Life can often feel like a scrum between work, social life and family, and it’s hard to find a place to slot in selfcare and self improvement amidst all that. For some of us, the only reliable time we have to schedule in regular exercise is late in the evening. But you may be hesitant to start or continue physical activity at night, thanks to that classic piece of wisdom that says doing exercise before bed can cause insomnia. In the quest to be healthy, what do you sacrifice? Sleep or exercise?
Relax! There’s good news: exercise and sleep problems don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand, and in certain cases it can actually be worth doing exercise before bed to help you sleep better. There are some important things to keep in mind, however, so in this article we give you the lowdown on exercise in the evening, along with some helpful tips.
Article Overview: Exercise before sleep
Does exercise help you sleep or keep you awake?
There’s no question that regular exercise is healthy. It strengthens our heart and circulation, promotes blood flow to our organs, and can also teach better posture and deeper breathing. Exercise is considered a mood-booster that helps relieve stress and clears the mind.
Although many people can only fit in a workout routine in the evening, gyms with late opening hours and online fitness programmes make this an achievable goal for everyone. And, at least theoretically, that clear mind and exhausted body post-workout should do wonders for a good night’s sleep. Right?
It might not work out quite that way. After an intense workout, the body needs a little time to shut down again, so that heart rate and breathing can return to normal, and other parts of your system can reach a more relaxed state. This indicates that it’s not a great idea to get exercise in the evening before sleep. So what’s the deal?
Whether evening exercise can help or hinder sleep depends on at least three things:
- Your chronotype
- Your own attitude towards sport
- The type and intensity of your workout
Let's take a closer look.
How your chronotype affects exercise and sleep
You probably know a little about the circadian rhythm, the natural process that powers your body’s internal clock and controls when we feel tired or awake. In general, it goes something like this:
- After waking up, our energy level slowly increases until it peaks for the first time (around 10am-12pm).
- This first peak is followed by the first low, also known as the "midday low" (around 1-2pm).
- Afterwards, our energy level slowly rises again until we reach a second peak (starting from about 3pm).
- Finally, we get tired after the second peak and eventually fall asleep (starting from about 9pm).
You probably read that and immediately thought it doesn't really apply to you. This is where chronotypes come into play, or what we usually think of as the “early birds” and “night owls”.
Early-rising larks find it easy to get up in the morning, and can experience their first energy peak around 7-8am. Then there are the owls, who are very nearly useless in the morning, but feel energised in the evening and can still experience their second peak after midnight. Most people are a mix of the two, but some fall distinctly at either end of the spectrum.
How do chronotypes affect exercise before sleep? If you're an early bird who feels tired at nine o'clock in the evening, you don't really want to do exercise at 8.30pm, as it might energise your body when it’s getting ready for bedtime, and end up keeping you awake longer. But on the other hand, a night owl who has to get up early and go to work could benefit from burning off extra energy in the evening, so they can get some rest at a reasonable time.
So whether exercise before sleep is good or bad ultimately comes down to the individual. One good course of action is to try working out at different times and keep a record of when you were able to sleep well and when you weren’t.
Then there’s another important factor that affects how you handle exercise and sleep: your own attitude.
How do you feel about exercise in the evening?
It’s possible to do the same workout, at the same time and under the same circumstances, yet still have it affect your sleep in completely different ways on different days. The question here is, how do you feel about working out that day?
- Pressure and stress: Do you feel guilty if you don't make it to the gym? Is exercise just another box to tick on your already packed to-do list?
- Release and rejuvenation: Are you looking forward to switching off in the evening and clearing your mind? Does exercise help ground and relax you?
You can see where this is going. If you’re exhausted in the evening and an extra nagging task just stresses you out, exercise probably won’t help you sleep. Instead, try taking a long walk during your lunch break and give yourself permission to wind down while sitting down in the evening. You could even indulge yourself in a little relaxation with our VAAY #Sleep series.
