Working out in the wee hours of the morning is ideal, of course, but if you’re not a morning star, it’s positively brutal to summon that kind of energy pre-dawn. While some of us are lucky enough to be able to break away from the office and squeeze in a lunchtime workout, the reality is that the majority of the workforce breaks a sweat in the evening before dinnertime.
That sweet spot between 5:30 and 7:30pm is when most of us rush to that evening spin, yoga, or high-intensity interval training workout class. But what to do if you leave the office late and still want to burn some calories without interfering with your sleep?
As we age, our sleep patterns change, and we often don’t get the solid, uninterrupted sleep of our youth. However, “By and large, there is a positive relationship between exercise and sleep. Individuals who work out regularly report much better sleep quality,” Night Pillow co-founder Kalle Simpson says.
She notes that there’s some evidence and a lot of conjecture that working out close to bedtime can hurt sleep quality because most exercise (especially cardiovascular) raises your heart rate and core body temperature. “Our body temperature needs to decrease, and our heart rate needs to slow down to fall asleep and stay asleep,” she says.
High-intensity workouts typically cause some level of dehydration, which can also affect sleep quality. “Therefore, it’s best to reserve cardio or intense workouts for earlier in the day when your body has time to slowly return to its baseline state,” Simpson adds. Here, the best workouts to do even late at night without interrupting your circadian rhythms.
This one’s a no-brainer, right? Exhale Core Fusion instructor Devon McLeod recommends evening yoga classes to “provide balance, strength, flow, and stretch.” You’ll leave the class feeling stronger but also with a greater sense of calm, she says.
Simpson adds that stretching helps to negate the tightness in muscles and joints that can develop while sleeping from prolonged periods of immobility. “The breathing helps regulate your physiological responses that may be heightened from the day and the stress and anxiety reducing benefits will further help you obtain a state of relaxation,” she says. To keep your body primed for sleep, avoid more intense or sweat-inducing yoga classes like bikram or power.
Reformer classes are so intense because the machine adds resistance and keeps you engaged mentally, says McLeod. “Your whole body is worked through lunges, pulsing, planking, and twisting from your core,” she explains. However, the burn is slow and classes are generally mellow enough to keep you from getting revved up before bed.
Simpson recommends Tai Chi if you’re into mind-body practices similar to pilates and yoga. “If you are intent on doing cardio, then try interval training where you allow heart rate resting periods and keep the exercise short,” she explains. “The longer period of time that your heart rate is raised, the longer it could take to return to baseline levels.” Adding Tai Chi to your cardio practice will help bring your levels back down.
McLeod notes that “Barre classes use light weights, ballet-inspired moves, as well as your own body as resistance through planks and pushups.” Much of the work is core-focused, so you’ll develop stronger abdominals and even better posture with consistent classes. Bonus: You won’t even wreck your blowout.
Believe it or not, there are some great cardio exercises you can do before bed that won’t keep you up all night, says Qinetic co-founder Ben Hart. He says running is a common exercise that can keep you up—especially if you already have sleeping problems.
“However, there are people out there who can sleep like a baby after a few miles,” he explains. “Everyone’s body is different. If you are not sure, try out different times and routines to figure out what works best for your body. Nothing is ever really a one-size-fits-all.”
Non-vigorous strength training
Hart suggests trying some compound exercises that will strengthen the larger muscle groups. “These don’t have to be intense, so no added weight,” he explains. “Strength training moves to get your muscles moving but not against too much resistance.”
Try these four moves: pushups, from knees or regular; squat without additional weight; side lunges; and 30-second planks. Hart notes that these exercises work your major muscle groups and circulate more blood throughout the body before bed.
“Remember to breathe and take your time throughout these, and there’s no need to rush,” he explains. Focus on a moderate to low pace and focus on proper movements.