For decades it has been thought that exercising at night would hurt a person’s ability to fall asleep. This was blamed on a number of things, not the least of which is that exercise can be stressful, and when the body is stressed (even if it’s a good stress like exercise), cortisol levels rise. Since the body is in this state of heightened awareness, it won’t be able to relax and go to sleep.
There’s even some research from 1990 showing that nighttime exercise (a cycling session at 11PM) stunted the body’s release of melatonin -- the hormone that governs the sleep/wake cycle.
However, many studies have been carried out since then, so many that researchers have been able to conduct several systematic reviews and meta-analyses (a “study of studies”).
For instance, a 2019 systematic review (including 23 studies) published in Sports Medicine concluded that “Overall, the studies reviewed here do not support the hypothesis that evening exercise negatively affects sleep, in fact rather the opposite. However, sleep-onset latency, total sleep time, and SE might be impaired after vigorous exercise ending ≤ 1 h before bedtime.”
Another 2021 systematic review specifically assessing the impact of nighttime high-intensity exercise on sleep concluded:
“...acute evening HIE performed 2-4 h before bedtime does not disrupt nighttime sleep of healthy, young and middle-aged adults.”
Yet another meta-analysis, this one published in 2022, investigating different exercise intensities on sleep found similar results as the two previous systematic reviews and concluded:
“Overall, regardless of intensity, acute evening exercise completed before bedtime does not disrupt subsequent sleep in healthy young and middle-aged adults.”
Basically, exercising at night does NOT seem to impact sleep quality or sleep latency (how quickly you fall asleep after laying down). If you engage in particularly vigorous (high-intensity interval training) less than an hour before bed, it may make it slightly more difficult to fall asleep.
However, the research is very clear on the fact that exercise, regardless of time, leads to better quality sleep, no matter if the exercise is in the morning, middle of the day, afternoon, or night.
Pros of Working Out at Night
Relieve Stress Before Bed
Sleep is critical, not only for seeing results from your training and nutrition program, but also overall physical, mental, and emotional health. Despite this fact, millions (if not billions) of individuals around the globe struggle to get quality sleep consistently. A major factor that contributes to poor sleep quality is chronic lifestyle stress.
Exercise, in addition to helping burn calories and build muscle, is one of the most effective natural remedies for stress relief and improving mood. This is due, in part, to the flood of feel-good chemicals (including dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins) that are released which boost feelings of happiness and well-being.[5,6,7]
For an added boost in mood, consider exercising outdoors, which has been shown in research to further enhance mood and reduce feelings of stress compared to exercising indoors.
Keep in mind that exercise (“physical activity”) can mean many things…it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to perform a weight lifting or HIIT workout outside to get the benefits of outdoor exercise. It could be something as simple as going for a walk or leisurely bike ride outdoors in the evening before winding down for the night. Remember, any physical activity is better than no physical activity.
Potentially Greater Strength
We’ve all felt sluggish/weak in the morning….truth be told, the human body isn’t the most “robust” or “formidable” in the wee hours. Nevertheless, if you’re only able to train in the morning (going back to the previous point), then it’s certainly better than not training at all.
Still, if you are able to train later in the day (late morning, during lunch, afternoon, etc.), then you’re likely to experience greater energy, focus, stamina and strength. This can occur for several reasons, not the least of which is the fact that your body has many hours to wake up, get “situated”, and realize what the hell it’s doing.
Training in the late afternoon, early evening, or a few hours before bed means that you’ve had all day to get amped, prepped, and ready to dominate! As such, you may have greater energy, focus, motivation, and strength output…just be careful of taking too much pre workout as caffeine before bed may make it harder to sleep.
Lower Gym Foot Traffic
Commercial gyms are typically crowded early in the morning, at lunch, or right after work, which can make it difficult (“irritating”) to get the right weights and/or pieces of equipment you want to do your regular workouts. Gyms are usually less crowded in the late evenings/nighttime, which means you can have your pick of weights, machines, cable stations, etc.
Of course, there are workarounds at crowded gyms (and if you ever need an exercise substitution for crowded gyms, you can always pull up the 1UP Fitness App for help) or if you’re training at home, this is never really a concern.
