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How to Sleep After Exercise (10 Doctor-Approved Ways)

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  • This article was written by Dr. Sony Sherpa – a qualified and practicing medical doctor – to ensure the content is medically accurate.

Exercise has been a huge part of my life for the last 20 years.

However, I’ve found that engaging in my favorite high-intensity Thai boxing, boxing, MMA, CrossFit, and weight training exercises after 6 pm keeps me awake until the early hours of the morning in many cases.

Sleeping after exercise can be difficult due to the increase in adrenaline, heart rate, and body temperature that exercise brings on.

So how can you sleep better after exercise?

The most effective way to sleep better after exercise is to have a warm shower to relax your muscles followed by a cold shower to cool your core temperature; hydrating, light yoga, taking melatonin, drinking chamomile or lavender tea, and eating foods like honey can also help.

In the rest of this article, I have used my professional knowledge as a practicing medical doctor to provide you with 10 actionable ways to sleep better after exercise.

Some of these measures need to be done before the workout as a preventative measure, whilst others can be applied later on if you have worked out too late in the evening.

No part of this article is designed to replace the advice of your own doctor.

Always consult with a qualified professional for the best guidance for you.

Related: click here to see the best mattress for exercise recovery and muscle soreness.

Why Can’t You Sleep After Exercise?

Is Exercise Good or Bad for Sleep? Facts Explained By Dr.Berg

Sleeping after a workout performed in the evening can be difficult because exercise increases the heart rate, body temperature, and adrenaline levels along with dehydration which counteracts the onset of sleep.

However, as explained below, this doesn’t mean that you should avoid exercising completely.

Exercise Helps Improve Sleep Quality Overall

Patients suffering from obstructive sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, insomnia, or any other sleep disorder, often start working out to help them with their sleep [1].

In fact, the National Sleep Foundation held a poll in 2013, asking citizens of America about their workout regimes, and how it impacts their sleep [2]. 

According to the results of the poll, 83 percent of people who work out during the day – at any time between early morning and late evening – found it easier to sleep at night after they had performed the workout.

The days they were not exercising were the days when sleep was more challenging, and if they managed to sleep, the quality of sleep was not as good.

These results were also found in 50 percent of individuals who participate in workouts of moderate to high intensity.

They also reported improved sleep quality and duration after workouts.

Exercising Too Late Can Cause Delayed Sleep Onset

However, 3 percent of people who performed physical activities later in the evening claimed to suffer from post-workout insomnia. 

Based on these findings, the National Sleep Foundation recommends that everyone should perform heavy workouts that stimulate the body and brain, no later than late afternoon, so as to prevent post-workout insomnia.

The increased heart rate, body temperature, and adrenaline levels caused by exercise overstimulate the body and the brain.

A good night’s sleep requires proper sleep hygiene and a nighttime routine. 

There are three main mechanisms through which exercise and physical activity result in poor sleeping habits, and all of them have to do with overstimulation of the body [3] – as explained below:

Hormones

When you work out, your body is producing hormones and releasing them into your bloodstream to increase your heart rate and muscle strength.

The purpose of these hormones is to keep you active and alert through your workout, but their levels don’t decrease immediately when you are done, but rather in a gradual manner.

Working out in the evening, a couple of hours before your bedtime can therefore be problematic, as these hormones are still in circulation when you get into bed, keeping your body awake.

Stress

If you are stressed during the day, due to work, school, or any other reason, and are trying to exercise your worries away, you may be doing more harm to yourself than good.

Emotional stress, when combined with physical stress, alters body physiology to increase insulin levels in the body.

This increase in insulin causes your blood sugar to drop excessively, which is known as hypoglycemia and causes sweating and headaches.

These symptoms can be severe enough to wake you up from your sleep, and prevent you from falling asleep again.

Although this doesn’t directly affect the initiation of your sleep cycle, it disturbs the cycle rapidly, and severely enough to cause sleep problems and mood problems.

I always warn my patients of this when they consider working out later in the day as a way to relax. 

Dehydration

The third mechanism, and the most common, through which insomnia develops amongst physically active individuals, is dehydration.

When you work out, your heart begins to beat faster, and you get all sweaty and hot.

This increase in body temperature, when accompanied by sweating, results in loss of water and electrolytes from the body which needs to be replaced almost immediately.

Lowering your body temperature and heart rate so that you can reduce the sweating, depends on hydration, and failing to do so consequently results in lack of sleep, and post-workout insomnia. 

10 Ways to Sleep Better After Exercise

Exercising late in the day is not recommended, but if it is the only choice you have, keep the following tips in mind to help you overcome post-workout insomnia.

My patients often report an improved sleep cycle with a significant decrease in the incidence of post-workout insomnia, after doing the following things:

1: Take a Cold Shower to Lower Your Body Temperature

Having a cold shower about 20 minutes after a workout relaxes the body, mostly by reducing body temperature to normal, which will make falling asleep easier [4]. 

Cold showers after exercising are also commonly recommended because they help the muscles recover, preventing injury due to the physical stress the muscles go through during a workout.

The purpose of the cold shower is to reduce the lactic acid buildup and inflammation in the muscles, both of which can be a cause of discomfort and pain, resulting in poor sleep initiation and maintenance.

My professional recommendation is to always have a cold shower after a workout, regardless of whether you want to sleep afterwards or not. 

A Warm Shower Can Relax Your Muscles

A hot shower after getting home from the gym relaxes your muscles, which puts your body in the mood for sleep.

Hot showers are a great way of relaxing your body, as they are capable of improving your circulation and lowering blood pressure [5].

When you are done with your workout your blood pressure may be elevated when you finally get home.

You may find it useful to first have a warm shower to relax your muscles and then finish off with a cold shower to lower your core temperature.

Find out if Sudafed can keep you awake here.

2: Do Not Consume Caffeine Within 8 Hours Before Bed

Caffeine is a stimulant and its consumption too late in the day may make it harder to get to sleep – especially when the post-workout effects of exercise are factored in.

Avoiding caffeine 8 hours before bedtime can give your body enough time to excrete the caffeine and for your body to return to baseline.

Many pre-workout and post-workout powders contain caffeine as a key ingredient to increase performance.

If you are hitting the gym in the morning before work or school, having a post-workout shake with caffeine may allow you to remain focused.

However, if you are working out later in the day, taking caffeine before or after your workout may make it much harder to get to sleep.

This is because the stimulating effects of caffeine – when combined with the alertness caused by physical activity – results in overstimulation of the body which causes post-workout insomnia. 

I always ask my patients to be careful when buying protein shakes and powders as supplements for their workouts – check the label to see if the supplement contains caffeine or any other stimulating substances.

Minimize caffeine intake as much as possible after a workout, and make sure only to take post-workout powders that are caffeine-free. 

Try these 15 ways to sleep better after drinking coffee.

3: Follow a Routine to Trigger Sleep

Following a regular routine before bed can help you to get to sleep faster after exercise because the repetitive cues can trigger your brain to initiate sleep.

For example, having a shower, reading a book, switching off your phone, putting in earplugs, or putting on a sleep mask can help trigger your body into recognizing that it’s time to go to sleep.

The human body works on biological rhythms, and it thrives on patterns to be able to perform replenishing and rejuvenating tasks while you sleep.

If you can build a routine of working out early in the morning (before 10 am), then you are more likely to fall asleep easier at night.

A recent study found that people working out in the mornings found it easier to fall asleep, and could sleep for a minimum of eight hours without any disturbances throughout the night [6]. 

The purpose of a routine is to build a pattern that your body recognizes so that stimulation of the brain and body by physical activity will not negatively impact sleep as much.

Avoid Exercising at Different Times Each Day

Some of my patients complain about the effects of workouts on sleep when they sporadically decide to work out at night when their bodies are used to working out in the morning.

This is because it disturbs the baseline set by the body, which reacts by being excessively alert throughout the day and night after the workout. 

Unfortunately, some people cannot find any time during the morning to work out and have to engage in physical activities later in the afternoon or the evening.

The solution to their lack of time isn’t to avoid exercise altogether, as that also has negative effects on their health.

Instead, I always tell my patients to just build a routine, which includes a workout in the evening, followed by two to three hours of rest, and proper sleep hygiene.

This helps your body become used to falling asleep, even after a vigorous workout. 

Another important thing to consider when building a routine is to fall asleep at the same time every night.

More often than not, having a set time for sleeping will result in your body starting to wind down 15 minutes prior to that time, making you feel sleepy.

This is a great way to get a good night’s sleep and be able to work out later in the day, for those who have no other choice, or those who just prefer this time. 

Try these 6 ways to sleep better when taking sertraline.

4: Stretch and Perform Yoga to Calm Your Body

6-Minute Post-Workout Yoga – Yoga With Adriene

Yoga is a calming exercise that can help your body wind down and relax after strenuous physical activity which may help you to sleep better.

