Regular movement can pay off in many areas, including your sleep. Exercising has long been considered part of a solid sleep hygiene routine, but does it matter what time of day you do it? While it depends on the person, psychologist and behavioral sleep medicine specialist Shelby Harris, PsyD, DBSM, has found that when it comes to helping shut-eye, there’s one exercise time window that trumps the rest. Here’s how to go from counting reps to counting sheep.
The ideal time window for sleep.
Though it’s not always possible for everyone, Harris, the author of The Women’s Guide to Overcoming Insomnia, generally recommends exercising four to six hours before bed.
Why, you ask? “Your body temperature starts to decrease about an hour or two before bed,” she says on a call with mbg. This temperature shift is an important part of the wind-down process that gets you ready for rest.
“If you exercise within three hours of going to bed, which is what a lot of people do, you’re raising your body temperature, which can get in the way of you falling asleep,” Harris adds. Exercising earlier in the evening, on the other hand, will give you plenty of time to cool down, eat, and digest your final meal of the day (nothing too heavy, fatty, or spicy if sleep is a priority) before snoozing.
And since exercise releases endorphins and brings more oxygen to the brain, doing so close to bedtime—but not too close—may help get you in the right mindset for sleep. One 2018 review in the journal Sports Medicine found that evening exercise did indeed help people fall asleep faster and spend more time in deep sleep stages, seeing as it wrapped up at least an hour before bedtime. Exercising at night may also be more physically rewarding, as research has found that it takes about 20% longer to reach exhaustion in the evenings compared to the mornings.
It’s worth pointing out that someone’s sleep habits, types of workouts, and age can all affect this ideal exercise window. For example, Harris, a distance runner, says that she used to have no problem running close to bedtime but stopped being able to train at night once she reached her mid-30s.
These days, she exercises in the morning—which she’s found neither helps nor hurts sleep quality. However, she cautions that people who have trouble sleeping through the night and tend to wake up super early should avoid morning workouts, as they can train your body to keep waking up at that time.ADVERTISEMENT
The bottom line.
If you’ve already found a workout type and time that helps out your sleep, stick with it. But if not, consider moving your workout window to four to six hours before bed and see if it helps you push harder and sleep easier.