercise or shift to a morning or afternoon session. Individuals with insomnia may want to discuss any issues related to sleep and exercise with their doctor before starting a new workout plan.

References

About The Author

Dr. Michael Breus, PhD, DABSM, FAASM

Clinical Psychologist, Sleep Medicine Expert

Michael Breus, Ph.D is a Diplomate of the American Board of Sleep Medicine and a Fellow of The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and one of only 168 psychologists to pass the Sleep Medical Specialty Board without going to medical school. Dr. Breus is a sought after lecturer and his knowledge is shared daily in major national media worldwide including Today, Dr. Oz, Oprah, and for fourteen years as the sleep expert on WebMD. Dr. Breus is the bestselling author of The Power of When, The Sleep Doctor’s Diet Plan, and Good Night!

  • Position: Combination Sleeper
  • Temperature: Hot Sleeper
  • Chronotype: Wolf

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