Sleep And Exercise: Is Your Workout Ruining Your Sleep?

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Sleep And Exercise: Is Your Workout Ruining Your Sleep?
Tom Greenspan
December 21, 2022

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Routinely exercising is the key to staying healthy and fit, and everyone knows it well enough by now.

However, the truth of these fast-paced and productivity-focused times is that many people don’t get a chance to work out until night has already fallen. This can be a cause of concern for such health-conscious adults, particularly if they have a strict schedule to adhere to. 

After all, some do find that exercising at night keeps them awake and alert, hampering their ability to sleep. But there’s nothing a cold shower, warm drink, or comfy bed can’t fix, right?

Let’s examine the correlation between exercising and sleep and check if there is a link between exercising late and sleeping well. Read on!

The Effects Of Exercise On The Quality Of Sleep

The very act of exercising involves stimulating the sympathetic nervous system and deliberately inducing an integrated response from the body. This response forces the body to be in a state of balance for the duration of the exercise.

To put it simply, when you exercise, your muscles are in constant activity. And when a specific set of muscles are in constant strenuous activity, the body will redirect resources to keep them going. This includes increased heart rate for a faster oxygen supply, increased breathing rate for increased oxygen intake, sweat secretion to avoid overheating, and more.

After muscular activity stops, you will enter a fatigued state to recover all the resources your body spent during exercise. This can also happen during your nighttime workouts, should your body be too taxed to continue.

The heightened state of fatigue that you deliberately induce does have a direct positive impact on your sleep. As you grow tired, you will find it much easier to fall asleep and enter the deep sleep state, also known as NREM Sleep.

Many studies have been conducted to find out if exercising leads to a decline in sleep quality. Thus far, research suggests a marked improvement in the test group’s sleep instead of any negative effects.

Sleep Disorders And Exercise Frequency

Coming up with an alternative to sleep medicine is important, as medication may not suit everyone. Of course, the effects of exercise on the sleep quality of those suffering from insomnia are notably different from those without these disorders. Exercising can help those having trouble falling asleep find some rest, but there is a catch.

It all depends on the frequency of exercise. With short-term exercise, the improvement in sleep quality is minute enough to be negligible. While short bouts of exercise do have many benefits like reduced anxiety, fatigue, and improved energy level, they may not affect sleep quality at all.

On the other hand, those suffering from sleep problems may see a notable improvement in their quality of sleep through regular exercise. Frequent workouts can help such people fall asleep faster, entering REM sleep in a relatively consistent manner. This is particularly the case with older people who suffer from sleep disorders and anxiety.

It is worth noting that these controlled studies are largely self-reported measures, and more sleep research is required to derive a conjecture definitively.

Theories On The Association Between Exercise And Sleep

Sleep has been a topic of discussion among the scientific communities for as long as they have existed. As such, numerous findings have improved our understanding of how exercise and sleep are correlated. 

On the flip side, plenty of misconceptions have also been derived, which have never had a basis in reality. And understanding both the misconceptions and the facts pertaining to the matter can further our knowledge on the matter.

What follows is a brief overview of both the benefits of exercise on sleep and the misconceptions surrounding the topic. 

1. Body Temperature Regulation

It was once theorized that exercising increases core body temperature by a significant degree. And when there is a notable increase in body temperature after exercising, there is an increase in the activity of sweat glands. The metabolic rate also decreases, which regulates body temperature during sleep.

This theory does hold true, provided that the intensity of your exercise remains high enough to increase your body temperature. The fatigue, combined with increased body temperature, can enhance sleep, while low-intensity exercise may not be able to achieve the same.

Additionally, passive methods like sauna baths or hot tubs may achieve a similar effect.

2. Workout Duration

The theory goes that if the workout duration lasts longer than 1 hour a day, the increase in sleep quality can be seen clearly. 

There is an element of truth to it since the longer you exercise, the more fatigued you get and the more the body temperature rises. As such, longer exercises may improve your slow-wave sleep, which is the third stage of Non-Rapid Eye Movement Sleep. Other effects include a reduction in Rapid Eye Movement Sleep (REM) and a delay in REM latency.

While more research is needed to be definitive, it stands to reason that working out for an hour a day can ensure better sleep for most adults.

3. Anti-Depressant Effects

There have been plenty of anecdotal accounts of workouts helping those suffering from anxiety sleep well. And to their credit, this does hold true through regular exercise.

Exercises have a psychophysiological treatment effect, which is highly effective in reducing anxiety. To put it simply, the mind and body work better together through exercise, and it can alleviate symptoms of anxiety as well. And by reducing anxiety, workouts can help those suffering from psychological issues sleep well.  

The anti-depressant effects of regular exercise can encourage better sleeping habits in such individuals, with a marked reduction in REM sleep. Acute exercise can also help reduce REM sleep duration, which is similar to the effects of antidepressant treatments.

