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The Best Time to Exercise for Better Sleep

If you want to sleep better, it’s time to lace up those sneakers and get moving.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, those who exercise regularly report better quality of sleep than those who don’t work out. A combination of eight hours of sleep and at least 30 minutes of activity every day can also improve your mood, mental focus, and overall health.

When it comes to exercise’s sleep benefits, when you work out matters. Rejoice, early birds—it turns out the morning is the optimal time to get your fitness on for better sleep.

The sleep benefits of morning exercise

For a study published by the U.S. National Library of Medicine, researchers experimented with participants exercising on a treadmill for 30 minutes a day at either 7 a.m., 1 p.m., or 7 p.m., in order to learn more about the effects of exercise timing on nighttime blood pressure and sleep.

The study found that one of the advantages of early morning exercise was a greater decline in nighttime blood pressure than exercising in the afternoon or evening. The decrease in blood pressure led to a night of better-quality sleep. Specifically, the study found that those who worked out in the morning slept longer, experienced deeper sleep cycles, and spent 75% more time in the most reparative stages of slumber (both mind and body) than those who exercised at later times in the day.

“Much to our surprise, 7 a.m. exercise was better in terms of reduced blood pressure throughout the day and greater sleep benefits than exercise at 7 p.m., and there was little blood pressure or sleep benefit when exercise was done at 1 p.m.,” said researcher Scott Collier, PhD, an assistant professor in the Department of Health, Leisure and Exercise Science in Appalachian’s College of Health Sciences in a statement about the study.

Many researchers agree that one of the benefits of working out in the morning is that it helps you to maintain a routine for your body and achieve better sleep at night. Morning workouts can be more effective at waking you up than your standard cup of coffee and can carry you through the day better, without the crash that you sometimes get from caffeine.

Switching over to morning workouts also ensures that you actually get a workout in. We all know how it feels to have an unfinished workout looming after a long day when we also have a bunch of other errands to run or we’ve scheduled happy hour with friends. Working out in the morning leaves less room for excuses, meaning you get that workout in and out of the way. (Read more about the sleep benefits of exercise.)

What to do if you can’t fit in an early morning workout

On the flip side, working out too close to bedtime can interrupt your sleep. Working out releases adrenaline and endorphins, increases your heart rate, and raises your core body temperature. Unfortunately, these are all things that will keep you up.

Stuart Quan, MD, professor of sleep medicine at Harvard Medical School, and editor-in-chief of UnderstandingSleep.org, tells WebMD that nighttime workouts leave people wired: “Their adrenaline is high, their brain is active, and it’s difficult to wind down.”

If you just can’t fit your workout in during the morning, Quan says that the next best time to work out is at least three to four hours before your planned bedtime or doing a very low impact workout like yoga or stretching. This will allow your body temperature to return to its usual 98.6 degrees, your heartbeat to return to its resting rate, and your adrenaline levels to stabilize.

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Best morning workout tips

If you’re ready to make the change to early morning workouts (and improve your sleep as well!), here are some tips and tricks to help you stick to a routine:

  • Put your alarm across the room—or even in another room. Make sure it’s loud enough that you’ll hear it. The point is to get you up and out of bed because this tends to be the hardest part. (Here are three reasons to ditch your alarm clock right now.)
  • Resist the urge to snooze. If you snooze, you’ve lost the first battle of the day. It can also train your brain to unconsciously think that the first alarm isn’t serious, which can further promote the habit or even trick your brain to sleep through your alarm more easily. Set your alarm for the time you need to wake up—not earlier—and commit to getting your day started.
  • Drink coffee. Some studies have found caffeine can help exercise feel easier and more enjoyable, so brew a pot of coffee before hitting the gym. Sipping on something warm, like a cup of coffee, is also a great way to alert your senses and warm your body up after a night of resting.
  • Find what you like. Hate running? Then don’t go for a morning run. The best morning workouts are ones you actually enjoy doing, whether that’s indoor cycling, yoga, swimming, or something else. You’re much more likely to stick to a morning fitness routine (and have a better workout) if you genuinely like the activity you’ve signed up to do. Afterward, give yourself a pat on the back for a job well done—and go ahead and treat yourself to some new workout gear. You’ve earned it!

This article was published in partnership with the mattress reviews website The Slumber Yard.