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According to sleep experts, exercise can help you sleep better–as long as you exercise during the day. But what happens if evening is the only time you have available to exercise? Should you skip it to avoid problems sleeping? Not so fast. Exactly how and when you exercise at night can make all the difference to how well you sleep. In fact, you may discover that exercising before bed isn’t just harmless; it’s the perfect segue to slumber. Here’s what you need to know:

Time It Right

While you may not want to hit the gym full force right before hitting the hay, studies have shown that exercising a few hours before bed won’t adversely affect sleep and may help you relax. Plan your workout for the early part of the evening to give your body and heart rate time to wind down before turning in. Also, wait at least a half hour after your evening meal to exercise to avoid digestive trouble that could keep you up at night.

Move Slowly

Exercise comes in many forms and intensities, but any type of exercise has health and sleep benefits, including slow-paced activities. When exercising at night, consider choosing a low-intensity activity that helps release stress and tension built up during the day. Yoga, Pilates, a refreshing stroll outside, or a leisurely bike ride will all give you the health perks of exercise along with relaxation to help you prepare for sleep.

Consider Your Stomach

One problem with exercising at night is it can induce hunger right before bed. Resist the urge to eat a whole meal, since reclining on a full stomach can interfere with sleep. On the other hand, don’t climb into bed starving. Instead, munch on a sleep-inducing snack, like hummus and whole grain crackers, yogurt, or a handful of nuts. Too much water can keep you up, too, so be mindful of overhydrating when exercising at night.

Include Breathing

Proper breathing while you exercise is key to a healthy workout and helps put you in a restful, relaxing state after you’re done. Learn how to incorporate breathing techniques into your evening workout session. You might also practice deep breathing or meditation right before bed; both are mental fitness techniques that can help you fall asleep faster, stay asleep longer, improve brain health, and contribute to overall well-being.

Cool Down–and Warm Up

After cooling down from exercising at night, wait to throw on your pajamas. Treat yourself to a warm-up first–in the bath, that is. A soak in the tub or a hot shower will help lull you into dreamland. Warm water raises your body temperature, which puts you in a state of calm, but it’s the subsequent cooling down that cues your body it’s time for sleep. The best time to take a bath or shower for sleep is an hour or so before bedtime.

If you prefer to exercise at night or it’s the only time that fits your schedule, don’t fret over whether it’s a good or bad idea. Any exercise is better than none, plus evening exercise can be done in a way that promotes sleep. Be mindful about late workouts, and enjoy an invigorating and restful night.

by Susie Yakowicz

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