Conventional wisdom states that exercising before bed is a good idea – if you’re looking to stay awake.
After all, working out increases your adrenaline and kicks up your heart rate and body temperature. And, obviously, that can only serve to keep you up at night.
Well, not quite. There’s some truth to that conclusion, to be sure, but only for a segment of the population. Surprisingly, the majority can sleep just as well, or even better, if they go to bed after working out than if they worked out earlier in the day.
The Pros of Working Out Before Bed
While conventional wisdom remains stubbornly ubiquitous, studies and polls have been conducted that actually contradict it.
It turns out that working out before bed is not only harmless, but it’s probably better for you than the alternative.
Here are a few fast facts:
- Sleep in America – a poll conducted in 2013 – found that exercise performed at any time, day or night, actually improved quality of sleep. In fact, it found that this was also true of those people who worked out somewhere in the four hours before they went to bed.
- Researchers at ETH Zurich took this a bit further. They performed an analysis of 23 studies and concluded that those who worked out within four hours before bed actually spent more time in deep sleep than those who didn’t. More time in deep sleep means better quality.
- This is also confirmed by a study conducted by the University of California that found that, in many cases, exercising at night time could actually improve sleep; it found that its subjects were able to fall asleep just thirty minutes after working out.
- As we said earlier, exercising raises your body temperature; this increase has been found to compare to relaxing in a hot tub. So it follows that running before bed is, essentially, as soothing and sleep-inducing as going for a dip.
That’s right – if your goal is to become a faster runner, then you might want to look into running before bed. Researchers from the University of Essex have shown that those who run in the dark of night feel as if they’re exerting more energy and actually running faster than they would have if they’d been running in daylight. This feeling translates into results, giving credence to the idea that if you believe you can, you can.
It doesn’t just stop at running though. The same researchers found that cyclists reported the same results as runners did.
This is because your ability to gauge how fast you’re going in relation to everything around you decreases significantly – remember, everything around you is enveloped in darkness, making it harder for you to see. So you actually end up going faster by accident.
Of course, this benefit isn’t gained by those who prefer running indoors to running outdoors. The next one is though.
If nothing else, incorporating a bit of exercise before bed can really go a long way in helping you to lose weight.
Well, it’s simple: most impulsive eating happens when your willpower is lowest. Think about it. Every morning you wake up and will your body to slide out of bed even if you don’t want to; you quickly get ready, hustle out the door because you have to, because you can’t be late for work; and then you spend the day exhausting yourself, trying to concentrate on whatever it is you do for a living.
When you get home, you’re beat. It’d be easier to just grab a tub of ice cream out of the freezer than to cook a healthy meal, wouldn’t it?
Not if you use your last bit of willpower for the day to exercise before bed.
You might be wondering if using your last bit of willpower to exercise before bed is a good idea. You might be asking yourself, “Wouldn’t that make me more likely to gorge when I get back home? That would mean I’m 100% wiped and wouldn’t be able to control myself!”
Exercising or running after work can actually serve as sublimation, as an outlet for all the grief or exasperation you might have endured at work or in your personal life throughout the day. Running in particular has a plethora of benefits, especially for, but not limited to, mental health. It can help reduce stress and be used to allay depression.
In other words, running can literally help you to “worry not.”
It’ll flood your body with endorphins and adrenaline, which translates into more energy, which in turn translates into you keeping your paws off junk food before you hit the sack.
Wake Up Calmer
A lot of people swear by an early morning schedule – early to bed, early to rise, as Ben Franklin once said.
Others hate those people – because waking up in the morning just to go to work is a seriously stressful, even painful, thing for them. If you’re one of these people, doing a workout before bed might be their best bet.
That way you can wake up a little later and have an easier time transforming from a barely-awake zombie into a productive member of society
The Cons of Working Out Before Bed
This actually varies from person to person.
As we saw above, most studies to point to the conclusion that exercising before bed actually has a positive effect for an overwhelming majority of people.
But almost all of these studies, and most professionals, also caution that people who already suffer from sleep disorders or some other kind of malady should not be exercising before bed. Doing so might even make sleep harder.
It’s also wise – if you can help it – to avoid doing high-intensity workouts an hour or two before bed. Those researchers from ETH Zurich found that HIIT workouts actually have a negative effect on sleep. So keep it moderate if you can’t run earlier in the day.
Succumb to Distractions
Lots of people choose to run in the mornings because those early hours before work are the ones that they have the most control over. This makes sense, because life as a way of throwing obstacles and lemons at you as the day progresses, and you don’t always have a means of making lemonade handy.
You might, for example, be tempted to go out and have a drink – or eat junk food – with friends; or you might have to deal with an urgent family matter; or maybe the work day was unusually stressful and overbearing that you just want to go home and go to sleep and forget the day.
If your life is generally hectic, you might want to consider running in the morning before the next catastrophe has the chance to derail your plans.
Our Verdict: Should You Be Exercising or Running Before Bed?
Well, the answer is obvious.
We just listed five pros to two cons – so provided you don’t have any trouble going to sleep after working out, that means we give you the green light.
In fact, we actually encourage it. If you’re a morning person, or into Tabata training or HIIT or anything high-intensity, we still encourage you to do some light exercise before bed if you can help it.
For this, we recommend yoga or some stretching, both of which have been proven to improve sleep as well as running performance.
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