As we’ve all heard, timing is everything. And that’s true for exercise and sleep quality.
Without a doubt, exercise can help you sleep better.
Determining the when to exercise for improving sleep quality is a different story.
In today’s busy lifestyles, knowing the when to exercise can make all the difference between having a refreshing night’s sleep or a restless one. Yet, timing can be challenging.
Here’s a look at three evidence-based timing options to improve your sleep quality based on your lifestyle.
Let’s find your fit for ZZZZZZ…..
Some researchers found that morning exercise is best for improving sleep quality.(1)
These findings support the notion that morning exercise may help to set a person’s circadian rhythms (also known as ‘body clock’) to be awake during the day and asleep at night.
This group of research reveals that for some people, exercising at night may create a pattern of the body being “too” awake later at night. When the body is “too” awake at night, a good night’s rest is more difficult.
How do you know if you’re an early bird? Test your timing.
Rate your sleep quality each day for a week or use a fitbit with sleep tracker. Then for the next week, do at least three workouts a week in A.M. before work and again rate your sleep quality each day of the week. You’ll know if you need to pay attention to your body clock or not.
What if being an early bird doesn’t seem to make a difference?
Or getting up early is just not for you?
Good news. Some research on exercise and sleep suggests that the optimal time to exercise is when the body temperature is at its highest, which, for most people is 4 P.M. to 5 P.M. (2)
Exercise tends to further increase the body temperature. Therefore, working out when the body temperature is at its highest, allows for a one-time cool down post exercise.
Why does this matter?
It takes a few hours after exercise for the body temperature to cool down. According to the National Sleep Foundation, the body tends to fall asleep when its internal temperature is relatively lower.
Since exercise tends to increase the body temperature and it takes a few hours after exercise for the body temperature to cool down, a workout when the body is at its temperature peak, allows time for a single cool down period.
Yet, for some, the National Sleep Foundation also reported that a workout within one or two hours before bed might not support a quality night’s sleep.
Not good news for evening exercisers….or is it?
Although research tends to support the idea that the best quality night’s rest can be had with three workouts a week before 7 p.m., there are great sleep quality options for late nighters!
If you have a hectic lifestyle that leaves later evening (after 7 p.m.) as the only exercise time available, check out some lighter and more gentle options.
Why do these work?
The lighter, calmer exercises keep your body temperature lower, which is the body’s natural preference for improved sleep quality. Plus, they still provide the benefits exercise has on overall sleep quality.
Here’s some do-at-home evening examples:
Yoga: Yoga varies in forms so pick a DVD that emphasizes slow, steady movement and gentle stretching. Look for descriptions or labels like gentle, for stress relief, or for beginners, as opposed to Power Yoga. For a recommended option, click here.
Tai Chi: Tai Chi is a safe, low-impact option for people of all ages and levels of fitness, including older adults and those recovering from injuries.
It is best to start with instruction, however, for a good beginner lesson, check out this one.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation: This is a promising natural remedy for sleep while also providing a toning effect if done consistently. The best thing about this technique is that it is easy to learn and simple to master. For a good start, click here.
Mental ‘Muscle’ Relaxation: I am referring to a calming exercise that changes your physiology causing the body to relax, one that calms and centers the mind and focuses on slow, relaxed breathing. All that is required is an acceptance of a more holistic approach to exercise. Closing your eyes and taking several deep breaths is an example of a very simple and very effective calming exercise, one that can be done just before bedtime. This type of exercise allows you to unwind before bed while improving internal health. For a relaxing option, click here.
Try these in any combination until you have a preferred plan that enhances your sleep quality.
With regard to the effects of exercise on sleep quality, several studies show that exercising does indeed improve overall sleep quality. If you have a lifestyle that allows you to experiment finding the best workout time for yourself, then I suggest considering the recommendations provided above and journaling about your sleep responses related to the time and exercises you do. Patterns will emerge that will provide you with your optimum when.
- Working out in the early A.M. before a work day may provide the body’s best sleep quality by supporting a natural body clock for wakefulness and sleep.
- Workouts done in the late afternoon/early evening when the body temperature is naturally high, can positively affect sleep quality when done a few hours before bedtime to allow for the body’s need to cool down before sleep.
- When workout time is after 7 P.M., lighter, calming exercises can provide equally good sleep quality benefits.
Thank you for reading!
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Tworoger SS, Yasui Y, Vitiello MV, Schwartz RS, Ulrich CM, Aiello EJ, Irwin ML, Bowen D, Potter JD, McTiernan A. Sleep. 2003 Nov 1;26 (7):830-6.
Hill, David W.; Cureton, Kirk J.; Collins, Mitchell A. Circadian Specificity in Exercise Training, Ergonomics, Volume 32, Issue 1 January 1989, pages 79-92.