It’s no secret that getting enough sleep is essential for our wellbeing in many ways, helping our brains function at top speed, keeping our immune system strong, helping skin glow, and more. Feeling tired is one of the main cues our bodies give to tell us it’s time to sleep. And getting regular exercise is a well-known way to improve sleep quality.
But if you’ve come home exhausted after an evening workout only to toss and turn in frustration, you may wonder if exercise is having the opposite effect. According to Outside, you may be onto something. They recently ran article highlighting research into how morning vs. evening workouts affect sleep patterns. Here’s what they found.
Melatonin is a hormone that helps regulate your sleep cycle. It rises toward the end of the day, reducing your body temperature and helping you fall asleep; in the morning, melatonin production drops off, reversing these effects. In their study, researchers at the University of New England measured the melatonin levels of 12 volunteers on three different days: one day after a tough workout performed at 9 a.m., one day after the same workout performed at 4 p.m., and one day with no workout.
Study participants showed a lower rise in melatonin the night after completing a tough PM workout, suggesting that morning may be the best time to exercise for a good night’s sleep. However, if you’re an evening exerciser, don’t abandon your efforts—the benefits of regular exercise outweigh any negative effect on sleep quality.
Study participants showed a significantly lower rise in melatonin levels the night after their 4pm workout compared to the morning and zero workout days. This suggests that morning may be the best time to workout to ensure a good night’s sleep.
While morning exercise may be less likely to interfere with sleep, this is not a hard and fast rule for everyone nor for every type of workout. For example, some people find working out after a tough day feels relaxing—it can clear the mind and reduce stress that would otherwise keep you awake. Also, some of us are simply night owls and waking up unnaturally early to squeeze in a workout could interfere with sleep by cutting your night short.
If you’d like to improve your sleep but find morning workouts unappealing or unrealistic, consider making changes in other areas which can impact your sleep patterns, such as avoiding screens leading up to bedtime and keeping devices out of the bedroom.
In short, if your favorite time to work out is after work, don’t abandon your exercise efforts—the benefits of regular exercise far outweigh any negative effect on sleep quality. Keep up the good work, and sweet dreams!