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Exercising at night not found to cause sleep problems

However, consumers may want to avoid intense activity in the nighttime hours

Photo (c) vgajic - Getty Images
Hitting the gym is an activity many consumers save for the early morning hours, as it’s a great way to jumpstart the day before the sun comes up. And there’s a longstanding myth that exercising at night can disrupt normal sleeping patterns.

However, a new study found that idea is just a myth and nothing more. Engaging in physical activity at night was not found to alter consumers’ ability to sleep at night.

“People can do exercise in the evening without hesitation,” said researcher Jan Stutz. “The data shows that moderate exercise in the evening is no problem at all. However, vigorous training or competitions should be scheduled earlier in the day, if possible.”

Keeping things light

The researchers analyzed over 20 studies that evaluated adults’ sleep after one night of exercise when compared with a control group that didn’t exercise.

The researchers found that, overall, engaging in physical activity four hours before bed didn’t affect participants’ ability to sleep. Even moderate activity just a half hour before bed didn’t cause any disruptions throughout the night.

Study participants spent over 21 percent of their night in a deep sleep following nighttime exercise, while the control group spent under 20 percent of their night in a deep sleep when they didn’t exercise. While a seemingly small difference, the researchers say that it carries a lot of weight, as deep sleep is one of the most important parts of recovering from physical activity.

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

The researchers do urge consumers to keep exercise light or moderate at night and avoid vigorous activity -- particularly within one hour of bedtime -- as this was found to disrupt sleep. The researchers found that participants who gave it their all at the gym right before bed didn’t have enough time to let their bodies rest or recover, and it often took them longer to fall asleep.

Despite these results, the researchers want consumers to know these findings are an average and could differ from person to person.

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

Getting a good night’s sleep

Sleep is imperative to the way we function on a daily basis, and like Stuz said, consumers should be aware of what works for them before bedtime and what doesn’t.

A recent study explored the countless effects sleep deprivation can have on our bodies, both big and small.

The researchers found that lack of sleep affects our ability to complete tasks without getting distracted, and it can also impede memory. Additionally, those who are sleep deprived may have a harder time finishing tasks when interrupted by text messages, phone calls, or emails.

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