6 workout hacks to help you rest easier at night
We all want to be worn out enough at the end of the day to easily fall asleep for a solid, uninterrupted stretch of shut-eye.
1. Work out in the morning if you can…
“The best time to exercise to promote great sleep is the morning,” personal trainer Sam Wood tells Body+Soul.
If that’s just not an option, “I recommend, physically wearing yourself out as early as possible so you’re cooling down off that stimulated curve later in your day.”
Dr Hugh Fullagar, a lecturer in sport and exercise science at UTS, says that until recently, night-time exercising was considered detrimental to your sleep, but recent evidence has shown it can be beneficial in helping to maintain a healthy weight if done 60 to 90 minutes before bedtime.
Still, he says, “If there was a choice between morning and evening exercise, morning would win. But there’s no ‘bad’ time to exercise.”
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2. … but if you can’t, exploit the 5pm strength boost
“Your body experiences a kind of power surge towards the end of a typical workday. That time makes the most of circadian rhythms, allowing you to dine, recover and sufficiently digest before you sleep,” Fullagar tells Body+Soul.
3. Go with your body’s natural rhythms
“It’s important to consider what sleep chronotype we are: whether or not we’re an early bird, for instance,” says Fullagar, who stresses that you should avoid trying to beat your natural body clock.
“It’s different for everyone but typically, if you rise early you should exercise in the morning and if you’re a night owl, you can benefit from exercising later.”
4. Leave yourself a 90-minute buffer before bed
“Exercise energises more than it exhausts – it gets your endorphins and blood pumping,” explains Wood.
“Exhausting yourself before bedtime is a myth.” If you do want to squeeze in a quick workout – and the only time you can do it is in the final hours of your day – stick to moderate-intensity workouts and give yourself time for recovery, cool down and digestion afterwards.
5. Move, move, move
Wood says a good night’s sleep is contingent on fighting the sedentary nature of being hunched in front of a computer all day.
“Move your body every day,” he says. “Make at least three of those workouts tough in intensity, but not necessarily volume – that’s where you’ll exhaust yourself in the healthiest way possible.” He adds: “Listen to your body.
If yesterday was sore, adapt today. It’s about consistency, routine and quality over quantity.”
6. Make a decent night’s sleep a core reason you exercise
Wood says working out in his 20s was very different: “Having a lot more time and a lot less perspective, I wanted biceps and abs. Today, it’s all about how I feel and function. I do it to energise, feel good and sleep well. An active day means I sleep better at night. Plus, having a strong core means I can play, bend and twist with my young kids.”
What to avoid before getting into bed
Sleep expert Elina Winnel says higher intensity training is better left for mornings.
“Physically exhaust yourself earlier in the day if possible, then do relaxing evening activities such as slow rhythmic breathing, or gentle stretching,” she says. “This will activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which slows down the racing mind and initiates the sleep process.”
“Keep hydrated during exercise, but avoid fluids less than two hours before bed so that you don’t disturb your sleep with a bathroom call,” Winnel tips.
“Give your body time to cool down and calm down,” advises sleep expert Dr Carmel Harrington. “Cortisol released during exercise tells the body to be alert and inhibits melatonin, which is essential for sleep and is best produced under conditions of dim lighting and when your body is cool.”
Any supplements, including pre- and post-workout protein drinks
“Caffeine found in pre-workout drinks has a half life,” says Harrington. “As we age, our metabolic rate slows, so the time to metabolise caffeine dramatically increases after 40-45 years old.”
Yoga after dark? Here’s why you should try it
If your schedule is such that you can really only fit in exercising at the end of the day, best-practice recommendations from sleep experts can be surmised in three words: yoga, yoga and yoga.
“It’s restorative and helps decrease the heart rate, which stimulates the parasympathetic system, the nervous system that takes care of us when asleep,” sleep expert Dr Carmel Harrington says. But be careful what evening yoga you do.
Harrington warns against “alerting, energising poses like those in hot yoga”, while fellow sleep expert Elin Winnel says gentle practices like yin yoga or yoga nidra are ideal.