Regular exercise has many benefits, including better sleep. It can promote relaxation, reduce anxiety, and normalize your internal clock. Exercise also increases your core body temperature. When it begins to drop, you feel sleepy.
It’s been long believed that working out before bed can make it harder to get a good night’s rest. But, according to recent research, this may not necessarily be true. Studies have found that it’s possible to enjoy exercise close to bedtime, without compromising your sleep.
The key is to be mindful of the exact timing, and to focus on the type of exercise that won’t affect your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. Read on to learn more about what the science says and how to work out in the evening.
What Does The Research Say?
Recent studies have challenged the notion that exercising too late in the day could disrupt your sleep.
In a small 2020 study, 12 healthy males visited a lab on three separate nights. They did either 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, 30 minutes of moderate-intensity resistance training, or no exercise at all. Each workout ended 90 minutes before bedtime.
As the participants slept in the lab, the researchers measured their core body temperature and sleep quality. The researchers determined that moderate-intensity evening workouts didn’t affect the participants’ sleep.
Another 2020 studyTrusted Source had similar results. Sixteen men and women finished moderate-intensity workouts at different times, including 4 or 2 hours before bedtime. The researchers found that exercising in the evening did not disturb the participants’ ability to sleep.
Finally, a 2019 reviewTrusted Source analyzed 23 studies on evening exercise and sleep. The review determined that evening workouts can improve sleep as long as the exercise was done at a moderate — not vigorous — intensity, and ended more than 1 hour before bedtime.
Are Some Kinds Of Exercise Better Than Others Before Bedtime?
Not all exercises are equal when it comes to how they affect your sleep. That’s why, if you want to work out in the evening, it’s important to choose your activity wisely. Consider the exact timing of your exercise, too.
In general, if you’re going to exercise at night, it’s best to do light to moderate-intensity activity. This level of activity may help you fall asleep faster and get better quality sleep.
It’s also important to complete your workout at least 1 hour before bedtime. If possible, aim to finish at least 90 minutes before you head to bed. This will give your body enough time to wind down.
Examples of light to moderate-intensity activities include: yoga, stretching, walking, swimming leisurely, biking leisurely and light to moderate weightlifting.
Vigorous workouts, though, should be avoided in the evening. Strenuous physical activity can stimulate your nervous system and raise your heart rate too much, making it difficult to fall asleep.
Examples of vigorous-intensity exercise include: high-intensity interval training (HIIT), running, swimming laps, jumping rope, competitive cycling, and heavy weightlifting.
How Much Exercise Is Helpful For Sleep?
To improve your sleep health, aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity during the day or evening.
However, regular exercise is essential for continuous sleep benefits. Strive for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise every week. You can do this by doing 30-minute workouts 5 days a week.
If it’s hard to commit to 30 minutes at a time, you could break this up into two 15-minute workouts a day, 5 days a week.
Or, if you prefer a more strenuous workout, aim for at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity each week. Just be sure not to do this type of exercise within a few hours of your bedtime.
Find an activity that you enjoy. When you truly like an exercise, it will be easier to do it regularly.
What Else Can Help You Sleep Well?
In addition to staying active, there are other steps you can take to help boost your sleep health.
- Keep a consistent sleep schedule. Wake up and go to bed at the same time every day, even on the weekends or your days off. Keeping a consistent sleep schedule can help to stabilize your body clock.
- Avoid electronic devices before bedtime. Turn off televisions, smartphones, laptops, and other electronic devices 30 minutes before bedtime. The light from these devices can stimulate your brain and keep you awake.
- Create a relaxing bedtime routine. Take a warm bath, listen to soothing music, do some yoga poses or stretches, or meditate before going to bed.
- Reduce noise pollution. Use a fan, air conditioner, or white noise machine to drown out sounds that may keep you awake.
- Sleep at a comfortable temperature. Keep your sleeping temperature at or near 65°F (18.3°C).
- Get comfortable. Make sure your mattress and pillows are comfortable and in good shape.
- Avoid heavy meals before bedtime. Try not to eat a big meal within a couple of hours of going to bed. If you’re hungry, eat a light snack like toast or a piece of fruit.
- Avoid nicotine, alcohol, and caffeine before bed. These substances can make it hard to get quality sleep.
- Keep naps short. Avoid napping for longer than 20 to 30 minutes, especially in the afternoon. Napping for longer than this can make it difficult to fall asleep at night.
The Bottom Line
Working out before bedtime has usually been discouraged. It was thought that exercising later in the day could make it harder to fall asleep and have a good night’s sleep.
However, recent studies have found that moderate-intensity exercise won’t impact your sleep if you complete it at least 1 hour before bedtime.
On the other hand, strenuous physical activity just before bedtime may have a negative effect on your sleep. This includes workouts like running, high-intensity interval training (HIIT), and lifting heavy weights.
Everyone is different, though. The best time to get active is the time that works for you. What’s most important is that you exercise regularly, whenever that may be.