Hidden Ways Your Workouts Impact Your Sleep

Learn about the effects different types of workouts have on your sleep quality and duration.

By Jillian Mueller

We’ve all heard that both regular exercise and getting enough sleep are essential parts of a healthy lifestyle, but did you know that your exercise routine could actually make it more difficult to get a good night’s sleep? 

This article will help you learn about how to time your workouts and choose the correct activity for you to reap all the benefits of a great night’s sleep from the hard work you put into your fitness routine.

Overall, exercise has a positive impact on the quality of your sleep. Getting 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity a week, or working out 30 minutes a day, 5 times a week, can provide a 65 percent improvement in sleep quality, according to The National Sleep Foundation

Some workouts, however, get your blood pumping, raise your body temperature, and make it more difficult to wind down for bed and sleep soundly. Losing sleep after a hard workout can even undo some of the benefits of exercise by causing hormonal disruptions that lead to weight gain and make it harder to build muscle.

Choosing the different types of exercise at the right times of day, however, can help reset your body’s natural sleep cycle, moderate your body temperature and burn off extra energy so that you are ready to get a full night of quality zzz’s when bedtime comes around. 

How Exercise Helps You Sleep Better

  • Resets the sleep-wake cycle   
  • Lowers stress levels
  • Encourages deeper sleep
  • Natural therapy for insomnia and other sleep disorders 

Physical activity can be an invaluable key to a great night’s sleep. Exercising during the day naturally resets the sleep-wake cycle (aka circadian rhythm) so you’re ready to rest by nighttime. The main mechanism tying your workouts to your sleep-wake cycle is your body temperature.

Related: Bedroom exercises for better sleep

Working out raises your body temperature, which sends a signal to your body that it is time to be awake and alert. As your core temperature decreases afterwards, your body naturally starts winding down for rest. Exercise also provides natural stress relief and tires you out so your body will sink into a deeper and longer sleep throughout the night, according to Dr. Michael J. Breus of The Sleep Doctor

Getting active can also help treat insomnia and other sleep disorders without a trip to the pharmacy. A recent study found that when adults started doing aerobic exercise, insomnia symptoms like daytime sleepiness and depression decreased. Similarly, sleep apnea symptoms decreased in 32% of study participants that added regular exercise to their routines.

How Exercise Can Hurt Your Sleep

  • Increases body temperature
  • Increases levels of cortisol
  • Risk of dehydration 

If you aren’t mindful of the type and timing of your workout, as well as taking the correct steps for recovery, you could be affected by post-workout insomnia

Vigorous exercise amps you up by raising your core body temperature and increasing the levels of cortisol, the “fight-or-flight” hormone, in your body for hours after your workout. These factors make it more difficult for the body to unwind and create sleep-inducing melatonin.

Working up a sweat can also put you at risk for dehydration-related headaches, dry mouth and cramps that can keep you up at night.

When Should You Workout? 

Working out at an optimal time of day can help you maximize the sleep-boosting benefits of a good workout. The rule of thumb is that the morning is the best time to exercise. A morning workout supports the flow of the circadian rhythm, the natural internal sleep/wake cycle that tells your body when to be alert and when to rest.  

Not all of us are morning people, however, and it is better to exercise later in the day than to skip your workout altogether.  There are potential pros and cons for your sleep cycle and lifestyle whether you work out in the morning, afternoon, or at night. 

Time for exercising clock and dumbbell with colorful background

Morning Workouts

Pros: 

  • Working out on an empty stomach before breakfast can help you lose more body fat.  At least one study showed that fasted cardio results in higher fat oxidation than those who ate before their workout. 
  • Getting active earlier in the day regulates your circadian rhythm so you feel more awake in the morning and ready to rest at night.
  • Starting your morning with a workout can make you more productive throughout the day. 

Cons: 

  • Morning workouts may be difficult or impossible for those with busy schedules or family responsibilities. 
  • Some people have difficulty waking up or being motivated to workout earlier in the day. 

Afternoon Workouts

Pros:

  • If weight loss is your goal, an afternoon workout may be more effective. Your body burns 10% more calories in the afternoon, according to a new study.
  • Strength and flexibility are at their peak levels in the afternoon which can boost athletic performance. 