Cons of Workout Out at Night
Struggle with Consistency
Our days are busier than ever, and that only includes what’s already on the agenda. But as we all have experienced, any number of things can suddenly pop up causing unexpected interruptions and schedule reshuffling.
If your workout is later in the day, then there’s a greater chance it may get pushed even later or (more likely) it won’t happen at all. Therefore, many individuals choose to train first thing in the morning when there’s less of a chance for interruption.
Potential for Sleep Disruption
As we mentioned above, exercise generally leads to better sleep quality. However, training too close to bed (less than an hour before bed) and trying to immediately go to sleep will make it more difficult to calm down and get to sleep. This is due to a number of factors, including elevated body temperature, increased cortisol (stress) levels, and reduced melatonin synthesis.
Do’s and Don’ts of Working Out at Night
Do Be Consistent
Exercising at night means you have to be diligent about your routine and getting everything taken care of during the day so that you reduce the possibility of having to shift or skip your workout.
Don’t Take a Caffeinated Pre Workout
Caffeine is a powerful stimulant that boosts energy, alertness, focus, and performance. What makes it great in a pre workout is the same thing that makes it terrible for sleep. If you do want to take a pre workout when training at night, use a pre workout that contains no caffeine or other stimulants, such as 1UP Stim-Free Pre Workout.
Do Have a Post-Workout Protein Shake
Intense workouts create microtears in your muscles. Having a post-workout protein shake supplies the body with high-quality protein and amino acids that will support muscle recovery while you sleep. You can also feel free to add a scoop of Tri-Carb to help replenish glycogen and further support overnight muscle recovery.
Heavy meals before bed lead to GI upset and poor sleep for many individuals. This is one of the reasons a protein shake before bed is a great meal/snack. It digests quickly and easily and won’t leave you feeling heavy, sluggish, or stuffed.
Whether you work out at night or during the day is completely up to you. The important thing is to make sure you’re consistent with your exercise program and put in the work to get the results you want!
No matter if you want to build muscle, lose fat, or improve your performance in the gym, we’re here to help you with our line of top-rated supplements, free fitness app, and educational content!
- Monteleone, P., Maj, M., Fusco, M., Orazzo, C., & Kemali, D. (1990). Physical exercise at night blunts the nocturnal increase of plasma melatonin levels in healthy humans. Life Sciences, 47(22), 1989–1995. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1016/0024-3205(90)90432-Q
- Stutz J, Eiholzer R, Spengler CM. Effects of Evening Exercise on Sleep in Healthy Participants: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Sports Med. 2019 Feb;49(2):269-287. doi: 10.1007/s40279-018-1015-0. PMID: 30374942.
- Frimpong E, Mograss M, Zvionow T, Dang-Vu TT. The effects of evening high-intensity exercise on sleep in healthy adults: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Sleep Med Rev. 2021 Dec;60:101535. doi: 10.1016/j.smrv.2021.101535. Epub 2021 Aug 3. PMID: 34416428.
- Yue T, Liu X, Gao Q, Wang Y. Different Intensities of Evening Exercise on Sleep in Healthy Adults: A Systematic Review and Network Meta-Analysis. Nat Sci Sleep. 2022 Dec 14;14:2157-2177. doi: 10.2147/NSS.S388863. PMID: 36540196; PMCID: PMC9760070.
- Bramwell RC, Streetman AE, Besenyi GM. The Effect of Outdoor and Indoor Group Exercise Classes on Psychological Stress in College Students: A Pilot Study with Randomization. Int J Exerc Sci. 2023 Aug 1;16(5):1012-1024. PMID: 37650002; PMCID: PMC10464750.
- North TC, McCullagh P, Tran ZV, Lavallee D, Williams JM, Jones MV, et al.. Effect of exercise on depression. In: Lavallee D, Williams JM, Jones MV, Allen M. Spray C, Peters H, Eys M, Morgan G, Krane V, Douglas C, Jones MI, Papathomas A, Scherzer C, Goodger K, editors. Key Studies in Sport and Exercise Psychology. Open University Press; (2008). p. 258–84.
- Mikkelsen K, Stojanovska L, Polenakovic M, Bosevski M, Apostolopoulos V. Exercise and mental health. Maturitas. (2017) 106:48–56. 10.1016/j.maturitas.2017.09.003