Exercising Before Bed: Harmful or Helpful?

Exercising before bed: Will it keep you up or put you to sleep? Although many experts encourage exercise earlier in the day to help you fall asleep easier at night, those in the know say that an evening workout might just work out for you.

Overall, exercise has been proven to improve sleep quality in people who have insomnia as well as those who don't have serious sleep problems. In a study published in the journal Clinics in Sports Medicine researchers at the University of South Carolina's Department of Exercise Science explain that exercise depletes energy, breaks down muscle tissue, and increases body temperature. All of these functions, in effect, set you up for sleep, during which energy is restored, muscle tissue is rebuilt and body temperature is lowered. These researchers, like most experts, feel that exercise is such a healthy, safe, simple, and inexpensive way of getting a better night's sleep. They recommend routine physical activity as an alternative or at least as an adjunct to sleeping pills and other treatments whenever possible.

But the timing of your workout can play a role in how effective exercise really is in helping you fall asleep and stay asleep. The common advice is to avoid exercising within two hours of going to bed, just as you avoid eating, drinking, or doing anything else that could be too stimulating when you're trying to relax and fall asleep.

Regular exercise is energizing because it helps your heart and circulatory system get stronger and work more efficiently to deliver oxygen and nutrients to every cell in your body. It revs you up. That's why exercising too close to bedtime can make it more difficult to fall asleep. For many people, the hours just prior to bedtime are better spent winding down and relaxing.

Kansas State University counselors point out, however, that staying active is important if you have trouble sleeping, and you may benefit from light physical activity closer to bedtime. They recommend gentle exercises, such as stretching, right before hitting the sack.

According to Timothy Morgenthaler, M.D., of Mayo Clinic, immediately after exercise, you experience an increase in adrenaline and other hormones that can interfere with falling asleep. But within a few hours after you've finished working out, those hormone levels drop and you feel more relaxed. How long it takes for that drop to occur, however, depends on the individual. Some people who find it more convenient to workout at night may be able to wind down quickly and fall asleep soon after.

To find out if and how the timing of your exercise regime affects your sleep, Dr. Morgenthaler suggests exercising close to bedtime for a period of a couple of weeks, then try exercising earlier in the day. Compare the quality of your sleep following both exercise periods to see if exercising too close to your bedtime has any negative effects.




Mayo Clinic: Insomnia "Late Day Exercise: Can It Cause Insomnia?"30 May 2009. Web. 24 May 2011

Kansas State University Counseling Service: How to Get a Good Night's Sleep. 1997. Web. 24 May 2011

Youngstedt, SD. "Effects of Exercise on Sleep." Clinics in Sports Medicine. 2005 Apr; 24(2):335-65, xi. Web. 24 May 2011