photography by PHUONG NGUYEN
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.