In the past we’ve been told late-night workouts can really screw with your sleep. Working out jacks up your heart rate, raises your core body temperature, and sends stimulating hormones like cortisol and adrenaline coursing throughout the body. All of this couldn’t be ideal for fluttering eyelids, right?
The latest research suggests otherwise. A study in the Journal of Sleep Research found that people who exercise vigorously for 35 minutes right before bed slept just as well as they did on nights when they didn’t. And a recent poll by the National Sleep Foundation found 83 percent of people who exercised — regardless of the time of day — reported better and more restful sleep than those who didn’t work out.
So why doesn’t exercise, which can feel as stimulating as a cup of coffee, sabotage our sleep goals? “Most people experience a drop in those stimulating hormones like cortisol and adrenaline within an hour or so after you workout, which puts your body in that relaxed, ready-to-sleep state,” says personal trainer Noam Tamir, founder and program director of TS Fitness studio in New York City. (Loose muscles and a dropping body temp can relax you as well.) “So while you probably don’t want to hit the sheets 10 minutes, or even a half hour, after exercising, most people can get solid shuteye if they lay down an hour or two later.”
But every body reacts differently to working out. Some people simply have a hard time winding down after an evening workout, especially if they just kicked butt or were doing something super social and stimulating. If late night sweats turn you into the Energizer Bunny, skip it.
If you’re don’t generally sleep well or if you struggle with insomnia, a morning or early evening workout might be your best shot at reclaiming some of those lost z’s. “I typically tell my patients to minimize exercise within three hours of bedtime,” says Lisa Medalie, Psy.D., a Behavioral Sleep Medicine Specialist at The University of Chicago who treats patients with sleep disorders.
Insomniacs may want to experiment with workout timing depending on their sleep issues — a studyfrom Appalachian State University found that people who lifted at 7 AM fell asleep faster than those who either didn’t work out at all or pumped iron in the afternoons and evenings. Those who did their workout at 7 PM, meanwhile, slept through the night better than sedentary peeps and morning exercisers.
Plus, there are other plenty of perks to evening workouts to consider — they can keep you from overeating or drinking after work, and they’re a great way to release any tension that’s built up at your nine-to-five. Just make sure you’re eating enough and hydrating adequately so that you don’t wake up in the middle of the night with a rumbling stomach after incinerating all those calories — a small protein snack before bed can help.
Whatever workout slot your prefer — morning or evening — they key to better sleep is consistency. If the thought of waking up before the sun rises to exercise and still get to work on time stresses you out, for example, don’t force it. Do what works best for your schedule, personality, and mindset. The fewer potential excuses you can give yourself for skipping workouts, the better.
Some final advice: If you’re deciding between getting a workout in or spending another hour under the covers, consider how good you’ve been lately at scoring those recommended seven to nine hours of sleep. “If you’re someone who normally gets enough sleep, it’s fine to put that hour towards sweat once in a while, but if you’re in a deficit, stay in bed. Sleep is important for a strong body,” says Tamir.
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