If you’ve been struggling to drift off, you’ve probably tried all sorts of strategies to fall asleep faster: Put your phone away at a decent hour, make your bedroom relaxing, and stop exercising before bed.
Wait, hold up. Does working out at night really mess with your sleep?
It’s a valid question if you don’t have tons of free time to exercise during the day; for a lot of people, evenings may be the only option to squeeze in a session. But many folks are reluctant to sweat before they sleep because they think a workout might rile up their body and mind, making it hard to wind down.
Rest assured: A 2019 review published in the journal Sports Medicine concluded that the science does not support the idea that exercise before bed revs you up—“rather the opposite,” the researchers wrote. A separate 2022 review published in Nature and Science of Sleep supported that statement and added that some moderate-intensity evening routines helped people sleep better.
There’s no “magic hour” for fitness, and “working out at night is better than no exercise at all,” Thom Manning, MS, CSCS, a sleep and recovery coach with the fitness app Future, tells SELF. That said, some routines—mainly, super intense exercise done very close to bedtime—can make getting quality sleep a little trickier. Here’s what you should know.
Yes, certain nighttime workouts can hinder your sleep.
Doing intense workouts—say, Peloton’s latest HIIT cycling class or a sprint-heavy running session—too close to bedtime (within an hour or so) can mess with your body’s thermoregulation, a process that’s key to good sleep because it messes with your core temperature, Thomas Kilkenny, DO, the director of Staten Island University Hospital’s Institute of Sleep Medicine, tells SELF.
“The brain falls asleep better on a decreasing temperature curve,” he explains. That drop in body temperature naturally starts about two hours before you doze off. So if you raise your internal temperature through vigorous physical activity—whether you were lifting heavy or doing cardio—without giving yourself enough cool-down time, your sleep quality may suffer.
Doing these high-intensity workouts before bed also may make it harder to fall asleep to begin with, likely because they increase your heart rate, as a small 2014 study in the European Journal of Applied Physiology suggests. The effects of intense exercise continue even after you nod off, too. Bouts of hard exercise before bed can lead to less REM sleep, a stage that’s crucial for processing emotions, memory consolidation, brain development, and more.
So…what’s the best type of workout to do at night?
You don’t have to stop exercising before bed if that’s the time that works best with your schedule. You may just need to tweak your workouts if you’re not sleeping great after them.
Based on the research we have, Dr. Kilkenny recommends trying moderate-intensity exercise if you prefer to work out at night. According to the 2022 review in Nature and Science of Sleep, this type of activity may support more restorative sleep—which is important for the repair and regeneration of tissues throughout your body. This means training in the evening may also enhance post-exercise recovery, helping to mend any tiny muscle tears that exercise may cause and allowing them to grow back stronger.
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