Scheduling your workouts can be a challenge. Between work, hobbies and your social life, finding time to get your heart rate up or strengthening your muscles might be tough.
You could wake up early to squeeze in a workout before your day begins. But not everyone is an early bird. Is it a problem to exercise in the evening, before your day winds down? Some people worry that physical activity before bedtime will keep them from sleeping soundly.
Let’s review the evidence on how exercising before bed affects your sleep.
The Effects of Working out at Night
The standard advice has been to avoid late-night workouts, according to a review in Sports Medicine. That’s based on the concern that heart-pumping activity can leave you feeling too awake to sleep well.
But more recent evidence suggests it’s okay to do moderate exercise before bedtime, the study says. In fact, it could help you sleep better. Evening exercise was linked with more slow-wave sleep. This is thought to be important for consolidating our memories.
But intense exercise less than an hour before bed was different. Vigorous exercise could make it take longer to fall asleep. It can increase the time you spend in bed awake. It may also affect the total time you spend sleeping. Given this, the study suggests you’re better off avoiding a high-intensity interval (HIIT) workout right before you jump into bed.
It’s also important to remember that everyone is different. You can try scheduling your workout for different times during the evening and pay attention to how you sleep. Do you find that even moderate exercise makes it harder to fall asleep? Then leave yourself some time to wind down before going to bed next time.
Exercises to do Before bed
Different types of workouts affect our minds and bodies differently. When you’re choosing a workout routine to do before bed, consider your goals. Are you trying to loosen up some tight muscles from a more intense workout yesterday? Or squeeze in the strength training you keep skipping? There are workouts that can help you wind down while working your heart and muscles too. Here are four ideas you can try based on advice we’ve heard from health-care providers and research studies.
Stretching your muscles
The evening is a great time to fit in some stretching. Try touching your toes or bring your knees up to your chest. Stretches can improve your flexibility and help prevent the most common sports injuries. For example, muscle injuries, sprains, and fractures. If you are recovering from a fitness injury, doing the exercises your physiotherapist recommends can help your recovery.
Gentle yoga poses and deep breathing can help promote sleep, according to the National Sleep Foundation. You could try an evening yoga class that’s designed to help you wind down from your day. A few downward dog poses can stretch out your muscles while relaxation poses can help calm you.
While meditation may not be a workout for your body, it is a workout for your mind. Many people meditate to reduce stress. The National Sleep Foundation suggests trying meditation to sleep better. Finding a few minutes each day to focus on your breath could be just what your bedtime routine needs.
What is the Best Time to Exercise for a Better Night’s Sleep?
We’ve covered that moderate exercise before bed is fine for most people. But is it the best choice when it comes to your sleep?
Morning workouts do have advantages, according to recent studies. One study in Vascular Health and Risk Management found morning workouts led to more time in a deep sleep. The researchers compared twenty people who were at risk for high blood pressure. They took turns exercising in the morning, afternoon and evening. The morning workouts had the best results on blood pressure and sleep quality.
A study in Sleep Medicine found that morning exercise helped older adults who have trouble falling asleep. When compared with evening exercise, morning exercise helped them stay asleep.
Of course, exercising in the morning leaves less opportunity for your plans to change throughout the day. If you’re colleagues go for dinner after work, you may be glad you went to the gym already. Or if you know you’ll be tired after work, a morning workout might be best for you.
Afternoon workouts may have some advantages too. One study in the Journal of Sports Sciences found that cyclists tend to work harder in the afternoon than in the morning. The participants were men doing a 16-kilometer bike ride at different times of the day.
We know exercise is great for your physical and mental health. That includes sleep quality. The bottom line? Schedule your workouts for when you know you will do them consistently. Maybe that’s a 7 p.m. yoga class around the corner from your house. Maybe it’s push-ups every morning on your living room floor before your commute. Or a workout video in a conference room over lunch.
No matter when you do it, adding exercise into your daily routine encourages you to stick with it. Finding an activity that you enjoy and inviting a friend to meet you can also help you stick to your exercise plans.
When we live healthier lives during the day, we can sleep better at night.
Contributed by Lumino Health, Canada’s largest health network and an innovation from Sun Life. Lumino Health is helping Canadians live healthier lives by connecting them with information, resources, and the right health-care providers near them.