From work to socializing to family responsibilities, our days fill up fast. And sometimes that leaves less-than-ideal times to work out—like right before bed when our bodies are ready to slow down for the day. But is it better to work out right before bed or skip it altogether?
Exercise has been proven to benefit sleep in studies. However, it also increases heart rate. “Exercising too close to bedtime may make it harder for the person to wind down and fall asleep easily,” says Mark Muehlbach, Ph.D., the clinical director at the Clayton Sleep Institute in St. Louis, Missouri. “So, exercising too close to bedtime is more likely to delay sleep onset than actually disrupt sleep once you have fallen asleep.”
What if you can’t afford a later bedtime than normal? Dr. Muehlbach recommends using relaxation techniques for your mind, such as progressive muscle relaxation and deep breathing exercises. “These techniques do two things: first, they actually help the body relax. Second, they take your mind off any racing thoughts you may be having.” (For simple instructions Dr. Muehlbach recommends this handy guide).
Another trick: stretch right after working out. This aids the body in entering relaxation mode, says Dr. Muehlbach. Practice simple yoga movements, such as downward facing dog and child’s pose.
When exercising this close to bedtime, choose your post-workout meal accordingly. Whether you eat a full dinner or snack depends on how much time you have between dinner and bedtime. “If you have 2-3 hours, I would suggest a small piece of lean protein, leafy greens, a couple slices of avocado, and a little brown rice,” says certified nutritionist Dana Kofsky of Nutrition Styles. “This combination is easily digested and offers essential vitamins and nutrients.” If you have less time, Styles recommends a protein shake, “which will keep blood sugar regulated and won’t cause an adrenaline spike while you sleep.”
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