4. Fitness And Exercise

The theory here states that only fit individuals are able to benefit from intense workout sessions, and unfit individuals may not reap such benefits. This has been proven wrong through an experimental study, which stated that fitness is not a factor in affecting an individual’s sleep. And it doesn’t have an effect on how much an individual benefits from exercise either.

Things To Remember About Workouts And Sleep

1. Better Workout Performance

Contrary to some beliefs, evening workout sessions can be more lucrative for your body than early morning exercise. The principle behind this is that after sleeping seven to eight hours, you are prone to making mistakes while trying to perform exercises effectively. 

You are more likely to be alert during the early evening exercise session, allowing you to focus. And with greater exercise efficiency, you will be able to sleep better and train for building muscle more effectively.

2. Improvements In Sleep Quality May Vary

While exercise does improve your ability to find quality sleep, the extent of it may vary from one individual to the next. This is because of several variables like the time of workout, sleep schedule, noise pollution, and more.

Some people may find vigorous exercise routines to help them sleep well, while others may be content with moderately intense activities like yoga.

A few examples of low to moderate exercise routines are:

  • Yoga
  • Treadmill run
  • Low-intensity cardio sessions
  • Lifting weights
  • Light stretching

And if you’re looking for high-intensity exercise, you may consider performing:

  • Running
  • Swimming laps
  • Jump ropes
  • Cycling
  • Heavy weightlifting

3. The Exercise Frequency And Duration

As discussed earlier, maintaining your exercise routine is more important than performing a single high-intensity workout once in a while. You may consider dedicating a certain time of the day to perform at least a moderate-intensity workout for five days a week.

For those who may not be able to commit time to workout sessions, you can split the exercise duration into multiple small sessions. Exercising for 150 minutes per week is an ideal goal to reach, which can be split into 30-minute sessions per day.

But if you can allocate some time to exercises and are ready for intense workouts, a 75-minute workout may suit you. Be sure to keep a few hours after working out and before going to bed, though.

4. Don’t Force An Exercising Routine

If you can’t keep up with an exercise routine because it is too strenuous or time-consuming, consider looking for an alternative. 

It’s best to find an exercise that you enjoy or an activity that can serve as a substitute for workouts. That way, it becomes easier to perform it consistently. Even a leisurely stroll around the city can count, so long as you spend enough time doing it.

Preventing Post-Nighttime Workout Insomnia

Some people find it difficult to fall asleep after exercising at night. This is something that can be prevented through certain actions after performing your daily workout, as detailed below.

1. Cold Shower

If your body tends to heat up after a workout, or if you perform high-intensity workouts, consider taking cold showers afterward. As your body cools down, your metabolic rate will decrease, and you will find it easier to fall asleep. Besides, post-workout showers are good for your hygiene anyways.

2. Perform A Relaxing Bedtime Ritual

A relaxing bedtime ritual can ease your body into sleep. This activity is unrestricted by age or ability, which means you can perform it no matter where you are in life.

You can perform yoga stretches to relax both the body and mind, allowing you to sleep deeply and easily. They can be performed anywhere, including from the comfort of your bed, so be sure to incorporate them into your ritual.

Other bedtime activities include massage therapy to reduce stress, meditation, breathing exercises, and reading. Of course, it’s for the best not to include electronics in any of these steps, as they can deter you from sleeping altogether.

3. Go To Bed Two Hours After Exercising

No matter the type of exercise you perform, it’s important not to perform them at least two hours before bed. Since high physical activity levels stimulate the nervous system, you may be too alert immediately after performing a workout.

Performing your daily chores can help you ease into a sleeping mood. This allows your body to return to its normal state and become less alert during bedtime.

4. A Warm Drink Before Bed

You can drink a nice cup of chamomile tea or a healthy drink before you go to bed. Be sure to avoid caffeine and alcohol at all costs, as they will keep you from falling asleep altogether.

5. Get A Better Mattress

The role of a mattress in reducing your post-workout fatigue cannot be understated. There is no feeling worse than when your tired and taxed body just can’t sink well enough into the bed. A mattress can eliminate these issues with no trouble to speak of.

Of course, mattresses are a hefty investment, but it is an investment that is worth your while. Consider looking into hybrid mattresses to keep you comfortable throughout the night.

6. Avoid Physically Intensive Post-Exercise Work

After you’re done with your due diligence for the day, there is no need to indulge in more. Keep your tasks light in physical intensity, and only allocate your remaining strength to easy tasks. You will have an easier time easing into the night by doing so.


Physical activity is essential to stay healthy and get a full night’s sleep, no matter when you perform it. So, if you are on the fence about exercise affecting your sleep, don’t worry. Even if you start slowly, it will be a great first step towards getting some quality sleep.

The timing of your workouts is not as important as the consistency and duration. This is to say, late night exercise can be equally as effective at improving your sleep, if not even more so. There are health and practical benefits to be had with early afternoon or evening exercise, after all.

At the end of the day, what suits you the best is what you should be doing. That way, you will be more consistent at performing your due diligence and find it relaxing at the same time.