If your only chance to squeeze in a workout is at night, don’t worry about it messing with your sleep. A new study from Arizona State University found that people who exercise in the evening sleep just as well as those who don’t bust a sweat before bed.
Researchers analyzed data from the 2013 National Sleep Foundation Sleep in America Poll, which surveyed 1,000 adults about their exercise patterns, including what time of day and how hard and how often they pushed themselves. They were also asked how well they felt they slept, how long it usually took them to doze off, and whether they woke up feeling refreshed. While morning exercisers reported the best sleep overall, there was zero difference in sleep quality between people who worked out within four hours of going to bed and those who vegged out on the couch all evening.
This study adds to a growing body of research squashing the commonly held belief that nighttime workouts disrupt sleep. “I do not believe there is good research to suggest that exercise should be avoided at night, especially given all the other health benefits that exercise confers,” says lead researcher Matthew Buman. “However, men should always pay attention to their own bodies. If they do notice that they tend to sleep worse following late-night exercise, then they should look for another time to exercise.”
Although Buman’s study didn’t look specifically at whether nighttime sweat sessions lead to better sleep than no workouts at all, other evidence suggests that they do. “Exercise at any time of day positively affects your quality of sleep,” says Max Hirshkowitz of the National Sleep Foundation.
And regardless of how nighttime exercise actually impacts sleep, even if you just think it helps you sleep better, you’re likely healthier for it, says Buman. “Perceived sleep is not the same thing as actual, or objective, sleep quality,” he explains. “However, perceived sleep may be a better reflection of overall health. Exercise and sleep have a cyclical and reciprocal pattern: More exercise leads to better perceived sleep, which leads greater likelihood of future exercise.”