A college professor of mine would always say “the best time to workout is whenever you’ll do it.” He’s not wrong! Real benefits from exercise come with repetition. You gain the most when exercising becomes a habit.
I love the thought process here. It’s basically saying this: You know you need to workout, but when would you actually do it? During your lunch break? Great choice. First thing when you wake up? That’s awesome! After you get home from work? Perfect. Exercise is an important part of living your best life. Whenever you can make time for it is when you should do it.
This is a really helpful mindset for a lot of people. However, scientific research gives us a more precise recommendation.
There’s two clusters of cells located behind your eyes. These are called the suprachiasmatic nuclei, more commonly known as your “biological clock.” This is what controls when you feel tired, awake, etc. These clusters are directly connected to your pupils, so when you view bright light (like first thing in the morning when you reach for your phone), your biological clock gets a wake up call.
Exercising helps you feel and function better. Bright light alerts your system. So when you exercise under bright lights (like florescent lights or midday sunshine), there’s an exponential or synergistic effect. Your body gains and keeps more energy because it has a boost from both the bright light and from the exercise, keeping you more productive for longer.
On top of this exponential benefit, if you exercise in bright light 3–4 hours before going to bed, you’ll get more of what the psychologists call “slow-wave sleep.” This is the good stuff. This is the sleep you need to rest well, and be more productive day-to-day.
Simply put, when you workout 3–4 hours before going to bed, you sleep better. Exercise at any time helps you fall asleep just by tiring you out. But exercising in this particular window allows you to recoup most efficiently, which makes a positive impact on your next day. If you play your cards right, you can land yourself in a fantastically beautiful cycle of increased productivity.
This doesn’t mean you should exercise right before sleeping. If you exercise within 3 hours of going to bed, you’ll probably still feel like you slept well, but you’ll actually be hurting yourself in the long run. Exercising too close to sleeping keeps your heart rate higher while you sleep. This doesn’t necessarily make a difference in the moment, but it can lead to cardiovascular issues down the road.
Also, exercising too close before bed doesn’t allow you the same amount of restorative sleep that you need. You might sleep straight through the night, but you won’t feel as rested.
All of this is important to understand because working out — and life in general — is not a one-day thing. What you do today effects your tomorrow. What you did yesterday effects today. It’s a never-ending cycle.
If you’re able to sleep better, every part of your tomorrow is going to be and feel better. You’ll be more positive. You’ll be more productive. You’ll be able to do more and feel so much better about it. You’ll be able to get in a better workout tomorrow. You’ll be able to sleep better tomorrow. It’s a cycle of improvement.
Exercising 3–4 hours before going to sleep is the best time to exercise because of how much better it will allow to do everything moving forward. Maybe this means you need to hit the gym at 6pm and go to bed at 10pm. Is that odd for your schedule? Try it and see what you can do.
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