According to a national survey performed in 2015, 55 percent of people who did yoga found it easier to sleep at night, despite any physical and emotional stresses of the day [7].

This survey also found that 85 percent of people doing yoga reported a significant decrease in their daily stresses, resulting in easier initiation, and proper maintenance of sleep throughout the night. 

I often tell my patients about the benefits of yoga, especially since many people are afraid to try it, due to the difficulty of the positions.

Yoga and stretching help your body calm down and relax, not necessarily by the effects of the positions, but rather by the regulation of your breathing.

Breathing is key when trying to calm the body down, whether after an anxiety or panic attack, or a vigorous workout.

Taking in deep breaths and controlling your breathing can help your body relax quickly, and reduce the effects of overstimulation caused by any physical or emotional stress. 

There are specific sleep time yoga poses with recommendations on breathing, that, in my professional experience, can help you fall asleep if you stay in them for three to five minutes.

They relieve the tension from your muscles after a workout and may be extremely beneficial in helping you fall asleep easily.

Bedtime yoga can be part of your routine to help you fall asleep better, even on days you are not working out, as it has several health benefits. 

Check out the video above to see some good yoga poses to try before bed to help with sleep.

Try these 6 ways to sleep better whilst taking Adderall.

5: Set a Specific Bedtime to Teach Your Body When to Sleep

A set bedtime helps rebuild your circadian rhythm, which is needed for you to have a healthy sleep cycle [8].

Once your body begins to recognize the pattern you may find it easier to fall asleep if you work out later in the evenings because, despite the stimulation of your body, your circadian rhythm will kick in – helping your brain calm the body for a good night’s sleep. 

An easier way to build a bedtime routine is to take a melatonin supplement, which will help you fall asleep, and repair your circadian rhythm, as well.

More about this is mentioned below, under the sleep-inducing supplements category.

Find out more about melatonin here. 

6: Hydrate Before, During, and After the Workout

Dehydration makes it harder to fall asleep because your body finds it harder to lower your core temperature which in turn keeps you awake.

Replacing the water lost during the workout indirectly reduces the body temperature back to baseline, which is crucial for a good night’s sleep. 

After a workout, if you fail to hydrate and replenish your electrolyte levels you are putting yourself at risk for developing symptoms of dehydration.

These symptoms can include headaches, dry nose, dry mouth, muscle cramps, and a general feeling of malaise and lethargy.

All of these can not only make sleeping difficult after a workout but also interrupt sleep during the night.

A study performed on approximately 20,000 American adults found that lack of proper sleep (6 hours of sleep or less) resulted in severe dehydration – compared to people who slept an appropriate amount of time every night, meaning eight hours or more [9].

Hydration is not only important for your sleep cycle but is also important for preventing injury to your kidneys after an extensive workout.

Try these 11 ways to sleep better when taking prednisone.

7: Take Sleep-Inducing Supplements After Your Workout

There are various sleep-inducing supplements and gummies on the market that are tested and proven to be safe for human consumption, along with being beneficial to inducing sleep.

These supplements affect the brain chemistry and induce relaxation to create a drowsy effect. 

Sleep-inducing supplements and brews are a perfect way to wind down after a long day, especially after having engaged in physical activity [10].

Melatonin

The main ingredient of these supplements is often melatonin, which is naturally present in the body and is responsible for the maintenance of the circadian rhythm.

This hormone is responsible for signaling your brain that it is time for sleep.

I often recommend it to my patients who have trouble sleeping, regardless of whether or not they are working out before their bedtime.

Taking these melatonin supplements not only improves the quality of your sleep, but it helps to form a routine, meaning that every day at the same time, your body will send a signal to your brain telling it to wind down and get ready for sleep.

This signaling can be helpful if you are working out later in the day. 

Magnesium

Magnesium is a mineral that you can take to help you fall asleep easier if you are suffering from post-workout insomnia or insomnia from other causes.

It is also safe for human consumption and can result in drowsiness soon after its ingestion. 

Lavender or Chamomile Tea

If you are not interested in taking a supplement and would prefer other ways of inducing sleep, then the smell of lavender or taking a sleep-inducing tea may be the better option for you.

Sniffing lavender has been associated with quicker initiation of sleep, and maintenance of it throughout the night.

However, it is more efficient if you can combine the lavender with other methods of sleep induction, such as chamomile or lavender tea.