Cons :

  • Taking a break in the middle of the work day for exercise is inconvenient for those of us that work a 9-5 job. 
  • If you have an earlier bedtime, an intense afternoon workout can leave you amped up when you are trying to get ready for sleep.

Nighttime Workouts

Pros:

  • Stress-reducing workouts like yoga can help you calm your body and mind before bed. 
  • Not all people experience disrupted sleep from nighttime workouts according to a recent study

Cons:

  • Intense activity later in the day can disrupt your circadian rhythm, elevate your body temperature and make it harder to fall asleep at night.

How Different Workouts Impact Your Sleep

Just like working out at various times of day, different forms of exercise have unique impacts on your sleep. Some types of workouts are great for helping you wake up and getting energized, while others are better for winding down before bed. 

We will be examining the connection between sleep and exercise for the following exercises: 

You can click any of the links above to jump to a particular section. 

Yoga

Yoga is a type of exercise that combines physical movement, stretching, and breath work to work out both your body and mind. Yoga is a low impact exercise, which makes it accessible to people of all ages and fitness levels.

Practicing yoga has many physical benefits such as improving flexibility and increasing body strength. The meditative nature of yoga also can help reduce stress levels and make you feel more calm.

Woman doing yoga

Different types of yoga will help you meet different fitness goals. Those who want a more vigorous workout can practice hot yoga, vinyasa, and rocket yoga, which incorporates a flow of more challenging poses at a rapid pace to build strength, challenge your body, and get your heart pumping. 

If you are new to fitness or yoga, or just want a more relaxed pace, yin yoga, hatha or yoga Nidra are more your speed. These types of yoga are more focused on meditation, stretching and breath work rather than breaking a sweat. 

Pros and cons of yoga: 

Pros Cons
  • The breath work incorporated in yoga decreases stress and cortisol levels.
  • More vigorous yoga practices can keep you up at night. 
  • The stretching and muscle strengthening of yoga can relieve back pain.
  • Hot yoga can cause dehydration.
  • Yoga is accessible to people of varying fitness levels. 

Can yoga help you sleep?

Slower types of yoga such as Hatha, Yin and Yoga Nidra you move slowly and hold poses longer and incorporate breathwork and meditation that soothe your body and mind into a relaxed state to help you fall asleep easily. 

“Yoga can have a positive effect on the parasympathetic nervous system by lowering high levels of cortisol (a major stress hormone) in the body,” says Nadia Agarwal, E-RYT 500 yoga teacher at Vinyasa Yoga School. “This brings the hyperarousal states of reacting to stress and the stress itself to a more manageable level and brings you to relax into bed in a more equanimous state.” 

Also, if you deal with aches and pains that keep you up at night, yoga can help reduce back pain by strengthening and stretching the muscles that support your spine. 

Read more: Can yoga help you sleep better?

Does yoga harm your sleep?

More vigorous types of yoga such as rocket yoga, and hot yoga incorporate quick movements and strength training, and are designed to raise your body temperature and energy levels. These yoga practices are great additions to your fitness routine, but can keep you up at night if you practice too close to bedtime. 

Plan to take your more rigorous yoga classes earlier in the day and choose a slower type of yoga for late afternoon or evening to help you get ready for a relaxing night’s sleep.

How is hot yoga different from yoga? 

“Hot Yoga is more vigorous and heats and energizes the mind and body. Therefore, it may not be the best type of yoga to induce sleep,” explains Donna Brown, certified yoga teacher. “Although it may help rid our bodies of toxins and excess water, it can also be dangerous and often leads to dehydration.”

Hot yoga is a more intense type of yoga that takes place in a room heated up to 105 degrees Fahrenheit. The vigorous poses combined with the warmer temperature will get your heart beating and challenge even those in excellent shape. 

Hot yoga is not for everyone. This type of yoga is not recommended for those who have heart conditions or issues with dehydration or heat intolerance. Also, because of the rigorous energy level of hot yoga, it is not recommended to practice this type of yoga too close to bedtime to avoid sleep disruptions.

Yoga Poses for a Good Night’s Sleep

We consulted with Ann Swanson, M.S. in yoga therapy, certified yoga therapist, and author of Science of Yoga to learn which yoga poses can be the best to practice before bedtime to help you get better sleep.

Try spending a few minutes in these yoga poses to help you stretch and unwind for a restful night’s sleep.

