Workout Timing and Insomnia
The relationship between sleep and exercise has been investigated extensively over the years.1,2
Studies have shown that proper exercise can actually alleviate problems with falling asleep and help you sleep well at night.2 This is because exercise increases our "sleep drive" – literally our drive to sleep. In addition, poor or insufficient sleep can lead to lower levels of physical activity the next day, creating a bit of a vicious circle. Optimizing an exercise routine can help with sleeping better and promote healthier physical activity levels the next day.
Exercise and sleep quality
In addition to the other benefits of exercise, people who exercise for at least 30 minutes a day could see a significant difference in their quality of sleep that very night. Moderate aerobic exercise increases the amount of deep sleep we get and also helps with stabilizing mood and reducing mental stresses and anxieties.2
While research generally focuses on aerobic activity and sleep, picking any exercise, including powerlifting or an active yoga class, will also elevate your heart rate and help create a biological process in the brain and body, contributing to better sleep quality.
Evening exercise considerations
The issues cited with evening exercise are not always borne out in the research, which is mixed. However, typical sleep hygiene handouts say that aerobic exercise causes the body to release endorphins, a chemical that creates a level of activity in the brain and causes some people to stay awake.
Additionally, there are concerns that exercise raises core body temperature, and rises in core body temperature typically precede waking. However, 30 to 90 minutes after exercising, the core body temperature starts to fall, and falls in body temperature are associated with sleep (due to a lack of muscular activity).
Recommendations, not rules
For these reasons, it's often recommended that you should exercise at least 2 hours before bedtime so the endorphin levels lower by the time you head for sleep.1 But it's important to know that there is no hard and fast overall guidance. There is no strict rule with exercise timing, and sometimes a behavioural experiment should be tried to see what makes an impact.
Exercise and falling asleep
According to a study that looked at how long it takes to fall asleep, evening exercise does not only affect sleep but also helps people spend more time in deep sleep and fall asleep faster.3
On the contrary, the study also concluded that high-intensity exercise and interval training less than an hour before sleeping makes it difficult to fall asleep and results in poor quality sleep.3
Finding your ideal exercise time
Some people find that the time of the day they exercise does not make a difference despite the biological response. They see a benefit to their sleep whether the exercise is early morning or close to bedtime.2
A pragmatic approach would be to do what some researchers suggest: exercise, being mindful of whether the timing affects your ability to get optimal quality sleep.2
Did you add exercise into your life to help improve your sleep? Did you notice a difference between morning, afternoon, and evening workouts? We'd love to know!
Which of the following have you tried to help with insomnia?