Click here to learn how to prepare chamomile tea for better sleep.

8: Make Your Bedroom Cool and Dark

Comfort is key for a good night’s sleep, and if you are not comfortable in your room due to the temperature not being right or it not being dark enough, you will not be able to sleep properly.

A comfortable bed in a dark room with optimal temperature is important for proper sleep hygiene for everyone [11].

But if you are working out later in the evening, which already leaves your brain and body overstimulated, you should be extra careful to make your room cool and dark to calm your brain and induce sleep. 

Click here for 19 ways to make your bedroom completely dark.

9: Allow for at Least 4 Hours Between Exercise and Sleep

In my professional experience, I recommend that you exercise no sooner than 4 hours before your bedtime in order to allow your body to calm down [12].

Find out if Kiwi can help you sleep here.

10: Refuel After Your Workout to Replenish Your Body

Working out uses energy, and not refueling with appropriate food can cause hunger pangs at night, which may result in you waking up and not being able to fall asleep again. 

Having a healthy snack or a small meal after working out will leave you full, and depending on the macronutrients in your meal, sleep may be even easier to achieve than just going to bed after working out.

Foods like bananas, honey, walnuts, and almonds can help you recover post-workout and also aid with sleep.

Conclusion: Exercise Earlier in the Day

The most effective way to stop your workouts from interfering with your sleep is to exercise in the morning.

However, if this isn’t possible, then taking a cold shower, hydrating properly, eating sleep-inducing post-workout foods, winding down, and taking supplements can help if you have worked out too close to bedtime.

Up next: see the best mattresses and beds to help you sleep after exercise here.


Sources and References

1: Kline, Christopher E et al. “The effect of exercise training on obstructive sleep apnea and sleep quality: a randomized controlled trial.” Sleep vol. 34,12 1631-40. 1 Dec. 2011, doi:10.5665/sleep.1422

2: 2013 exercise and sleep. Sleep Foundation. (2021, February 26). Retrieved November 10, 2021, from https://www.sleepfoundation.org/professionals/sleep-americar-polls/2013-exercise-and-sleep

3: Youngstedt, Shawn D. “Effects of exercise on sleep.” Clinics in sports medicine vol. 24,2 (2005): 355-65, xi. doi:10.1016/j.csm.2004.12.003

4: Ajjimaporn, Amornpan et al. “Effect of Cold Shower on Recovery From High-Intensity Cycling in the Heat.” Journal of strength and conditioning research vol. 33,8 (2019): 2233-2240. doi:10.1519/JSC.0000000000003017

5: Oyama, Jun-Ichi et al. “Hyperthermia by bathing in a hot spring improves cardiovascular functions and reduces the production of inflammatory cytokines in patients with chronic heart failure.” Heart and vessels vol. 28,2 (2013): 173-8. doi:10.1007/s00380-011-0220-7

6: Yamanaka, Yujiro et al. “Morning and evening physical exercise differentially regulate the autonomic nervous system during nocturnal sleep in humans.” American journal of physiology. Regulatory, integrative and comparative physiology vol. 309,9 (2015): R1112-21. doi:10.1152/ajpregu.00127.2015

7: Stussman BJ, Black LI, Barnes PM, Clarke TC, Nahin RL. Wellness-related use of common complementary health approaches among adults: United States, 2012. National health statistics reports; no 85. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2015

8: Jagannath, Aarti et al. “The genetics of circadian rhythms, sleep and health.” Human molecular genetics vol. 26,R2 (2017): R128-R138. doi:10.1093/hmg/ddx240

9: Rosinger, Asher Y et al. “Short sleep duration is associated with inadequate hydration: cross-cultural evidence from US and Chinese adults.” Sleep vol. 42,2 (2019): 10.1093/sleep/zsy210. doi:10.1093/sleep/zsy210

10: Chan, Vicky, and Kenneth Lo. “Efficacy of dietary supplements on improving sleep quality: a systematic review and meta-analysis.” Postgraduate medical journal, postgradmedj-2020-139319. 13 Jan. 2021, doi:10.1136/postgradmedj-2020-139319

11: Riemann, Dieter. “Sleep hygiene, insomnia and mental health.” Journal of sleep research vol. 27,1 (2018): 3. doi:10.1111/jsr.12661

12: Stutz, Jan et al. “Effects of Evening Exercise on Sleep in Healthy Participants: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.) vol. 49,2 (2019): 269-287. doi:10.1007/s40279-018-1015-0

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