Woman laying on bed with legs up the wall

1. Legs up the Wall 

“Bring your legs up the wall or headboard of the bed. They do not have to be exactly flat on the wall; find a distance from the wall that is comfortable for you. Stay here for 3-10 minutes, noticing your breath rising and falling. This poses helps you to decompress, reduce swelling in your ankles if you have been on your feet all day, and calm your nervous system.”

Woman laying in Figure 4 yoga pose on bed

2. Figure 4 Pose

“Lying on your back, bend your knees and put your feet flat on the bed. Hug your right knee into your chest. Turn it outwards and bring the right ankle to the front of your left thigh into a figure 4 shape. Reach your right arm through the triangle hole that is created and grab your left shin or thigh. Hold here for about 10 breaths and then repeat on the other side. This poses stretches deep gluteal muscles and helps relieve tension in your body.”

Woman laying on bed in butterfly yoga pose

3. Butterfly Pose

“Bring the soles of your feet together. You may want to use pillows under your thighs if the pose is very intense. Stay here for up to several minutes and slowly allow your inner thighs to relax further into the stretch. When you are done, you can rest your legs out in front of you to go to sleep peacefully.”

For more yoga recommendations from Ann, you can check out her virtual yoga classes, offered in a small group, as well as one-on-one yoga therapy.

CrossFit

CrossFit is a rigorous exercise program that combines cardio and weight lifting for a full body workout. CrossFit workout plans vary from day to day to keep your mind and body challenged, and incorporate functional movements, or movements you typically use in everyday life.

Start your CrossFit journey by joining a CrossFit gym in your area. Once you learn the exercises, you can do the Workout of the Day, at home if you don’t have time for a gym session. 

Fitness woman jumping on box training at the gym, crossfit exercise

If you decide to start CrossFit workouts, you will need to incorporate recovery into your schedule, including rest days, making time for good nutrition, and good sleep. 

“Like any exercise program, the real gains are made in the kitchen and bedroom – you need to eat right and sleep well for the muscle and cardiovascular recovery to take effect. Anything else, and you will be short changing your workout and subsequent recovery,” says Satish Selvanathan, CrossFit trainer and Ultra Marathon Athlete. 

Pros Cons
  • CrossFit’s high intensity workouts can tire you out earlier in the day so that you sleep better at night. 
  • The high-impact nature and intensity level of CrossFit is not suitable for everyone. 
  • CrossFit encourages athletes to prioritize sleep as part of workout recovery. 
  • CrossFit gym membership costs can be pricey. 

Can CrossFit help you sleep?

A few hours after finishing an intense full-body CrossFit workout, you’ll be exhausted and ready to hit the hay. Sleep is a crucial part of recovery from a CrossFit workout, so prioritizing sleep will also be an essential to your daily routine as a CrossFit athlete. 

Can CrossFit harm your sleep?

“CrossFit is an amazing fitness routine. However, you can overdo it by working your body too hard,” explains Dr. Nicole Lombardo, physical therapist and CrossFit Level 1 Coach at Back Intelligence. “Making sure you eat well, manage your daily life stress and have a regular sleep routine plays a role in how effective your sleep is.”

Timing also matters. Doing a CrossFit workout too close to bedtime can pump up your energy levels and make it harder to get to wind down in the evening. 

Bodybuilding

Bodybuilding is the process of building muscle, losing fat and reaching an optimum level of physical fitness through a regimen of weightlifting, cardio, and a healthy diet. 

While bodybuilding may bring up images of oiled-up bathing suit-clad men and women with bulging biceps, it can also be a way for anyone to improve their health by sticking to a consistent workout and diet plan.  Working with a personal trainer can help you find a bodybuilding routine that is right for your body type and fitness level. 

Sleep is a key part of a bodybuilding routine, so it’s important to understand the relationship between this workout style and our sleep.

Pros Cons
  • Bodybuilding incorporates intense workouts that will wear you out before bed. 
  • Bodybuilding can cause sleeplessness, which can hinder muscle growth and performance. 
  • People of all fitness levels can start bodybuilding.
  • Bodybuilding is not effective without enough recovery time. 
  • The nutrition component of a bodybuilding routine may also help you get a better night’s sleep. 

Can Bodybuilding help you sleep?