What kind of exercise should you do before sleep?
Let’s see what science says here. Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich conducted a meta-analysis of 23 studies to investigate the relationship between evening exercise and sleep. Their conclusion: Moderate exercise even up to one hour before bedtime had no negative impact on how long it took to fall asleep or sleep quality. The researchers even found that deep sleep duration was slightly prolonged, although not enough to make a general statement about it. A single study found that intensive workouts one hour before bedtime were linked with poorer sleep, but these results need to be looked at with more scrutiny.
So it seems the conventional advice about exercising before sleep doesn’t hold much water, and that moderate exercise may even be beneficial. What is "moderate” exercise? This is an intensity at which you’re exerting yourself enough to get your heart pumping, but aren’t struggling so much that you can’t talk. Activities that fit in this category will depend on your fitness level, but light jogging and cycling on flat terrain are two popular examples. High-intensity strength training, interval training and uphill cycling are some examples of strenuous exercises best avoided in the evening.
Tip: If you’re an athlete, why not try complimenting your training with CBD at the end of your workout?
And then there’s the classic exercise for before bed to help improve sleep: yoga.
Practicing yoga to help you sleep
There are several reasons why yoga and sleep work so well. One of the benefits of yoga is that it puts you in touch with your body, calming your mind and helping you focus. But beyond this mental relaxation, yoga can also benefit sleep in other ways. For example, certain exercises help release tension in the spine and back. Some poses, like the child pose, can also create a sense of safety and security that helps promote sleepiness.
Slow-paced yin yoga is a popular style of yoga for falling asleep. Calm, relaxing poses like the butterfly open up the body, including the hips. According to yoga philosophy, the hips are where emotions are stored, so these poses can release bound-up tensions. Yin yoga also calls for deep breathing, which helps the body relax and become tired.
If you don’t feel like getting so active in the evening, there’s also finger yoga to combat sleep disorders. As the name suggestions, this type of yoga focuses solely on the fingers and hands, which are gently massaged and then held in certain positions. It sounds a bit esoteric, but who can argue with a hand massage? Concentrating on these poses can also help quiet your mind. No matter what kind of yoga you choose, why not consider combining it with CBD?
If you want to get straight to yoga’s sleep benefits without having to wind yourself into different poses, our hot tip for you is yoga nidra.
Yoga Nidra to fall asleep
Yoga nidra is what is known as “yogic sleep”. This is about inducing a very deep relaxation, like the semi-conscious mental state you fall into during meditation or just before going to sleep. Yoga nidra before sleep is said to relieve not only anxiety, worry and stress, but also physically relax the body. While there hasn’t been much research done into the effects of yoga nidra for sleep, it definitely couldn’t hurt to try.
How does this sleep yoga work? Unlike other types of yoga, there are no special poses—it’s usually done while laying on your back. At the beginning, it's best to get professional guidance from a yoga teacher, or even a sleep-focused yoga nidra YouTube video. The standard routine takes about 30 minutes and usually is structured as follows:.
- Coming to rest in the “corpse pose”, gaining mindfulness of body and breathing.
- Setting a positive guiding principle to strengthen the spirit.
- Consciously focusing on individual parts of the body, repeated several times to "cycle" through.
- Imagining opposing sensations—like warm and cold or hard and soft—are felt in the body.
- Visualising images, like a beautiful natural environment.
- Repeating the guiding principle.
- Gently returning to reality.
Getting into a meditative state this way may well do wonders for your sleep, and you can also try deepening that meditation with CBD.
Not ready to relax with yoga, or risk it with exercise? There are still plenty of other things you can do to improve your sleep. We highly recommend practicing good sleep hygiene to gear up both yourself and your surroundings for some solid sleep. An evening routine can also work wonders, which you can learn about our article on getting to sleep faster and staying that way. And if you do decide to fit in a workout in at the end of the day, you can rest assured that moderate exercise shouldn’t have a negative impact on your sleep.