Although I'm definitely someone who looks forward to waking up in the morning, I've never loved jumping out of bed and heading into a workout. Instead, I've always opted for fitting fitness into my routine in the late afternoon, or, more often, in the evenings after dinner. I've always wondered about whether this habit is actually healthy, though. Does working out at night make it hard to sleep? It might seem like getting your heart rate up at the end of the day would amp you up so that it's difficult for your body to wind down in time to keep to a reasonable bedtime, but if you, too, opt for the evening when it comes to getting your sweat on, there's no need to worry. According to new research, you'll probably be able to sleep just fine.
A systematic review of 23 studies on exercise and sleep, published in the scientific journal Sports Medicine, investigated whether working out before bed actually impacts your sleep cycle or not. Not only did the researchers conclude from this review that a nighttime workout doesn't hurt your sleep schedule, their results actually seemed to suggest the exact opposite.
“If doing sport in the evening has any effect on sleep quality at all, it’s rather a positive effect, albeit only a mild one,” study co-author Christina Spengler, head of the Exercise Physiology Lab at ETH Zurich, a university in Switzerland, said in a statement for a press release. More specifically, Spengler's team found that people who exercise in the evening may spend as much as 21 percent of their shut-eye in a deep sleep on average, while those who don't work out at this time seem to only spend about 19 percent of the night in deep sleep.
When it comes to figuring out a workout routine, the most important thing is to nail down what works best for your specific schedule, says Vince Sant, co-founder and lead trainer for V Shred, an online fitness platform. "If it is most sustainable and comfortable for you to work out at night, then that is the best option for you," he tells Elite Daily in an email. "Focus on keeping that mind-muscle connection."
Knowing how exercise makes your body feel is key to choosing the right routine for an evening sweat session. For instance, if you're the kind of person who gets really amped up by hitting the gym, then you might want to try workouts that'll still get you to sweat, but can also help relax you. "Yoga is a great way to end your evenings," Sant suggests. "It relaxes the mind and strengthens the core. Yoga is known to reduce insomnia, and it stretches your muscles while helping tone your body."
For some people, a nighttime workout is a way to get rid of any lingering energy from the day's activities. If that sounds like you, Sant recommends channeling that energy into a combination of cardio and strength. "Kickboxing, bodyweight circuit training, and most forms of cardio will do this for you. After a session of all-out muscle exertion, we tend to feel relaxed," he explains.
That being said, there is still such a thing as working out too late at night, at least when it comes to how it can affect your sleep cycle. In order for your brain to release melatonin (aka the sleep hormone) and start the sleep process, your body temperature has to dip, says sleep expert and Nightfood scientific advisor, Dr. Michael Breus. The more cardio-intensive your workout is, he explains, the more your core temperature will elevate, meaning it will take longer for you to be able to fall asleep. "In general terms, I would say to have completed your workout within three hours of 'lights out' is a good guideline for cardio, and within 90 minutes for weights," he tells Elite Daily in an email.
After an evening workout, you might want to refuel your muscles before you hit the hay for the night, and one great way to do that is by snacking on a peanut butter and banana sandwich, Sant suggests. "Though bananas are high in sugar, in a post-workout situation, these can help replenish your energy," he tells Elite Daily. "For added benefit, you can replace whole wheat bread with pita, or rice cakes for added fiber."
Bottom line: It's important to remember that, if an evening workout is making it hard for you to fall asleep, then you might want to try switching things up. "Sleep and exercise, along with a healthy diet, are the three pillars of good health," SleepScore Labs scientific advisor, Dr. Nate Watson, tells Elite Daily over email. "Each should be focused on with equal measure. Trading one for the other limits the impact of these healthy activities on long-term vitality, well-being, and quality of life."