The One Exercise You Should Never Do Before Bed

While exercising is generally good for you, doing this could make it harder to sleep.

Finding time to exercise is important, even when you keep a busy schedule, but that doesn't mean there's never a bad time to work up a sweat. Surprisingly, experts say exercising at night could be negatively impacting your sleep. While some workouts are OK to do before jumping into bed, there is one kind of exercise in particular that could be keeping you awake. Read on to find out what fitness practice should be relegated to the daytime hours.

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Don't do strenuous exercise within 90 minutes of going to bed.

When workouts get too strenuous, the number of infection-fighting white blood cells in your body can go down. At the same time, your stress hormone cortisol may go up, which may interfere with the ability of certain immune cells to work right.
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According to the experts at Sleep.org, "Engaging in more strenuous exercise in the 90 minutes before sleep could make falling asleep more difficult." And there's research to back that up. An Oct. 2018 study published in the journal Sports Medicine found that while exercising in the evening is generally not an issue, intense workouts within an hour of bedtime can negatively impact your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep, as well as reduce the quality of your sleep.

"Strenuous exercise is even more likely to disturb sleep by revving us up," nurse practitioner Mimi Secor, DNP, says. "Several hours before bedtime, it is generally best to minimize major exercise."

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You need to give your body time to recover from a big workout before sleep.

woman lying on bed at home unhappy and sleepless at night feeling overwhelmed suffering depression problem and insomnia
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Putting 90 minutes between a strenuous workout and bedtime is essential, experts say. Per Sleep.org, "Your body and mind need that 90 minutes to cool down from a workout." As the site explains, during an aerobic workout, your heart rate and body temperature both increase, which gives you a boost of energy and an increase in endorphins. While these benefits are excellent for your health overall, they're not conducive to falling asleep.

Sleep specialist and neuroscientist Chelsie Rohrscheib, PhD, points out that exercising gives you a jolt of energy via the hormone cortisol. "Cortisol is excellent for increasing energy levels, but is not especially great for sleep because it's wake-promoting. If you exercise too close to bedtime, you risk having lingering blood cortisol levels, which makes it more difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep," she says. "There is even a term for this in sleep science, called 'runner's insomnia,' although it's not exclusive to running."

There are a handful of exercises that you can do right before bed that won't keep you awake.

Woman doing yoga at home
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If you want to squeeze in a workout, Sleep.org suggests sticking to low- to moderate-intensity activities before bed. "Low-intensity exercises before bedtime can provide you with the health benefits of exercise without increasing your heart rate and body temperature," the site says. "These activities can help prepare your mind and body for relaxation and sleep." Pilates, stretching, and meditation are among the best exercises to do before bed.

According to Rohrscheib, "Light cardio exercises, which moderately raise your heart rate—such as walking, riding a stationary bike on low resistance, or swimming—are usually fine" to do before going to sleep. She adds that "yoga is especially beneficial before bed, because not only are you getting exercise, but you're also helping your body to relax for sleep."

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Working out in the afternoon may help you fall asleep faster.

A senior man stretching with a group of people in a park while exercising
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You can work out at any time outside of the 90 minutes before bed without it having negative consequences on your sleep, according to Sleep.org. But if you want to improve your sleep, you may want to be a little more pointed about when you squeeze in a workout. A 2006 study published in Sleep and Biological Rhythms found that people who exercised in the afternoon enjoyed better sleep. According to the study's findings, 70 percent of people who worked out between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. reported an easier time falling asleep, 66 percent reported experiencing deeper sleep, and 65 percent said they woke up feeling better.

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Allie Hogan
Allie Hogan is a Brooklyn based writer currently working on her first novel. Read more
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