With a busy work, family, and social schedule, it can feel especially tough to squeeze a workout into our day. Not only that, but if you do manage to take the time to exercise, you want to make sure that you’re getting the most bang for your workout buck.
One of our Thrive Microsteps (a too-small-to-fail, science-backed behavior change that you can implement right away) is to exercise each day, because any type of physical activity will help you sleep better. But are some times of day better for a workout than others?
Traditionally, experts have suggested avoiding nighttime exercise in order to maintain good sleep hygiene, Howard LeWine, M.D., the editor-in-chief of Harvard Men’s Health Watch notes. But he points to a new study, published in Sports Medicine, which suggests that you actually can exercise in the evening without disturbing your sleep, as long as you still avoid vigorous activity for at least one hour before going to bed. So how does exercising at different times of day (and night) affect your sleep?
After examining the results of 23 different exercise and sleep studies, researchers found that people who exercised in the evening fell asleep faster and achieved deeper sleep than they would otherwise. The exception to this is anyone who did high-intensity exercise — such as interval training — less than one hour before bedtime. In those instances, it took people longer to fall asleep, and they experienced poorer sleep quality. If you do prefer an evening workout, it’s best to stick to less vigorous activities.
Exercising first thing in the morning can also prompt deeper sleep at night, according to the National Sleep Foundation. For instance, the NSF’s research has found that people who worked out on a treadmill at 7 a.m. slept longer at night, experienced deeper sleep cycles, and spent 75 percent more time in the most reparative stages of sleep than those who exercised later on.
If getting up early isn’t an option, the NSF also found that working out in the afternoon has its own set of benefits — including the fact that your body temperature is one or two degrees warmer than it is in the morning, which means you’ll move around more efficiently, decreasing your chance of injuries. Afternoon exercise can also help with your nighttime sleep because working out raises your body’s core temperature for four to five hours. Later in the evening, when your temperature decreases, that change signals to your body that it’s time to get ready to sleep.
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