Need to Know
  1. Night owls rejoice — working out later is just fine
  2. Experience more restful sleep regardless of when you workout

There is nothing I love more than a night run or evening workout session. Although I masqueraded as a morning person for years (most swim practices require you to rise before the sun comes up), I’ve always preferred to do my workouts later in the day, long after the sun has gone down. People have always told me that working out at night would stop me from falling asleep as easily and mess with my body’s “natural cycle.” I never had any trouble falling asleep after working out later in the day, but the question remained: is working out later somehow bad?

It came as no surprise to me when a study by the National Sleep Foundation confirmed that working out contributes to getting more beneficial sleep, regardless of the time of day you choose to get your sweat on. Yes, if you work out intensely and then try to fall asleep within minutes after you finish your workout you might have a little trouble settling down — but who wouIdn’t have trouble settling down to do anything after the peak moment of physical exertion? The study also does note that if you have an existing issue with insomnia, exercise can make it harder for you to fall asleep (they recommend a three-hour window between working out and going to bed). But across the board, people participating in the study noticed an improvement in their sleep whether their workouts were in the morning or evening. It doesn’t have to be a crazy cardio session, either. Yoga, resistance training, body weight exercises, light weight lifting, and more will still promote a night of higher quality sleep.

Besides not having to get up at the crack of dawn, there are several other reasons I find night workouts more appealing than getting after it in the morning. Here are some of the best parts of working out later rather than earlier:

  • More awake = more engaged. Stumbling out of bed and getting the gym is hard, and if you’re like me it takes you a while to truly wake up. This makes it difficult to engage with my workout right from the get go and costs me in terms of time efficiency. By contrast, I have more energy in the evening to devote to getting the most out of my workout because my body has already been awake for hours.
  • No overcrowding/onlookers. If you frequent a gym, the later the hour, the less likely all the machines are taken. Getting to the gym after 7:30 p.m. avoids most of the post-work traffic and opens up a new world of available equipment you normally wouldn’t have a chance to use. It becomes your personal gym, with fewer distractions and no inconvenient wait times. Likewise, if you’re running outside at night there are usually fewer passersby to bother you, and the fresh night air offers a comforting sense of relief that running earlier in the day just can’t match. Just be sure to dress in bright colors and reflective add-ons so cars and bikes can’t miss you.
  • The optimal de-stress time. If you look at exercise as an opportunity to de-stress, working out in the evening just makes more sense. You can take as long as you want since you won’t have to worry about trying to squeeze in a shower before rushing off to an early morning meeting. The night is yours, and yours alone, so take your time to wind down. It’s also a great time to reflect on your day.

The night is calling, and there is no problem with our desire to run off into it.

Image Source: Flickr, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters