Learn how evening exercise can affect sleep and get tips to improve sleep quality. Countless studies have examined the benefits of exercise on sleep, but few have investigated how physical activity before bedtime affects sleep itself. An ideal night of rest comes from routine and consistency, which is why most sleep experts recommend a pre-bed routine that’s identical every night, along with going to bed at the same time every night.
Evening exercise may affect sleep in two ways: directly and indirectly. The direct impact of exercise starts with its physical effects. Intense or prolonged aerobic exercise—even as brief as a 20-minute HIIT session—increases heart rate, blood pressure, and stress hormone levels. These effects can continue after you leave the gym if you don’t cool down by bringing your heart rate back to normal gradually by walking or another slow activity for about 10 minutes.
Good Time for Exercise: Morning or Evening?
As far as exercise goes, there are no specific time frames that are better than others—with one exception: exercising close to bedtime. The right time for exercise depends on your fitness level and your goals for exercising. If you want to improve your fitness level, experts recommend working out in the morning. You start your day with a boost of endorphins, which have been proven to improve mood, suppress appetite, and lower stress. These benefits are at their peak in the morning and gradually decrease throughout the day. Exercising in the morning makes for a great way to jump-start the day. Morning exercise has been shown to improve mood, productivity, focus, and immunity.
On the other hand, if you want to improve your sleep, evening workouts are probably better. It takes about 30 minutes for your body to cool down from intense exercise. If you work out in the morning, the exercise-related boost in hormones like cortisol doesn’t have time to wear off before bedtime. Evening workouts, on the other hand, leave enough time for the physical effects of exercise to subside before your head hits the pillow.
Exercise and Sleep
Exercise is a healthy habit that promotes long-term sleep improvements, but it’s important to choose the right type of activity. Exercises that people often mistake for sleep-improving activities include relaxation techniques and meditation, yoga, and reading. While these activities do promote relaxation and may help you fall asleep faster, they don’t have the same sleep-preserving effects as aerobic exercise. Aerobic exercise—a continuous, rhythmic activity that increases the heart rate and raises the body’s core temperature—stimulates the release of growth hormone, which has a sleep-enhancing effect. Growth hormone helps regulate metabolism and plays a key role in fat burning.
Regular exercise increases energy, fitness, and mood, which are all critical factors in improving sleep. Exercise also helps regulate body temperature and blood flow, which leads to a better body position for sleeping. Many sleep experts recommend exercise as a part of a healthy sleep routine. If you exercise regularly, your body will adapt to the changes in its rhythm. Your body temperature decreases while the release of certain hormones, like the sleep-regulating melatonin, is delayed. As a result, your sleep will improve and insomnia will be less likely.
A regular exercise routine has many long-term health benefits, including improved sleep. As you become more physically active, you will likely experience initial sleep disruption. However, these sleep disturbances are short-lived and will subside as you continue to exercise regularly.
Does Evening Workout Affect Sleep?
Evening exercise may affect sleep quality in several ways, including by increasing heart rate, core body temperature, and cortisol levels, which can disrupt sleep. Exercising close to bedtime increases metabolic rate and core body temperature, which may cause elevated core body temperature and the release of the growth hormone, which in turn may keep you from falling asleep.
Still, the effects of exercise on sleep are not always negative. In some cases, evening exercise may even help with sleep. The sleep-promoting effect of growth hormone is dynamic and may have either positive or negative effects on sleep, depending on other factors that promote or inhibit sleep, such as the timing of exercise.
Evening workouts affect sleep indirectly. The physical effects of exercise—increased heart rate and elevated blood pressure—are felt immediately but subside quickly. The more significant impact of exercise on sleep comes from its long-term effects on hormones that regulate sleep. These hormones have a cyclical pattern during the day and night, and exercise can alter their levels. Exercise increases the release of the hormone cortisol, which can help you relax and fall asleep.
On the other hand, melatonin—which is associated with sleepiness—is suppressed by cortisol. So, regular exercise helps you fall asleep faster but affects the length of your sleep. Exercising within a few hours before bedtime affects melatonin levels, which can disrupt sleep. However, this depends on the intensity and duration of the exercise.
How Does Exercise Affect Sleep?
Exercise stimulates the nervous system, which triggers the production of neurotransmitters that facilitate the process of falling asleep. When performed at the right time, aerobic exercise can help you fall asleep faster and sleep longer. However, if you exercise too close to bedtime, the relaxation effect of the neurotransmitters induced by exercise will be interrupted and may even be reversed due to the increase in core body temperature.
Exercise affects sleep through a specific pathway in the brain. This pathway originates in a part of the brain called the hypothalamus, which receives signals from the central nervous system. Exercising regularly leads to the formation of proteins in the hypothalamus, which increases the function of the pathways related to sleep regulation.
Exercise can help you sleep better in two ways: First, it can help regulate melatonin release, which helps induce sleep. Second, it can reduce stress levels, which can reduce the number of times you wake up during the night. Exercising regularly affects the pathways related to sleep so that the brain is more easily relaxed and ready for sleep.
Indirect Effects of Evening Exercise on Sleep
The most significant impact of exercise on sleep occurs through changes in melatonin and cortisol release. However, regular exercise also helps regulate your body temperature, which influences sleep quality and duration. Exercise raises your core body temperature, which is why you may feel warm or sweaty after a workout.
- Metabolism - The metabolic rate, which is the rate at which the body burns energy, increases after exercise. The increase in metabolism continues for a few hours after exercise, which may slow down the process of falling asleep.
