We’ve all heard the myth that exercising late in the day can leave you too amped up to fall asleep. But what happens if morning workouts just don’t work for you?
There are plenty of reasons why being active in the AM isn’t for everyone. For some, it’s a matter of having a hectic or unpredictable schedule. (Hello, 8AM meetings!) For others, it’s simply a preference. If you’re not a morning lark, the thought of hitting the gym as soon as you roll out of bed sound be about as appealing as a root canal.
Still, regular exercise is crucial for achieving the quality sleep you need. But if you can’t work out in the morning, will moonlight sweat sessions actually make you sleep worse?
According to the latest research, probably not. Here’s a look at how physical activity and sleep are connected, why you don’t need to exercise in the morning if you don’t want to, and how to determine the workout time that’s right for you.
The sleep-exercise connection:
There’s pretty much zero debate over the fact that working out helps you sleep better. In fact, a recent poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation found that people who exercise are up to 67% more likely to report getting a great night’s sleep, compared to just 39% of sedentary folks. And the more you sweat, the better: Vigorous exercisers are less likely to have issues with insomnia than moderate exercisers.
In another recent study of 2,600 adults, people who sought to reach the recommendation for 150 minutes of physical activity each week showed a 65% improvement in sleep quality and reported feeling less sleepy during the day. Other research, published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, found that sedentary women who exercised for 30 minutes just three days a week slept up to an hour longer and woke less frequently at night. Sounds pretty good, right?
Of course, this is one street that runs both ways. Getting enough sleep also means you have enough energy to exercise. And feeling zonked makes you way more likely to skip your workout — which may be one of the (many) reasons why chronic sleep deprivation increases your risk of becoming obese.
What science says about exercising at night:
You’ve probably heard over and over that sweating it out before bed leaves you wired, making it harder to fall asleep. And since exercise boosts your body temperature and heart rate, it’s likely that many of us would have a hard time drifting off to dreamland immediately after a workout.
Still, that doesn’t mean evening exercise has to be totally off limits. The National Sleep Foundation poll on sleep and exercise found that exercisers report snoozing better regardless of what time they work out.
Other studies back that claim. One, published in the Journal of Sleep Research, found that people who participated in vigorous late night exercise had no measurable or subjective effects on sleep quality. Another found that men who rode stationary bikes for three hours and stopped just 30 minutes before bedtime also had no trouble dozing off.
The growing body of research has been enough to convince experts that working out at night might not so terrible after all. In fact, if you normally have trouble sleeping, late-day workouts could be especially beneficial. That’s because your body temperature spikes when you’re active, but the drop that occurs once you slow down could actually cause you to feel sleepy.
Making your workout schedule work for you:
To reap the benefits of exercise (sleep-related and otherwise), consistency is key. This means that the best time of day to work out is whatever one you’re able to stick with on a regular basis.
Of course, that’s one of the reasons why morning exercise routines tend to be so popular. When you force yourself to wake up at the crack of dawn to get to CrossFit, there’s little going on to distract or sidetrack your efforts. And if that works, great! But if you end up hitting the snooze button repeatedly and feel sleepy and sluggish throughout your workout, maybe AM sweat sessions aren’t for you — and that’s OK too.
So if morning workouts don’t feel good or don’t work for your schedule, feel free to experiment with exercising later in the day. You might naturally feel more energetic in the afternoon or early evening, since that’s actually the time of day when your endurance and body temperature tend to peak. Everyone’s sleep is affected by different things, so you might find that you’re able to do spin class at 8PM and fall asleep by 10 without a problem, even though your friend swears she can’t work out anytime after 6.
And if you like the idea of exercising later but it still leaves you tossing and turning? Try moving your workouts around by 30 minutes or an hour until you find your sweet spot. After some trial and error, you’ll find the routine that works right for you.