Written by: Stephanie Young
Updated March 5, 2021
Regular exercise and good quality sleep are vital to our physical and mental health. While both exercise and sleep are important on their own, it’s also beneficial to understand how they affect one another.
You may have heard that exercising in the evening can make it difficult to fall asleep. However, recent research (1) suggests it may be time to reconsider this conventional wisdom about the effects of evening exercise (2). Exercise can lead to better quality sleep (3), as long as that exercise occurs 90 minutes before bedtime (4).
How Much Should I Exercise to Sleep Better?
The World Health Organization (5) recommends adults engage in at least 150 minutes of moderately intense physical activity per week, which comes out to an average of 30 minutes per day, five days of the week.
If you have a hard time fitting a longer workout in, focus on aerobic or high-intensity exercise, such as, running, biking, or dancing. If you're engaging in high-intensity rather than moderately intense activity, the World Health Organization suggests 75 minutes of exercise each week. You may need to adjust the intensity and/or duration depending on your individual health, but whatever physical activity you engage in should help improve your quality of sleep.
Quality sleep, in turn, can also improve your exercise routine. Experts say that obtaining at least seven hours of quality sleep (6) has a number of health benefits and may aid in muscle growth and repair.
What Are the Best Times to Exercise for Sleep?
You can work out at just about any time of day to improve your sleep. Each individual should determine what time works best for their schedule and their body. For example, if you are not a morning person, try scheduling physical activity for later in the day when you have more energy.
We’ll highlight some factors to consider when deciding what time of day to exercise:
It has been widely accepted that the morning is a great time to exercise.
Energy and Mood Boost
Exercising in the morning can provide an energy boost to start your day. During exercise, your body produces the endorphins that help improve your mood (7).
If you are able to take the exercise outdoors, you have the added benefit of soaking in some daylight to help align your circadian rhythm — your body’s natural internal clock — with sunlight. When your circadian rhythm is in sync with natural light (8), you tend to feel alert during the day and tired at night, which can help improve your sleep quality.
Working out in the morning leaves fewer opportunities for unexpected interruptions to derail your exercise plans.
Studies have shown that an early morning aerobic exercise session leads to more time spent in deep sleep (9) when compared to afternoon workouts. Other studies, however, have found that the time of day a person exercises doesn't impact their time spent in deep sleep that night.
Exercising in the afternoon or evening has suffered a bad reputation in the past with regards to its effect on sleep quality. However, recent research suggests that afternoon and evening exercise does not actually have a negative effect on sleep, as long as it occurs 90 minutes before bedtime. In fact, exercising later might come with some specific benefits.
Research suggests that athletes experience peak performance in the afternoon, whether they engage in aerobic exercise (10) or strength training (11). If you want to hit specific exercise goals, the odds might be in your favor later in the day.
Fall Asleep Faster
People who exercise later in the day often report that they fall asleep faster (12) and feel better upon waking. This may be due to the change in body temperature associated with exercising. Your body warms up as you exercise, then cools down an hour or two after you stop. The cool-down might tell your body to prepare for sleep.
As you near bedtime, stick to low- to moderate-intensity exercises, such as stretching and meditation. Engaging in more strenuous exercise in the 90 minutes before sleep could make falling asleep more difficult.
Low-intensity exercises before bedtime can provide you with the health benefits of exercise without increasing your heart rate and body temperature. These activities can help prepare your mind and body for relaxation and sleep.
What Are the Best Workouts to Do Before Bed?
The best workouts to do before bedtime are gentle. Examples of physical activities that boost sleep include:
- Yoga (13)
- Relaxation exercises
Is It Bad to Work Out Before Bed?
Moderate aerobic or resistance exercise should not negatively affect your sleep, as long as you complete the workout within 90 minutes of bedtime. Your body and mind need that 90 minutes to cool down from a workout.
During an aerobic workout, your heart rate increases, body temperature rises, and you receive a boost in energy with the release of endorphins. These changes are all beneficial for your health, but may not be conducive for your bedtime routine. If you need to cool down quickly, you may consider a shower or bath to help regulate your body temperature and prepare you to relax.
When Is the Best Time to Work Out?
As long as you give your body at least 90 minutes to cool down after a workout before going to sleep, you can exercise at any time. You get to decide when exercise best fits your schedule, and hopefully enjoy improved sleep as a result.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30801859/ Accessed on March 2, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30374942/ Accessed on March 2, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28276627/ Accessed on March 2, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31072217/ Accessed on March 2, 2021.
- https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/physical-activity Accessed on March 2, 2021.
- https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/features/getting-enough-sleep.html Accessed on March 2, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/6091217/ Accessed on March 2, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30311830/ Accessed on March 2, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25540588/ Accessed on March 2, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28538305/ Accessed on March 2, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22531613/ Accessed on March 2, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25374476/ Accessed on March 2, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26556396/ Accessed on March 4, 2021.