Should You Exercise Before Bed?
These days, it seems like everyone is trying every method under the sun to catch a few more Zzz’s in the morning. Chances are, you’ve seen about every tip and trick in the book for getting a better night’s sleep. So how about trying some exercise before bed. If you tire yourself out, will you sleep better? Or does getting your blood pumping make you less sleepy?
- Exercise can help you fall asleep more quickly, increase sleep duration, and promote deep restorative sleep.
- High intensity exercising leads to a rise in core body temperature, an increased heart rate, and higher levels of brain activity and stimulation that are not ideal factors for sleep.
- Light to moderate-intensity exercise at least 90 minutes to an hour before you sleep will give you the best results.
For years, it’s been long believed that getting your body moving and blood pumping by working out before you go to sleep. However, according to available studies, there is solid evidence that exercise before bed does in fact help you fall asleep more quickly, sleep longer, and improves your overall sleep quality which helps you feel more refreshed by daytime (1). In this case, it all comes down to when exactly is the best time of day to exercise before bed and the intensity of the workout.
The Connection Between Exercise and Sleep
It’s no question that working out is amazing for your body, mind, health, mood, and so much more. Including sleep! It makes sense, right? The more energy you spend while exercising, the more tired you’ll be later on. While researchers don’t completely understand how physical activity improves sleep, researchers have discovered that moderate aerobic exercise can increase the amount of “slow wave sleep” you get, which is another term for a restorative deep sleep where the brain and body have a chance to refresh and rejuvenate before another day (1).
In fact, deep sleep helps to boost immune function, support cardiac health, and reduce stress and anxiety. In addition to this, aerobic exercise in the morning or in the afternoon can stimulate early melatonin release and shifts the circadian rhythm forward to help people sleep sooner rather than later (2).
Other ways exercise can benefit sleep include:
- Stabilizing mood, promoting relaxation, reducing anxiety and reducing stress by lowering cortisol levels and reducing blood pressure which is essential for quality sleep.
- Helping reduce the symptoms of sleep disorders like sleep apnea (2)
- Provoking a sharp rise in body temperature followed by a gradual cooling which can help you feel physically sleepy (2)
- Reducing night time awakenings
- Calm and quit the nervous system
- Normalizing the body’s internal clock a.k.a. the sleep-wake cycle known as the circadian rhythm which regulates sleep, hormones, and body temperature
Exercise Before Bed: How Time and Intensity Play a Role
As mentioned previously, experts have traditionally recommended not exercising before bed. This is due to the fact that the release of brain chemicals called endorphins from physical activity can keep you awake by stimulating the brain. While endorphins are amazing for boosting mood and supporting overall brain health, they are known to negatively impact the ability for one to fall asleep and stay asleep.
Preparing to hit the hay, the body begins to get ready for bedtime by dropping the body’s temperature, slowing the heart rate, and slowing the brain waves. In contrast, exercising leads to a rise in core body temperature, an increased heart rate, and higher levels of brain activity and stimulation that are not ideal factors for sleep (2).
Now, a new study published by Sports Medicine in 2018 suggests that you can exercise before bed as long as vigorous activity for at least one hour before sleeping (3). This is where the debate of doing high intensity exercise versus low intensity exercise before bed. Researchers found that between healthy adults who did a single session of exercise before bed and those that did not, those who did evening exercise seemed to fall asleep faster and spend more time asleep (3). However, those who did high intensity exercise before bed, such as interval training, less than one hour before sleeping took longer to fall asleep and had poorer sleep quality.
In order to not compromise total sleep time, sleep quality, or the time falling asleep, it’s crucial to focus on two main things:
- The types of exercises you’re doing
- The exact timing of your workout
Instead of high-intensity exercises, light to moderate-intensity exercise is key. It’s also important to finish your workout at least 90 minutes to an hour before bed so you can give your body enough time to wind down and your body temperature time to cool down (4). To improve sleep quality and health, it is recommended that you aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise before bed or during the day. If your schedule permits it, however, regular and consistent exercise is essential for the ultimate sleep benefits.
Exercises to do Before Bed
If you need examples of what exercises are good to do before bed versus the ones to avoid (like cardio!), look no further. Examples of safe exercise before bed include:
- Light jogging
- Home exercises like planking, glute bridges, and lunges
- Leisurely swimming
- Leisurely biking
- Light to moderate weightlifting
Strenuous exercises to avoid before bed are:
- High-intensity interval training (HIIT)
- Swimming laps
- Jumping rope
- Intense cycling/biking
- Heavy weightlifting
Written by Selena Ponton