Fitting in some exercise before bed should, in theory, tire us out enough to help us fall into a nice deep sleep come bedtime. Annoyingly it’s not that simple.
So I'm not a morning person. As much as I would love to be one of those ‘Seize The Day’ guys who are weightlifting at 5 am before work, it's not going to happen. I tend to work out before bed in the evenings when I have more time and energy.
I find that HOW and WHEN I work out affects my sleep, both positively and negatively. So I was keen to understand what I should be doing to maximize sleep quality and avoid shooting myself in the foot come bedtime.
Sometimes I would get the most amazing quality of sleep after a workout, whilst other times I'd be lying there wide awake at 1 am wondering why the hell I wasn’t asleep yet. Like my brain would be ready for sleep but my body was seemingly ready for going out clubbing. What was going on?
So I did a little digging.
What kind of workout before bed should we avoid?
Studies have shown that moderate-intensity exercise that finishes an hour or more before bed is fine, and won't affect our sleep quality.
However higher intensity workouts that are close to bedtime will leave us feeling still 'wired', as our heart rates stay elevated and our adrenaline and cortisol levels are still too high to allow us to drift into a deep sleep naturally.
So Moderate intensity exercise before bed such as yoga, walking, leisurely biking/swimming, and light weights workouts are all great ways to work out without getting too 'revved up'.
But activities like weightlifting at close to maximum effort levels, running, and HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training) workouts close to bedtime are considered high intensity and are what we need to avoid.
That's not to say that we shouldn't do higher intensity workouts before bed in the evenings, it just means we need to be mindful of the timing.
As long as the workout is finished at least two hours before your planned bedtime then your sleep quality shouldn’t be adversely affected, as this gives the central nervous system and heart rate enough time to return to normal, comfortable levels.
Does Exercise Before Bed Help You Sleep Though?
Moderate intensity exercise helps stabilize our mood and decompresses the mind, basically helping us ‘zone out’ for a while from our daily stressors.
So if you find you often struggle to fall asleep because you still have work problems or other worries on your mind then moderate-intensity exercise before bed will certainly help you maximize your sleep quality.
However, although researchers believe that exercise can treat insomnia, and have plenty of anecdotal evidence that working out in the evenings helps us get more rejuvenating deep sleep, they still don’t fully understand why.
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to working out and sleep quality. So why not try some walks or yoga in the evenings a couple of hours prior to bedtime and see how your sleep is affected? A workout before bed could work wonders for your health and wellbeing if it’s the right kind of exercise at the right time. Just leave the hardcore powerlifting and gruelling spin classes for a little earlier in the day!