Sleep Poll Shows Exercising At Night Can Improve Your Sleep
March 4, 2013

Sleep Poll Shows Exercising At Night Can Improve Your Sleep

Lawrence LeBlond for - Your Universe Online

While it´s no mystery that a good workout gives you energy and makes you feel healthier, there are times when it can leave you feeling beat and ready for some shut-eye. When it comes to night workouts, this is especially true, as your body is winding down for the day.

But for those who are not sure if late-night exercising is right for them, a new study suggests that it very well may be. According to a poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), working out at night not only makes you sleepy, but it helps you get a better night´s rest.

The general consensus (based purely on conjecture and anecdote) is that exercise before bedtime is not good for the body, but more and more people are now reporting that when they sweat it up before they hit the hay, they feel they sleep much better and feel much better in the morning.

The 2013 Sleep In America poll surveyed 1,000 people and found that both exercisers and non-exercisers generally got the same amount of sleep at night. However, the exercisers who reported working out before bedtime reported better sleep than those who had not done so.

Experts from the foundation said the evidence shows that most people can sleep just fine after a nighttime workout. But the poll also shows that exercise at any time of day translates to better sleep and people feeling more rested than those who did not get their body moving. The new survey also shows that nighttime exercise (within four hours of bedtime) gives people just as much of a good night´s rest as do daytime exercises.

"People who sleep better report exercising more, and people who exercise tend to sleep better," said Matthew Buman, PhD, assistant professor of exercise and wellness at Arizona State University and NSF poll task force member. "We know that life is very busy for many people. They're not getting enough sleep and they're also not getting enough exercise."


Of the 1,000 people polled, nearly half (48 percent) said they exercised lightly on a regular basis; 25 percent considered themselves moderate exercisers; 18 percent said they were vigorous exercisers; and nine percent reported receiving no regular exercise at all. On average, both exercisers and non-exercisers reported an average of six hours and 51 minutes of sleep per night during workdays, and seven hours and 37 minutes on the weekends (or non-workdays).

The poll results showed that those who reported being exercisers at any level were the most likely ones to report having “a good night´s sleep.” Overall, the average for reporting a good night´s sleep on a workday for exercisers was about 67 percent; a good night´s sleep on a non-workday was 56 percent; and for non-exercisers, only 39 percent reported getting a good night´s sleep on any day.

“If you are inactive, adding a 10 minute walk every day could improve your likelihood of a good night´s sleep,” said Max Hirshkowitz, PhD, chairman of the poll task force. “Making this small change and gradually working your way up to more intense activities like running or swimming could help you sleep better.”

“Our poll data certainly find strong relationships between good sleep and exercise,” added Hirshkowitz. “While cause and effect can be tricky, I don´t think having good sleep necessarily compels us to exercise. I think it is much more likely that exercising improves sleep. And good sleep is fundamental for good health, productivity, and happiness.”

When it comes to those who reported being the most active, or the most vigorous when exercising, the report of getting a good night´s sleep was twice as likely as those who were reported as non-exercisers. These people were also the least likely to report sleep problems. More than two-thirds of vigorous exercisers reported rarely having trouble falling asleep (69 percent) and waking up too early and not being able to return to sleep (72 percent). With non-exercisers, 50 percent said they woke up often during the night and 24 percent said they had difficulty falling asleep most nights.

“Poor sleep might lead to negative health partly because it makes people less inclined to exercise,” says Shawn Youngstedt, PhD, a poll task force member. “More than one half [57 percent] of the total sample reported that their activity level will be less than usual after a night of poor sleep. Not exercising and not sleeping becomes a vicious cycle.”

The poll not only showed that exercisers who worked out at any level, and at any time of the day, reported much better sleep than non-exercisers, but also showed that only 3 percent of late-day exercisers reported sleeping worse.


The results of the NSF poll back up findings from a separate study conducted by Youngstedt, finding that fit young men with no sleep problems who rode stationary bikes for three hours before bedtime, slept soundly. Now he is conducting a study of evening exercise in otherwise inactive people who do have sleep problems.

"When I present this data, almost invariably, someone will say, 'I don't care what the data show — I think that exercising too close to bedtime is bad for my sleep,' " Youngstedt said. While for some people, this may be the case, he noted that for many others it may open up a whole new avenue of healthy horizons.

"We have very busy lives now," he said in an interview with USA TODAY´s Kim Painter. "For a lot of people evening is the most convenient time."

A nighttime workout may not be best for everyone. Jessica Matthews, a fitness instructor and personal trainer who is also a spokeswoman for the American Council on Exercise (ACE), said her advice depends on the schedule of the person. She suggests that those who wish to try late-day exercise give it a go. She notes that they can play around with the timing, the intensity and the type of exercise to see what is best for them.

Michael Grandner, a sleep researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, who is a spokesman for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM), said he thinks some people will find it best to continue early exercising, especially if they can get outside early in the day to take advantage of the morning sunlight. However, he said, any exercise is better than none.

"Your body is meant to move. Getting the right type and amount of movement helps your body do what it was built to do, and that includes sleeping," said Grandner, who wasn´t involved in the study, but said he isn´t surprised by the findings.

Grandner also pointed to a much larger survey of 150,000 people, conducted by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which found that people who did exercise of any kind reported significantly better sleep than non-exercisers did.

“Exercise is great for sleep. For the millions of people who want better sleep, exercise may help,” says David Cloud, CEO of the NSF.

Matthew Buman, PhD and member of the poll task force, said that “sometimes we might feel tired, and that is normal, but if excessive sleepiness is your normal state, it warrants a conversation with your doctor. It could be a red flag that something is wrong with your health.”

Data from the poll shows that non-exercisers have more symptoms of sleep apnea, a serious medical condition in which a person stops breathing, often continuously, during sleep. Symptoms include tiredness, snoring and high blood pressure. Sleep apnea also increases the risk of heart disease and stroke.

“The poll data suggest that the risk of sleep apnea in exercisers is half that of non-exercisers,” said Christopher Kline, PhD, a poll task force member. “People with sleep apnea are often overweight. Exercise can be part of the treatment.”


For those who do have sleep problems, there are a number of ways to improve sleep.

Exercising regularly is by far one of the biggest promoters of good sleep. While vigorous exercise is best, even light exercise is beneficial. Creating an environment that is favorable for sleep is also ideal. A quiet, dark and cool room with a comfortable mattress and pillows makes for a good night´s sleep. Relaxing bedtime rituals are also helpful. A warm bath, listening to calming, ambient music, or a little meditation may help out a lot.

In the morning, try to wake up at the same time every day, and avoid staying in bed any longer than necessary. Use bright lights as a way to wake up in the morning. Exposing yourself to the energizing effects of the sun in the morning helps get your body moving.

Use your bedroom only for sleep and not for work, play or leisurely activities. Remove work materials, computers, televisions, etc. to help promote sleep. Also, don´t go to bed stressing about what the next day will bring. If concerns and worries arise, write them in a journal or “worry book” and save them for the morning.

If you still find it difficult to fall asleep, go into another room and do something relaxing until you feel tired. If during the daytime you are still experiencing excessive sleepiness, it could mean there are more underlying problems and you should see a doctor about possible sleep problems, such as sleep apnea.