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In recent years, many studies have focused on the link between exercise and sleep, including trying to determine whether there is an optimal time of the day for a workout. Traditionally, the thinking has been that morning exercise is preferable, as it helps to sync your body clock and wake you up for the day, while also contributing to restful sleep at night. There’s a practical reason for morning workouts, too – if you’ve already worked out early on, you won’t find yourself in a situation where other obligations (or simply not feeling motivated after a long day at work or school) sabotage your desire to exercise.
However, not everyone has the option to work out in the morning, and time pressures can make early workouts stressful. Many people simply prefer working out in the evening. The good news is that there doesn’t appear to be a link between evening exercise and poor sleep, with most research suggesting that people who exercise later in the day sleep just as well as morning exercisers.
The caveat, however, is that it’s important to leave enough time between your workout and bedtime to allow your heart rate and body temperature to return to normal, as elevated readings are often associated with sleeping difficulties. An hour or two appears to be enough to counteract any negative effects, though two or three hours is even better.
It’s worth noting that everyone is different when it comes to exercise and sleep. Some people may struggle to sleep after an evening workout, even if they’ve left plenty of time before bedtime. Knowing yourself and your sleep habits is paramount when it comes to deciding whether you’ll be able to sleep even two hours after exercise. Alternatively, it may be possible to enjoy some health benefits from gentle evening exercise, such as a walk, without risking your sleep quality.
Working out and wakefulness:
- Some research does contradict the trend, including a 2019 study that found that people who exercised in the morning produced more of the sleep hormone melatonin in the evening than those who exercised in the afternoon.
- A 2018 research review found that evening exercise was preferable to no exercise in terms of time spent in REM sleep and deep sleep.
- The health benefits of exercise are well established, from improved mental health to lessened rates of cardiovascular disease. Although some studies have attempted to determine whether the time of day makes a difference for these benefits, there is no conclusive evidence of this from large, long-term studies.