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Exercising Late At Night Could Actually Backfire on Your Health

It's something to consider going forward.


While some people like to work out first thing in the morning, many of us have to put off our exercise until later in the day, sometimes not even finding time to break a sweat until right before bed. However, if you’re in the habit of getting a later workout in, a new academic paper shows why you may want to reconsider.

Concordia University researchers recently published a meta-analysis of 15 different sleep studies in Sleep Medicine Reviews, where they wanted to see how exercise in the hours leading up to sleep affected that sleep quality, particularly in young and middle-aged adults. What they found was that there were many mixed results when it came to looking at how fitness level, duration of exercise, and type of workout affected people’s shut-eye. However, one factor that seemed to have universal impact was how long after working out they went to sleep.

“Overall, our analysis showed that when exercise ended two hours before bedtime, there were sleep benefits, including the promotion of sleep onset and increased sleep duration,” explained study lead author Emmanuel Frimpong, a postdoctoral fellow at the Sleep, Cognition, and Neuroimaging Lab. “On the other hand, when exercise ended less than two hours before bedtime, sleep was negatively impacted. It took longer for participants to fall asleep and sleep duration decreased.” While they’re still figuring out the exact reason this happens, they believe that late-night exercising may give way to chemical reactions that keep the body alert when you really just want to turn down.

In addition, scientists made a few other interesting discoveries that could benefit your sleep quality. Cycling was the exercise activity that led to the most sleep benefits. Moreover, getting your body moving is better than not moving at all; even performing a high-intensity workout for just 30 minutes could improve sleep onset and duration.

Squeezing that exercise time in hours before you go to bed isn’t the only way to have a great night’s rest. Drinking lemon balm tea, eating a little ice cream (seriously!), and using a sleep mask can all help. Now, settle in. It’s time to get a little shut-eye.

This article was updated on Monday, October 10, 2022 at 12:30 p.m. EST. It was originally published on October 6, 2021.

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