Is exercising at night bad for your sleep?

Is exercising at night bad for your sleep?

Is exercising in the evening bad for your sleep quality? Photo: Pexels

The internet is full of myths about sleep. In the section Fact or fable about sleep? we dive on top of those myths to clarify. With today: exercising in the evening is bad for your sleep.

The new measures that came into effect last Sunday are clear: education remains open, non-essential shops, the culture sector and amateur sports close at 5 p.m. This means, among other things, that sports activities will take place more often during the day. Is exercising during the day better for your sleep than exercising in the evening?

Subway spoke with Els van der Helm, neuroscientist and sleep expert, about the effect of exercising in the evening on your sleep.

This effect exercise has on your sleep

Van der Helm: “If we look at scientific research, we can say that any form of exercise is good for your sleep. For example, exercise affects the duration of your sleep, sleep efficiency, and makes you fall asleep faster. The intensity of the sport didn’t seem to matter much in terms of seeing these beneficial effects.”

According to Van der Helm, the timing of sports is a more difficult issue. “In the past, people were convinced that exercising before going to bed was a no-go. The main reason for this was that people would need time to calm down, while sports can provide energy.”

But a recent scientific study based on a meta-analysis proved that even high-intensity exercise in the 4 to 0.5 hours before bedtime has no negative effect on sleep. In fact, performing high-intensity sports up to 2 hours before bed helped people fall asleep faster and sleep longer.

Looking for other forms of movement

If you still want to be active after a long day at work, look for another form of sport. Because even though the gyms and sports clubs are closed from 5 p.m., it is of course still possible to exercise at home. Think of a run or a high-intensity interval training via YouTube.

According to Van der Helm, however, some form of building up is a requirement to be able to sleep well. “In untrained people, exercising late resulted in a reduction in sleep quality due to shorter REM sleep.” And you may also have to be careful for morning people. “A study suggested that morning people may experience more sleep disturbance when they exercise late at night. That was not the case with evening people.”

Also important: the right nutrition

Van der Helm mentions nutrition as the last factor that may play a role in the quality of your sleep after exercise. “A high-carbohydrate meal with little protein facilitates the absorption of tryptophan and its conversion to serotonin, which promotes drowsiness and sleep. Do you opt for a meal with a lot of protein and few carbohydrates? This causes an increase in the substance epinephrine, which increases arousal. That can lead to a poorer night’s sleep.”


Is exercising late at night bad for your sleep? Judgment: not true.

According to Van der Helm, recent research has shown that exercising late in the evening does not necessarily mean a bad night’s sleep.

Do you like to exercise in the evening, and do you not notice any adverse effects on your sleep? Then keep exercising when you feel comfortable. If you notice that you do not fall asleep well if you have exercised in the evening, make sure that you plan at least two hours between exercise and sleeping.

Fact or fable about sleep? A weighted blanket helps with sleeping problems

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