How many hours before bed should you exercise?

Find out more about exercising before bedtime

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S.A.C. Dip (Diet, Exercise & Fitness), Advanced Human Anatomy & Physiology Level 3
Ask Louise

01 June 2021

How many hours before bed should you exercise?

Low to moderate level exercises, such as a gentle walk or Yoga, can be practised one hour or less before bed. However, more vigorous exercises, such as running or cycling, that energise and make you feel alert are best done earlier in the evening, several hours before bedtime to ensure they don't impact your sleep.

Is it ok to sleep after a workout?

When exercising before bed, there are few things to bear in mind. First, vigorous, high-intensity exercises have been shown to affect our ability to fall asleep and stay asleep when practised one hour or less before bed. This includes the likes of running and cycling, for example. So, if you want to do these exercises, it is best to do them at least a couple of hours before bed. (1)

However, less strenuous activities have not been found to have such a negative impact on sleep when practised in the hours before bed. In fact, particular activities like bedtime Yoga could have a positive impact on sleep by helping to relax the body and prepare it for bed.

Why do I have trouble sleeping after working out?

Exercise is generally thought to benefit our sleep by helping to use up energy and improve mood. However, exercising too close to bedtime may explain why you have trouble sleeping after working out.

You see, exercise releases lots of chemicals called endorphins which have the effect of making us feel energised and upbeat. These chemicals don't disappear just because we have stopped exercising and, instead, it can take a few hours for things to settle again. Therefore, if you hop into bed immediately after experiencing a runner's high or a jogger's lift, you may have trouble sleeping!

Exercise is also quite a stressful experience for the body and, as a result, it releases stress hormones like cortisol during the course of an activity. Historically speaking we would have required this response in order to run away from a threat or to run towards prey. This has the effect of making us feel alert as the body tries to ensure it is prepared to deal with the source of stress. Again, this response may take time to normalise, thus explaining why you could have trouble sleeping after working out.

If you have trouble sleeping after working out in the morning or afternoon, issues like Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness may have a part to play. This is when the muscles become stiff, sore or achy after a workout. This could, quite simply, affect your ability to rest comfortably at night.

Also, it is worth considering whether or not exercise is actually to blame for your trouble sleeping. Instead, perhaps it is time to think about whether other factors could be having an impact here, such as your overall phone use throughout the day, your stress/anxiety levels or your evening routine. Are you spending long hours watching television, for example, rather than relaxing at night? Watching an action movie or distressing newsreel, in particular, can heighten feelings of stress and anxiety as the brain responds to these events as though they were real.

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What is the best exercise before bed?

Movements that help to wind down the body and prepare it for sleep are the best kind of exercises to practise before bed. Yoga is a good example of an activity that does just this. Here, the focus on deep breathing and stretching help to relax the body.

Search for a 'bedtime Yoga workout' on YouTube and, rather than watching the video, focus on simply listening to the instructions. Practise in your pyjamas and dim the lights to fully relax and prepare your body for sleep.

If you want some other examples of the best exercises to do before bed then consider gentle walking or even just watering the plants! At this time, it is best to avoid too much stimulation and activities that get the heart rate up for the best chance of getting a good night's sleep.

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