Does exercising before bed interrupt your sleep pattern?

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It depends on what you’re doing as a workout, says Dr. Mimi Secor. In some cases it could help you sleep better.

PORTLAND, Maine — We all know how important it is to get a workout in when you can, but these days it can be tough to find the time in the day to make it happen. A sports medicine study published in 2019 looked at the effects that working out at night can have on sleep patterns. 

Dr. Mimi Secor, author of “Healthy and Fit at Any Age,” explains what we can learn from the study’s findings and, ultimately, how to get a better night’s sleep. Dr. Secor DNP, FNP-BC, FAANP, FAAN, has been a board-certified nurse practitioner specializing in women’s health for over 40 years, and she’s also a fitness and health advocate. 

A recent 2019 systematic study examined the effects of evening exercise on sleep in healthy participants. This study highlights surprising conclusions,” Secor said. “They concluded that evening exercise did not negatively affect sleep. In fact, they found the opposite, that it can enhance sleep.”

However, there are a few caveats to that, including what you’re doing for a workout and how soon before bed you are doing it.

WHY YOU SHOULDN’T DO STRENUOUS EXERCISE BEFORE BED

Secor: “Some people are unable to get to sleep if they exercise at night, especially close to bedtime. Generally, it is recommended to avoid exercise a minimum of 60 minutes before bedtime.

Strenuous exercise is even more likely to disturb sleep by revving us up. Several hours before bedtime it is generally best to minimize major exercise. 

If exercise is desired, try stretching instead of doing cardio (walking, running, cycling).”

POSSIBLE CONSEQUENCES OF EXERCISING BEFORE BED

Secor: “Strenuous exercise raises the heart rate and body temperature, and these effects can result in increased alertness. It can take several hours to unwind, become drowsy, and be ready to sleep.”

HOW LONG BEFORE BED YOU SHOULD NOT EXERCISE

Secor: “Though this is an individual preference, several hours before desired sleep time is a good rule of thumb. For example, personally, when traveling I frequently exercise at night before bedtime but always stop exercising at least an hour before I desire to fall asleep.

Some people need many hours after moderate to vigorous exercise to wind down and prepare for sleep.”

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WHAT CONSTITUTES STRENUOUS EXERCISE

Secor: “Strenuous exercise is scientifically defined as any activity that expends 7 metabolic equivalents (METS) per minute or more, according to the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Adults issued by the Department of Health and Human Services.

In relative terms, this is the equivalent of an energy expenditure of 7 on a scale of 1 to 10, with one representing the energy expended while sitting quietly, and 10 representing maximum effort.” (NOTE: I like this definition because it’s easy for people to understand and apply to their own exercise).

An easy way to determine exercise intensity is as a percentage of one’s maximum heart rate, defined as the target heart rate. According to the American Heart Association, a person’s maximum heart rate is roughly 220 minus his age. His target heart rate for physical activity is between 50 percent (moderate intensity) and 85 percent (high-intensity). In other words, a 40-year-old man has a maximum heart rate of 180. Thus, his target heart rate is about 90 for moderate-intensity exercise, and for vigorous exercise, it is about 153. These guidelines vary according to each individual’s level of fitness and overall health.”

EXERCISES THAT ARE OKAY BEFORE BED

Secor: “Stretching, possibly gentle yoga, slow walking, or cycling on a stationary bike. 

Low-intensity is less likely to adversely impact your sleep. Generally, if you can carry on a conversation while exercising this is low-intensity exercise.

Gentle stretching can be relaxing and help you prepare for sleep.”

To learn more about Dr. Mimi Secor, or her new book, available for preorder, click here

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