Since bodybuilding requires working muscles to the point of fatigue, your body will be ready to rest after your workout. 

“Put simply, exercising makes your body tired and, when we’re tired, we want to sleep,” says Dan Chojnacki, certified personal trainer (NETA) and group fitness director in Green Bay, WI. “Bodybuilding creates extreme physical demand which fatigues your body. As long as you are committed to giving your body the rest it needs, bodybuilding will have a positive effect on your sleep.” 

Can Bodybuilding harm your sleep?

Completing a bodybuilding workout too late at night or not incorporating enough recovery time can make it difficult to wind down to rest at night. Not being able to sleep after a workout can actually harm your bodybuilding effortssleep deprivation lowers levels of HGH, which can undo your hard work by causing increased body fat and decreased athletic performance. 

“Bodybuilding is vigorous and stressful on our joints and muscles,” explains Chojnacki. “This is not a bad thing but, in order to continue over the long haul, we need to properly recover. We do this during sleep. This is the time when our bodies do the most work repairing the micro tears we’ve made in our muscles and reducing inflammation in our joints. Getting enough sleep is crucial in restoring your body to the level it needs to be for you to bodybuild.”

High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

HIIT, or high intensity interval training, consists of intervals of sprints where you work as fast and hard as you can, followed by a recovery period. The interval-style training is extremely efficient as it allows you to complete a full workout in a short amount of time.

The high intensity of HIIT workouts will also help your body to create higher levels of human growth hormone (hgh), which aids in injury recovery, exercise performance and building muscle mass.  

Pros Cons
  • An HIIT workout can be finished in a shorter amount of time than other workouts. 
  • HIIT can hype you up if you work out too close to bedtime 
  • HIIT pushes you to work as hard as you can so you’ll be ready to rest by bedtime
  • HIIT exercises can be high impact and cause joint pain

Can HIIT help your sleep?

The intensity of an HIIT workout will allow you to work out (literally) anxiety or extra energy so you are ready to rest and relax once you’ve cooled down from your workout. 

“Research has shown that exercises like HIIT can also help improve sleep quality, since there is a release of a hormone called norepinephrine, which plays a role in sleep,” explains Hannah Daugherty, CPT-NASM and fitness expert at Fitter Living.

Can HIIT harm your sleep?

But, there’s a caveat,” Daugherty continues. “Some people are adversely affected by performing HIIT later on in the evening, which can make it harder to fall asleep.”

Intense exercise such as HIIT can alter the natural pattern of light sleep (non-REM) and deep sleep (REM) by shortening the amount of deep sleep in your sleep cycle. 

Daugherty recommends timing your HIIT workout wisely: “If you’re one of those people that are kept awake by doing high-intensity training later in the day, try and schedule your workout earlier in your day as to not be wide awake at bedtime!”

Pilates

Pilates is a form of low-impact exercise that promotes flexibility, core stability and balance. Pilates exercises are performed slowly with attention to form—you won’t be ending your workout covered in sweat—and can be performed on a mat or a pilates apparatus.

Sporty girls doing pilates exercises with fitness ball in gym

Pilates can be used to strengthen the core to relieve back pain, correct posture, and improve muscle tone. Although there are many pilates videos available online, consider attending a class or working with an instructor when you start out to ensure that you are using correct form. 

Pros Cons
  • Pilates helps relax the body and mind. 
  • Pilates instruction can be expensive.
  • Pilates is low-impact and accessible to people of all fitness levels and ages.

Can pilates help you sleep?

Pilates exercises are slow and soothing, which makes them a great way to help you wind down for bed. 

“Exercises like pilates can actually facilitate better sleep; not only can the movements help to calm the mind, but the nerves can relax and flexibility can return to the spine and limbs making it that much easier to fall asleep.” says  Daugherty.

Can pilates harm your sleep?

Pilates is a gentle and restorative exercise and generally does not have a negative impact on sleep. If you prefer to expend a lot of energy during your workout, consider adding on a cardio workout on the same day that you do pilates so that you feel more tired by the time bedtime comes around.

Barre

Barre is a ballet-inspired workout that combines cardio, strength training and flexibility in a single workout. Similar to pilates, barre exercises are low-impact and done slowly with emphasis on proper form and posture.

