Can My Sleep Schedule Impact My Workouts?
Outside's long reads email newsletter features our strongest writing, most ambitious reporting, and award-winning storytelling about the outdoors. Sign up today.
If you’re the type of person who regularly burns the midnight oil, the thought of waking up for a 6 a.m. workout may be pretty unappealing to you. And you’re not alone: A study presented at the Associated Professional Sleep Societies’ annual meeting last week reported that self-reported “night owls” face more perceived barriers to exercise, including not having enough time and being unable to stick to a regular workout schedule—regardless of what time they were actually getting up or going to bed.
That makes sense, says study author and Northwestern University neurology professor Kelly Glazer Baron, Ph.D: If you’re not naturally a morning person, crawling out of bed for an early workout will be more difficult. And if you choose to sleep in and save your workout for later in the day, well, things might just get in the way.
“It is harder to work out at night—we have social engagements, work, dinner; it can be difficult to find the right time,” says Glazer Baron. “So those people who are planning for evening workouts more often don’t get around to doing them.”
Night owls also reported more time spent sitting throughout the day than early birds—a potentially more ominous finding, considering what scientists are learning about the dangers of sedentary behavior. You may not be able to change your sitting habits too much while you’re at work, but it can’t hurt to spend less leisure time on the couch or in front of a screen, especially if you tend to stay up late.
The good news is that there’s nothing wrong with evening workouts, assuming you’re actually able to get them done. “We used to think that moderate exercise an hour or two before bed could be detrimental to sleep,” says Glazer Baron. “I’ve even heard people use that as an excuse: They’ll say, ‘Oh, it got too late, I’d better not work out now.’ But we’re finding more and more that that’s not true for most people.” (A really hard workout, on the other hand, may keep you up later than usual.)
Bottom line: From a scheduling perspective, morning workouts have the advantage. But if you really hate getting up early—or it’s keeping you from a full night’s sleep—it’s fine to embrace your inner night owl and exercise later in the day, says Glazer Baron. Just know that it might take a little more determination and planning to actually make it happen.