Does working out late keep you up?
Conventional wisdom is that exercising in the evening makes it harder to fall asleep — but does science back up that claim? While one of the proven benefits of working up a sweat is a sense of energy, studies show the burst of adrenaline after a workout lasts an hour or less. Unless you’re on a tight schedule, exercising at night won’t keep you from getting to bed on time.
A survey done by the National Sleep Foundation contradicts recommendations against exercising near bedtime. Most participants reported no difference in sleep quality based on the time they worked out. It’s a big relief for anyone who wants to stay in top shape but isn’t a morning person.
Exercise professionals are careful to acknowledge that everyone is different, and for gym enthusiasts suffering from sleep disorders, avoiding late-night running may be a necessary part of your treatment plan — always take your doctor’s advice. But for the rest of us, working out late is not only harmless — it has some surprising benefits.
The Benefits of Exercising at Night
There are some good reasons to work out early. Maybe you need the evening hours to help the kids with their homework, or your area isn’t safe for your favorite outdoor activities in the dark. And if you’re a morning person whose motivation nosedives after dinner, setting aside time to exercise when you know you’re at your best is a wise decision — an essential part of a successful fitness regimen is making it a commitment you can keep.
But if getting your reps in later in the day helps you meet your goals, don’t hesitate to do it because you’ve heard it will keep you up. Evening workouts offer these benefits and more:
1. Fewer Crowds
Crawling to the gym before work instead of hitting the snooze button is tough enough, but getting there to find the ellipticals are all in use or the pool area is closed for cleaning makes your noble sacrifice seem wasted.
Instead, get through the Nautilus circuit in record time and without losing your groove by avoiding peak hours — between 6:00 AM–2:00 PM. Mornings will be less hectic, and who knows — you might have enough time for a hot cup of coffee and fruit before heading out the door.
2. A Relaxed Pace
Whether it’s trail running or weight lifting, exercising on a schedule takes the fun out of a workout. The deadline to make it to work looms, leaving no time to enjoy your efforts, chat with friends or try the latest class. Fitness becomes mundane, and the next thing you know, you’re trading a half hour on the treadmill for more time under the covers. It’s a self-defeating habit. Evening exercise offers a slower pace and more opportunity to try something new.
3. Stress Relief
All forms of exercise reduce stress. Activities from spinning to Pilates release endorphins — powerful feel-good brain chemicals that improve mood, ease muscle tension and enhance sleep. To keep things fresh, consider alternating high-impact exercise with low-impact activities such as yoga and tai chi. They combine the best of exercise and relaxation, helping you meet your fitness goals while promoting a gentle, restorative sleep.
4. Higher Endurance
If you like working out in the morning, stick with it — but don’t count on it to give you a performance edge. Research suggests the body is better prepared for rigorous activity later in the day. One study shows a 4-percent greater uptake of oxygen in tissues body-wide during evening exercise compared to morning workouts. Optimally oxygenated muscles are well-nourished — they stay stronger, longer, allowing you to better meet your fitness goals.
5. Calmer Days
Nothing beats exercise for wellness. When performed regularly, it induces a lasting feeling of calm that improves sleep and lasts well into the next day. If anxiety about projects at work leaves you feeling like you’ve been punched in the gut first thing in the morning, why worry about racing to the gym when regular evening workouts can help you feel more relaxed and ready to face the day?
6. Better Sleep
The concept that exercise disrupts sleep comes from older studies that didn’t consider differences in individual biology. Like other medical research at the time, findings were applied across the board. Now, scientists understand that no two people are alike, and bodies react differently to exercise.
While it’s true that some people find workouts too invigorating before bedtime, others find the exertion helps them fall asleep faster. One recent study, for example, shows weight lifting in the evening improves both the quality and duration of sleep.
I gave my friend the bad news this morning that it probably wasn’t his workout that kept him up late last night, and he was quick to admit he was giving himself an excuse to spend tonight bingeing on bad TV. The lesson here is that while late-night workout myths can enable your vices, they’re not rooted in science. The bottom line is — if working out at night makes you feel better than exercising early — trust your body.