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Is it bad to work out at night?

Working out in the evening can be relaxing and gratifying

Working out in the evening can be relaxing and gratifying

Is it bad to work out at night?

Tristan Hoag

By Tristan Hoag on April 12, 2018

Instead of asking ‘is it bad to work out at night’, you should be figuring out when it’s the best time for you to work out

In a time when our understanding of the interaction of exercise, nutrition and sleep seems to be changing constantly, it can be difficult to know the best things to do for your health. With so many fad diets and exercise plans, each with conflicting explanations backed by scientific studies, you start to feel overwhelmed.

If you're trying to schedule an exercise routine, you may have come across conflicting messages about exercise before bed that have you asking, "Is it bad to work out at night?"

Working out at night

While it was once thought that working out at night was detrimental to your sleep schedule, a growing body of evidence is showing this to be untrue.

The prevailing logic was that the increased heart rate and the release of hormones like cortisol and adrenaline would keep you awake, throwing you off your schedule. The argument sounds right, because after a workout you can still feel the effects for a while after as your body continues to burn calories. Called the afterburn effect, it accounts for the energy consumed by the body as it resets itself to normal after the workout, rebuilding damaged muscle fibers, cleaning out lactic acid, and replenishing oxygen stores.

But the afterburn effects peak within an hour, and after that, they shouldn’t have a significant effect on your sleep pattern.

And with studies showing that people who exercise at night are keeping normal sleep schedules, there aren’t a lot of good reasons to avoid evening exercise.

So, is it bad to work out at night? Not only is it fine, there are even benefits to doing so, including:

  • Eating and drinking less after work
  • Releasing tension from the day
  • Avoiding the hottest time of the day for exercise

As an additional benefit, your body temperature and muscle strength peak between four in the afternoon and six in the evening, so this is the best time to build strength.

Scheduling your evening workouts

Perhaps the biggest challenge to scheduling an evening workout is leaving time for a snack before sleep. When you work out, you burn a lot of your resources, and these are further depleted while you sleep. If your exercise is accompanied by a calorie restrictive diet, you may find yourself overly hungry when you wake up.

As a result, you should leave enough time to recover from your workout and have a healthy snack before you go to bed. An hour or two should be plenty of time for this.

What if you aren’t sure what to eat after a workout at night? After a workout, your body needs protein and carbohydrates, so you should look for snacks that combine them, such as:

  • A banana and a protein shake
  • Rice cakes with peanut butter and banana
  • A pita with hummus
  • Yogurt and fresh berries
  • Tuna on whole wheat bread
  • Turkey, cheese and apple slices

A healthy snack with a glass of water after your workout will help you to recharge your body before you head to bed for the night.

Yoga is a good low-stress workout that shouldn't impact your sleep schedule

Yoga is a good low-stress workout that shouldn't impact your sleep schedule

Exercising around sleep problems

It’s easy to talk about a how exercising affects a normal sleep schedule, but what if your schedule isn’t normal? People who have trouble sleeping should watch to see how the evening workout impacts your efforts to maintain a normal sleep schedule.

You should use common sense here. If you find that you have a harder time sleeping after a night workout, you should probably exercise earlier in the day. In some instances, workout before sleep can be helpful to someone struggling to sleep. Dr. Arun Phophalia, a surgeon and expert on JustAnswer, offers these suggestions to a customer who is having a hard time sleeping:

1) Avoidance of caffeine, alcohol, or nicotine

2) Exercise before bed time

3) Relaxation exercises

4) Yoga

5) Medications for involuntary body movements such as pramipexole (Mirapex) and ropinirole hydrochloride.

At the end of the day, each of us is affected differently by sleep, nutrition and exercise. So if you're worried about evening exercise and insomnia, it really comes down to how your sleep patterns are affected.

Knowing the best time to exercise

There aren’t many fields where the science can be as fluid and self-contradictory as nutrition and exercise. Some of this is the result of the availability of new information. As new studies come out, even the most questionable conclusions can be misinterpreted and publicized, and they can go viral, spawning new fad diets and exercise routines. 

The important thing is not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good. The people who gain the most benefit from exercising are the ones who get out and do the exercise. The single most important exercise decision you can make is to get started.

Some people might prefer to start their day with a workout, while others may find that an evening session helps them sleep better. If there is a time that works best for you, feels right, and makes you more likely to actually go to the gym, do it!

That is the best time for you to exercise!

If you're looking for quick answers to your health questions, like "Is it bad to work out at night?," you can count on the qualified Experts at JustAnswer to get you the information that you need, when you need it!

When do you prefer to exercise? Tell us in the comments!