Exercise before Bedtime?

I have been told numerous times by my more physically fit friends that I should not work out before bedtime…
With my schedule, that’s about the only time I actually have to do anything, so I am hoping that they are just using a common bit of mis-applied knowledge.

Is there any reason NOT to have a workout about an hour before attempting to go to bed for the night? What sorts of issues can this cause, if any?

What I heard is that at your normal bedtime your temperature starts to fall, which is part of the natural sleep cycle. Exercising can bring it back up again, which might make it hard to fall asleep.

I usually go walking three or four evenings a week before going to bed. I think it’s a great time to exercise. It’s cooler and it’s a great way to unwind. And it’s really the only time I get to do it. I’ll walk about 6-8km or so. I haven’t found that it causes me any problems.

I think it makes it harder for most people to fall asleep. If it doesn’t give you a problem, I can’t think of any other reason why it would be actively bad for you.

I think this is based on the hemi-semi-demi-mythical belief that when you exercise, you increase your metabolic rate, and that increase has a sustained benefit which helps you burn more calories. That benefit, if any would be eliminated if you then went to bed immediately, assuming that you don’t have trouble sleeping.

A good cool down regimen, and a shower and stretch before sleep would certainly moderate any actual lingering metabolic effect. Even if it is entirely true, exercise before bed is obviously better for you than no exercise at all.


Interesting. That pretty much jibes with what I thought, and the metabolism thing is what my friends all came up with, but they seemed to think it took HOURS for your body to slow down.

I think I’ll give it a try the last half of this week. I’ll report in afterwards.

I work out in the evenings, I’ll probably be doing so tonight. Tires me out and I sleep better, personally.

The increase in metabolism from intense exercise is pretty well-documented and not the sort of thing that a good shower will negate. I’m not entirely clear on why its existence would affect your decision to exercise right before bed.

actually, the only thing I’ve heard is don’t EAT before bed, because you’re metabolism slows down when you sleep, resulting (somehow) in more stored fats and less used calories. Sounds reasonable, and it’s sort of a hijack, but is that a UL too or is that more or less accurate?

As for exercising before bed, if it doesn’t make it hard for you to sleep, then there is no reason to avoid it. The “metabolic effect” of excess post-exercise oxygen consumption is not affected by sleeping.

Now for the eating thing. You should always eat immediately after exercising. Your ability to tolerate carbohydrates is best immediately after exercise and you need to replace glucogen stores and intiate tissue repair. The really good news is that it’s actually better if your post exercise carbs are high glycemic! That’s right, those kill-joys that told you eating a candy bar right after your workout “ruined” everything you just did are wrong! Your post workout meal ahould be 3:1 carbs to protein. 3 grams of carbs for every one gram of protein. This is also an excellent time to take your multivitamin.

If you’re not exercising before bed, it can still be an excellent time to eat as long as you do it right. If your pre-bed meal isn’t also a post-exercise meal, then you’ll want to take advantage of the thermogenic effect of protein and reverse the 3:1 ratio to 3 grams of protein for every 1 gram of carbohydrates. Cottage cheese and some carrot sticks is my usual pre-bed meal. As long as you’ve figured this meal into your daily calorie budget, eating a high protein meal before bed can help you lose weight!
Nothing changes the calories in vs. calories out formula, but eating smart can definitely promote fat loss over lean tissue loss and eating a protein basd meal before bed can help keep your metabolism up while you sleep and help prevent muscle wasting.

Anyone interested in the relationship between nutrition and exercise should read “Nutrient Timing” by John Ivy, Ph.D. & Robert Portman, Ph.D.

For good nutrition, regardless of you body composition goals, John Berardi, Ph.D. has an excellent series of free nutrition articles.

I find that if I exercise vigorously before bedtime, it makes it hard to sleep.

Also, I swear I read in a Cecil column that if you exercise in the morning, an higher percentage of the calories you burn come from fat, but I can’t seem to find the column. Help, anyone?

No offense intended and I’m sure someone will come along with the article you’re seeking, but focusing on fat burning while exercising is pretty pointless. Regardless of when you exercise, the number of calories you burn while exercising is trivial compared to the number of calories you burn the other 23 hours of the day. Virtually all of those calories come from the aerobic pathway and as long as you’re in calorie deficit (without being in the starvation response), that deficit is going to be made up primarily from fat burning. Nutrition is vastly more important than the fine points of fat burning.

In fact, if you’re exercising to burn fat while you exercise, you’re missing the boat. You should be exercising to jack up your metabolism. That makes the other 23 hours more effective and I’d rather burn fat better for 23 hours than better for one hour. Intensity Interval Training is your best bet. It’s true that exercising in the aerobic zone burns more fat than exercising at higher intensities WHILE YOU’RE EXERCISING, but exercising at higher intensities burns more fat when you’re not exercising and that’s where the real payoff is. Forget exercising to burn fat. Work your ass off as hard as you can while exercising and burn the fat while you’re reading The Straight Dope.