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Working Out Before Bed: Pros and Cons

By: SleepScore Labs  |  November 16th, 2020

Working Out Before Bed (Pros and Cons) 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that physical activity could prevent 1 in 10 premature deaths, 1 in 8 cases of breast cancer, 1 in 12 cases of diabetes, 1 in 15 cases of heart disease, and 1 in 8 cases of colorectal cancer. Generally, working out may increase a person’s life span, help them live vibrant lives, and improve their physical, mental, emotional, and sleep health.  

A person typically needs 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a week to enjoy these benefits of exercise on health and wellbeing. 150 to 300 minutes of exercise a week may sound achievable to some, but data from the World Health Organization (WHO) prove otherwise. About 1.4 billion adults in the global population don’t maintain the recommended physical activity levels. 

For many, there just isn’t enough time during the day to move about or exercise. To fix this, some have dedicated evening or night time to working out. The next issue is: Is working out before bedtime ideal? When is the best time of the day to exercise? 

Pros and Cons of Working Out at Night 

You may have heard that the best time of the day to get your daily sweat sessions is in the early hours of the day. But your routine just can’t accommodate this lifestyle recommendation. Do you stop working out altogether?  

What exactly are the pros and cons of working out at night?  

Let’s find out. 

Pros of working out at night 

1. Eases you of the day’s stress. 

Exercising is often a challenging but rewarding activity that benefits our bodies and minds in multiple ways. So if you’re looking for a way to offload all of the mental exhaustion from being out all day, ease your mind, and prepare yourself for a good night’s rest, having a sweat session may do the trick.  

Numerous studies suggest that people report feeling calmer after exercising for just 20 to 30 minutes, and this feeling may last even several hours after exercise. What’s more, the effect of exercising in promoting relaxation is immediate and long-lasting. 53% of participants of a survey report that exercising makes them feel good, 35% say it improves their mood, and 30% admit it reduces their stress levels.  

2. Improves sleep 

If you’ve heard that exercising in the evening may leave you too energetic to sleep well at night, know that it’s not as simple as it appears. In fact, exercising in the evening may even help you sleep better. 

Exercising leads to positive sleep outcomes—improved sleep efficiency, deep sleep, and sleep quality. Numerous studies also suggest that exercising in the evenings may still bring similar benefits to sleep.  

2020 study found that moderate exercise 4 hours before bedtime didn’t disturb sleep and may help people who don’t get sufficient rest sleep better. Interestingly, a 2013 cross-sectional study suggests that there’s no relationship between exercising during the evening and poor sleep and mentions that exercising in the evenings should no longer be discouraged.  

Another point often made when recommending exercising during the early hours of the day is that exercise elevates body temperature, which tells your body that it should be active and reduces a person’s ability to wind down. A 2019 study found that a single exercise session 90 minutes before bedtime has no effect on body temperature and doesn’t disrupt sleep. 

Likewise, a 2011 study suggests that vigorous late-night exercise only increases a person’s heart rate and doesn’t affect sleep quality. 

However, it’s important to remember that timing matters. A recent review concludes that high-intensity exercise performed 2-4 hours before bed is unlikely to disrupt sleep. However, exercise ending within 30 minutes to 2-hours before bed may decrease REM sleep. So, while working out at night can still provide benefits to sleep, it’s important to plan them for at least 2 hours before bedtime.Better performance  

Working out at night may even mean better performance, increased endurance levels, more time exercising, and more benefits of exercise on your body. 

small study found that the participants performed better and 20% longer during their evening workout session than their morning session. According to an article published in the Journal of Dental and Medical Sciences, body temperature is usually higher in the evening, an ideal state for exercising. For some people, you may also feel more awake,which means you’ll be fully engrossed in your workout sessions. Your muscles and joints are also 20% more flexible, which means better performance and less cramping.  

3. Less pressure to fit exercise into your daily schedule  

If you’re the type that always wakes up to the thoughts of all the stuff you need to do before the day runs out, exercising may be the last thing on your mind. So you might as well push it to the last thing on your to-do for the day and still reap its benefits, no worries. 

When you exercise in the evening, you’re free to jump into tackling the most crucial to-do of the day without feeling guilty that you have to miss a workout session. And when you’re done for the day, you can focus better on your workout sessions and enjoy them more. 

Cons of working out at night 

1. Increased arousal before sleep 

Now, one thing exercise does to the body is that it energizes it. And this may not be ideal when you’re trying to wind down for sleep.  

Although studies suggest that exercising during the evening is unlikely to impact sleep for most people, exercising less than an hour before bedtime affects how quickly a person falls asleep, their total sleep time, REM sleep, and sleep efficiency. Late-night exercising may produce these effects on sleep because exercise increases heart rate, body temperature, and metabolism—all of which are signals to the body that it should be awake and active.  

Also, according to experts, aerobic exercise produces endorphins, which activate brain activity, and may keep a person alert. And they recommend that to counteract this effect, people who exercise during the evening should exercise at least one to two hours before bedtime to give the body enough time to cool down. 

2. More challenging to remain consistent  

Another downside to pushing your exercise to the last thing to do for the day is that you can easily also move it to the next day because you’re just too tired. Plus, there are other less energy-demanding fun activities to do, like watching t.v or scrolling through social media.  

2019 study suggests that fixing your workout session to morning time may make it easier for you to turn exercising into a daily habit than setting it at nighttime. However, the study concludes that whether you exercise in the morning or at night, what’s most important is that exercising may help you meet your recommended physical activity levels.  

3. Less variety in your workout routine 

Working out at night limits the kind of physical activity you can participate in. For example, you may have to give up running, jogging, or cycling in your neighborhood because of the crowd at night. You may also miss out on group work-out sessions that may be organized during the day. 

4. Create a Routine 

Anything that makes you move is physical activity, according to the CDC. And all you need to maintain a healthy lifestyle and sleep health is 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise and consistency. This makes creating a daily exercise routine important.  

study recommends exercising at the same time every day to prime your body for the activity till it masters the habit of exercising every day.  

Anything from yoga to running will give you the best results, as long as you keep at it. Sleep quality may even noticeably improve that same night.  

If you’re just starting, be sure to take it slow and learn the limits of what you can and can’t do. If you don’t like the activity, you initially chose, change it up, and find what you enjoy the most. 

How Exercise and Sleep Benefit Each Other 

The relationship between sleep and exercise is bidirectional. Exercise helps improve sleep, and poor sleep may lead to low energy levels and daytime fatigue.  

The better you sleep, the more awake you’ll be, and the better your workout. In return, a good workout will translate into a better night’s sleep, and the cycle continues. 

Aerobic exercises get the heart pumping, and your body begins to release endorphins, which have their benefits. This combination of increased heart rate and endorphins keeps you alert.  

Once you finish exercising and begin to rest and cool down, your body begins to react accordingly. Leaving at least 2 hours before bed gives your body time for these endorphins to wash away thoroughly. This process allows your body to be more relaxed and prepared for sleep.  

Working up a good sweat is a sign that your body is getting warm, and allowing time to cool down fully can be beneficial in prepping your body to relax and sleep.  

Listen to your body  

Whether you exercise in the morning or later in the day, staying consistent with your workouts is most important.  

Start at a comfortable pace and slowly increase your intensity when appropriate. Stay hydrated, stretch, and take time to recover.  

Regardless of what experts may say, remember to listen to your body. If working out in the evening has no adverse effect on your sleep quality, there’s no need to change your routine. Just keep doing what works for you, and don’t be discouraged if you have to change things up a few times to get it right. Stay patient, and you will be rewarded with better performance and better sleep. 

Sweet dreams! 

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