- Temperature and Heart Rate - Exercise increases body temperature and heart rate, which have an impact on sleep. Exercising for 15-20 minutes before bedtime raises core body temperature, which can increase the time it takes to fall asleep.
However, exercise also increases blood flow to the skin, facilitating body heat loss. Exercising for about one hour before bedtime can lower your core body temperature enough to promote a healthy night’s sleep. This is especially true when you exercise in a cool environment. In fact, exercising in a cold environment can help you fall asleep faster and sleep longer. This is because your body will increase blood flow to the skin to promote heat loss. This increase in blood flow to the skin will result in higher melatonin levels.
The Downside of Exercising Before Bedtime
Exercising before bedtime may not be a good idea for those who suffer from insomnia or night sweats, or who have trouble falling asleep. Exercising too close to bedtime may prolong the time it takes to fall asleep and cause sweating, which may leave you feeling hot and uncomfortable.
Exercising during the day promotes better sleep at night, but it’s important to avoid exercise before bedtime. Exercising before bedtime may have a negative impact on sleep due to the increase in heart rate, core body temperature, and cortisol levels that result from an intense workout.
Exercising too close to bedtime can disrupt your sleep quality by increasing cortisol levels and suppressing melatonin. This is especially true when you exercise at low intensities, which increase cortisol levels, or at high intensities, which also increase norepinephrine levels.
Exercising too close to bedtime can negatively affect your quality of sleep by causing too much stimulation, which can result in restlessness and trouble falling or staying asleep. It can disrupt the quality of their sleep, which can lead to negative health effects. However, it is important to note that the timing of your workout is as important as the length of your workout.
Does Exercise Before Bedtime May Help You Sleep Better?
Evening exercise may improve sleep if it’s performed at the right time. Exercising at least three hours before bedtime is the ideal time frame for promoting better sleep. The metabolic changes triggered by exercise may delay the process of falling asleep and slow down sleep-cycle progression, but they also promote better sleep quality overall. Exercising before bedtime can improve sleep by increasing metabolic rate, promoting serotonin production, and releasing endorphins, which have a calming effect.
Benefits of Exercising Before Sleep
A regular workout routine promotes better sleep, which makes it easier to wake up refreshed and energized. Exercise helps regulate the circadian rhythm, which is the biological clock that determines when you feel awake or sleepy. It increases serotonin and melatonin levels, which regulate mood, energy levels, and sleep. Exercise can help you sleep better and wake up feeling more energized throughout the day.
Some research suggests that moderate exercise before bedtime can improve sleep, especially in people who do not exercise regularly. Moreover, some studies have found that exercising before sleep can not only improve sleep, but also reduce pain and fatigue. These benefits may be due in part to the release of endorphins during exercise, which can improve your mood and help you sleep better.
Exercising before bedtime may also benefit your health in other ways, such as by reducing your risk of developing certain diseases and disorders, such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and some types of cancer. Regular physical activity can also help you lose and maintain weight, reduce blood pressure, improve blood glucose control, and reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Tips for Effective Workouts in the Evening
Evening exercise can be very effective for improving sleep, but you need to make sure you do it properly. The best way to do this is to engage in low-intensity exercise for about 20 minutes, which should be enough time to get the desired benefits, but not enough time to tire you out so much that you can’t fall asleep.
1. Choose the right type of exercise - Aerobic exercise is the most effective type of activity for promoting sleep.
2. Set the right intentions - Make sure you go to sleep with the intention of sleeping, not with the intention of staying awake with data-heavy reading or watching TV.
3. Use the right techniques - Read, write in a journal, have a low-key conversation with a partner or a friend, or practice visualization exercises.
4. Avoid the wrong habits - If you’re reading on your phone or computer, avoid checking emails or news websites, which can be stimulating.
5. Start slow - If you are new to exercising before bedtime, start with gentle exercises, like yoga, tai chi, and stretching. These exercises are low-intensity, meaning they don’t significantly increase cortisol levels before bedtime.
6. Exercise in a cool environment - Exercising in a cool environment is especially helpful if you have trouble falling asleep. A cool environment will help lower your core body temperature, which will make it easier to fall asleep.
7. Avoid exercising before bedtime if you have insomnia - If you currently have problems sleeping, avoid exercising before bedtime. Regular exercise can help you, but you need to give your body enough time to fully recover before you go to bed.
8. Avoid using exercise as a way to cope with stress - It is common to use exercise as a way to deal with stress, but this can actually make your insomnia worse. Exercise is not a substitute for sleep.
9. Drink plenty of water before bedtime - Hydrating yourself before bedtime is a good way to promote healthy sleep. Water helps regulate your body temperature and reduces your core body temperature, making it easier to fall asleep.
When it comes to the best times to exercise, the old adage applies: "timing is everything." By choosing the right time to exercise, you can promote better sleep and feel more energized throughout the day. Remember that you’re not trying to get a super effective workout—you’re just trying to improve your sleep. Therefore, you don’t need to push yourself to the limit or do anything extremely strenuous.
Tips for a Good Sleep After Exercising in the Evening
Evening exercise can help you sleep better, but you need to make sure you finish your workout at the right time. Exercising for about 20 minutes before bedtime should be enough to improve your sleep, but exercising for too long can actually have the opposite effect by depleting your energy and making you too tired to sleep.
After you exercise, you should try to make sure you get enough time to transition into sleep mode. You should try to finish your workout at least 90 minutes before you want to go to sleep, and you should make sure that you cool down and transition properly. Drink plenty of water before, during, and after your workout, as well as before bedtime, to stay hydrated and avoid dehydration.