Does evening exercise really ruin your sleep?

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You may have heard the conventional wisdom that says you should avoid evening exercise since it makes it hard to fall asleep.

I know that I had…

In fact, if I was forced to skip my normal morning exercise routine and couldn’t make it to the gym before 5 pm, working out just wasn’t an option.

But, is that wisdom right?

A new study from researchers at the Institute of Human Movement Sciences and Sport at ETH Zurich has the answer…

A theory disproved

The truth is that even most sleep researchers believed that sleep quality could be improved by avoiding evening exercise — something the Zurich team decided to call into question.

The scientists combed through data from 23 separate scientific studies on the subject.

And, they found that exercising in the four hours before going to bed has no negative effect on sleep.

In fact, according to Christina Spengler, head of the Exercise Physiology Lab at ETH Zurich, “If doing sport in the evening has any effect on sleep quality at all, it’s rather a positive effect, albeit only a mild one.”

The data showed that the night after study participants had participated in some form of evening exercise, they spent 21.2 percent of their sleeping time in deep sleep. On the other hand, when they skipped the evening exercise session, the average was 19.9 percent.

Intensity matters

However, the researchers did discover one exception to that rule — vigorous training.

According to this study results, it’s the only type of evening exercise that has a negative effect on sleep — and should be avoided.

According to the researchers, vigorous training in the evening can make it more difficult to fall asleep due to the fact that there’s not enough time prior to bed.

The study showed for people who participated in this time of training late in the day, their hearts were still beating more than 20 beats per minute faster than their resting heart rate when they should be ready to relax and go to sleep.

As a rule of thumb, vigorous exercise is when you are working out so hard that you’re not able to talk. On the other hand, moderate exercise is when your workout is intense enough that you could talk but not sing.

Getting your recommended activity

The results are clear…

As long as you avoid vigorous activity, evening exercise should not be a problem when it comes to your sleep — and may even help.

“People can do exercise in the evening without hesitation. The data shows that moderate exercise in the evening is no problem at all,” says Jan Stutz, a doctoral student in the research group.

In fact, moderate exercise did not cause sleep problems in any of the studies examined, not even when the training session ended just 30 minutes before bedtime.

However, Stutz also warned, “Not everyone reacts to exercise in the same way, and people should keep listening to their bodies. If they notice they are having problems falling asleep after doing sport, they should try to work out a little earlier.”

So, get out there and get your exercise, even if it’s the last thing you do each day. But, also be sure to pay attention to the effect exercise has on you since everyone is unique.

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