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To Workout at Night or Not? That is the Question

An intriguing column in Guy Counseling suggests that what you’ve heard about exercising at night harming your sleep is not the nightmare you thought it was. It seems that a Swiss study in which participants did vigorous exercise and weight-lifting at night showed that evening exercise may even benefit your sleep.

Sober

There were a few caveats: First, the exercise should be “moderate” and within a four-hour window before bed; and second, the study showed that more vigorous exercise within an hour of bed can, indeed, disturb your sleep, so it’s important to pay attention to which exercises you choose to do. Researchers also cautioned that this was just one study, and that not everybody’s body responds the same way to exercise.

Post-workout insomnia is not a new topic, as there are many reports of people struggling to fall asleep if they exercise at night. One reason for this is your muscles have their own circadian rhythm, which prefers a good daytime workout over intensive nighttime exercise.

So, one reason for your struggle to sleep right after exercise could be that you’re overexercising and stimulating those muscles too much shortly before bed. The lesson is to try saving your most vigorous workouts for mornings or afternoons.

That said, the vast majority of people sleep better after exercise. If evening is the most convenient time of day for you to exercise and it doesn’t interfere with your sleep, then by all means continue. Then, if you have trouble falling asleep, you might want to try the military method for preparing your body for sleep.

This involves deeply relaxing for about two minutes, and training your body to relax quickly but gently one body part at a time. On the other hand, if you are one of the folks who has a hard time nodding off after an evening workout no matter what strategy you employ, then you might want to change up your routine.

Consider reserving your evening exercise sessions for less strenuous exercises like yoga, Pilates, or even an evening walk. Or just try lowering the intensity of what you’re already doing. Restorative yoga is particularly beneficial for stress reduction, relaxation and sleep.

Another benefit of vigorous exercise in the morning is that it makes it easier to do while fasting, which will amplify the benefits you receive. Research has shown that exercising on an empty stomach is useful for preventing both weight gain and insulin resistance.

If you’re not sure which time of day you prefer to exercise, you can do some experimentation of your own. Perhaps try a month of exercising in the morning, followed by a month of exercising in the afternoon, as your schedule allows. With the increasing realizations of the importance of circadian rhythms on human health, and the suggestion that afternoon exercise may be best for optimization of same, it may be that afternoon exercise stands out above the rest.

Ultimately, however, you should listen to your body and let it be your guide in choosing what time of day works best for you. For many people, the “best” time to exercise may also change day-to-day to accommodate schedules, and that’s fine too.

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