Three athletes exercising hip extension with ball using barre in front of mirror at gym

Barre exercises often require some equipment such as a ballet barre, weights, resistance bands, or other props. Although barre is an appropriate workout for beginners, the moves can be modified for more advanced athletes by adding weights or additional reps. 

Pros Cons
  • Barre classes allow you to stretch and strengthen muscles without breaking a sweat before bedtime. 
  • Barre exercises can require equipment or an expensive class fee.
  • Core strengthening exercises can help relieve back pain. 
  • Barre classes often do not incorporate cardio.

Can barre help your sleep?

Barre incorporates stretching and gentle strengthening without getting your heart rate up too high before bed. The strengthening exercises in a barre class use multiple reps with light weights to tire out muscles without risking overtraining.

Can barre harm your sleep?

Most barre classes do not include a cardio component. If you are someone that needs to burn off a lot of energy before winding down at night, a barre class might not feel like a sufficient workout for you. Consider going for a run before your barre class to get extra aerobic activity if you need to feel tired.

How to Sleep Better After Working Out

No matter what type of exercise you choose, you should take steps to aid your post-workout recovery and make sure you get quality sleep after an active day.

Getting adequate sleep is just as important to your fitness as diet and exercise.  Your body recovers from injuries, produces the hormones that regulate fat burning and regenerates your muscles while you are sleeping.

Planning ahead to get a good night’s sleep is invaluable to supporting your active lifestyle. 

1. Time your exercise correctly

To avoid nighttime jitters or workout-induced insomnia, complete any workouts that will get your heart pumping earlier in the day.  If you want to get some movement in closer to bedtime, do a gentle yoga practice, some light stretching, or go for a leisurely walk to help you wind down before you climb into bed.  

2. Stay hydrated before, during, and after your workout

Staying hydrated can make or break how you feel after your workout. Dehydration won’t only make you feel tired and less effective during your workouts, but it can also disrupt your sleep. Dehydration can cause snoring, a parched throat, leg cramps, and other unsavory side effects that could keep you up at night. 

Make sure to drink a minimum of 8 glasses of water a day, and a few extra if you get sweaty during your workout to make sure your body is hydrated for an uninterrupted night’s sleep. 

3. Take a hot bath or shower

Soaking in a hot bath or shower an hour before bedtime is a great way to get your body ready for a great night’s sleep. When you get out of the tub and start drying off, your body temperature will slowly drop. 

This process of cooling off will influence your circadian rhythms and let your biological clock know that nighttime is approaching and it is time to rest. 

4. Optimize your sleep environment

If you’ve ever tried to fall asleep on a rock hard or sagging bed or a flat pillow, you know that the wrong sleep environment can keep you tossing and turning. Your body uses sleep to heal and recover, and the right environment is essential for the quality sleep you need to stay healthy.

The right mattress, pillow, and ambiance can turn your bedroom into an oasis for many nights of rejuvenating sleep. If your mattress has seen better days, consider investing in a memory foam mattress that can provide the cozy pressure relief and extra support that your body needs to slip into restful slumber.

In addition to having a comfy bed, you should make sure that your room is dark and set your thermostat to a cool temperature of around 65 degrees Fahrenheit to help your body relax for a good night’s sleep.

5. Wind down

A bedtime ritual or wind down routine will help you leave the stress of the day behind as you get ready for sleep. In the hours before bedtime, switch out your second glass of wine for a cup of soothing tea to hydrate and relax you and power down your stimulating screens and opt for a book, magazine, or journaling as your evening entertainment.

Other night time activities to include in your pre-sleep ritual include gentle stretching, meditation, and listening to quiet music. These simple pleasures will not only help you sleep, but will give you something to look forward to each evening.

Conclusion

Now that you’ve learned about the relationship between exercise and sleep, you can plan ahead to make sure you are maximizing the benefits that your fitness routine can have on your sleep habits.

Choose more intense forms of exercise, like HIIT, CrossFit, and bodybuilding, earlier in the day to energize you and reset your sleep/wake cycle. These more vigorous activities also help you feel tired later in the day to make it easier to nod off at bedtime.

Soothing exercises like yoga, pilates, and barre can help you relax after work and are great choices for night time workouts. Regardless of when you workout, a comfortable mattress, the right sleep environment and relaxing bedtime rituals will help you wind down and get the great night’s sleep you need to support your active lifestyle. 


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