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Exercise boasts a handful of benefits across the mental and physical board. There’s decreased stress, weight control, and disease prevention, to name a few. Another reward for regular exercise? Better sleep!
A National Sleep Foundation poll on exercise and sleep showed that people who exercise reported better quality sleep than sedentary people. In fact, the harder you work, the better: Vigorous exercisers are less likely to struggle with insomnia and report improved sleep, mood, and even quality of life. But can fitness ever get in the way of our precious snooze time?
Anyone who’s ever been wired post-workout knows that exercise can definitely put a pep in your step. So, maybe it’s best to avoid those late night cycling classes? If we exercise too early, though, won’t we crash midday? Does timing play any role in exercise and sleep?
If you worship your snooze button (and who can blame you?), maybe skip this part. Exercising in the AM may not only be key to staying consistent with your workouts, but it also may promote deeper sleep at night.
One study, where participants worked out in the morning, afternoon, and night, found that those who exercised in the early morning had longer, deeper sleep cycles than those who exercised later. This may have something to do with blood pressure.
When you sleep, your blood pressure naturally dips by about ten to 20 percent. The dip is good for your heart and may contribute to your body restoring itself while you sleep. When that dip in BP doesn’t occur, you may experience lower sleep quality. For example, some people who suffer from sleep apnea don’t experience the late-night drop. A morning workout may trigger a similar BP reduction, which could help maximize your deep sleep later on, compared to afternoon or evening workouts.
So, the early birds get the worms and the quality, restorative Z’s. But they might not be the only ones.
Despite what your 2 pm slump might tell you, the afternoon can actually be prime energy time. Your body’s core temperature plays a big role in the quality of your workouts. When it’s on the colder side, usually in the mornings, your muscles are stiff, inefficient, and prone to injury. You’re generally not working at your optimal levels. Your body temperature typically increases during the day and peaks in the late afternoon. As a result, you may feel more energetic and your endurance is at its best. The body also produces more testosterone, critical for muscle growth and strength, in the late afternoon than the morning so consider scheduling some lunchtime strength training.
While there aren’t many direct sleep benefits that come from afternoon workouts, there aren’t many sleep setbacks, either. So, if you can find the time, it’s worth it to squeeze in an afternoon workout when your body may be at peak performance.
No doubt you’ve heard the supposedly scientific rumor that working out before bed can keep you up at night. Because exercise boosts your body temperature and heart rate, it was previously believed to make it harder to sleep well. A new body of research, though, is making a case for nighttime workouts.
The same poll on exercise and sleep from the National Sleep Foundation found that exercisers report better sleep after working out regardless of what time they get moving. Another study, from the Journal of Sleep Research, reported that people who participated in vigorous night time exercise felt no measurable effects on sleep quality. It’s possible, too, that if you suffer from sleep issues, working out later in the evening may be beneficial. As we know, your body temperature raises when your active, but the drop you experience after exercise could actually help you to feel more sleepy.
If you prefer evening exercise but find you’re too energized afterwards, try working out a half hour or hour earlier. Experiment until you find the time that doesn’t interfere with your ability to doze off.
The Bottom Line
As with most things in the wellness world, the best exercise and sleep schedule depends on the individual. Exercise benefits sleep no matter what time of day you workout, so it’s most important to find a realistic time that works with your schedule and your energy levels. If you spring out of bed in the morning and prefer early workouts, be sure to always warmup those cold muscles. Remember afternoons may be best for strength training, and evening workouts might require a bit of trial and error to find the right balance.
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