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How Bedtimes Impact Exercise

Does this sound familiar? You’re heading out to work, bleary-eyed and wishing you could have stayed under the covers, only to shake your head at the sight of one of your neighbors out jogging in the early morning light. No? Maybe you’re that neighbor who got up at the crack of dawn, full of energy and intent on getting your exercise in before heading off to the rest of your day?

Whichever one of these types you are, there’s a good chance that the time that you like to go to sleep at night has a lot to do with whether or not you stick to your exercise routine. Research has found that morning people have a much greater tendency to stick to their regiment than do night owls.

The research, conducted by principal investigator Kelly Glazer Baron, Ph.D., associate professor of neurology and director of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University, determined that those who describe themselves as night owls have a tendency to spend a good deal more time sitting, and that regardless of what time they actually go to bed or how much sleep they get, they have a mindset that tells them that it will be to hard for them to fit exercise into their lives. “We found that even among healthy active individuals, sleep timing and circadian preference are related to activity patterns and attitudes toward physical activity. Waking up late and being an evening person were related to more time spent sitting, particularly on weekends and with difficulty making time to exercise.”

The study was conducted with the assistance of 124 adults. Using the Horne-Osberg Morningness-Eveningness Questionnaire, they were asked to identify themselves as either morning people, night people, or to indicate whether they felt that they fell somewhere in between the two. The majority self-identified as falling somewhere in between, while twelve percent said that they were night owls and twenty percent identified as being morning people. They were then asked to wear monitoring devices on their wrists that tracked the time that they woke up, how long they had slept, and what level of physical activity they engaged in. They were also asked to answer survey questions regarding the way that they felt about exercise.

We found that even among healthy active individuals, sleep timing and circadian preference are related to activity patterns and attitudes toward physical activity We found that even among healthy active individuals, sleep timing and circadian preference are related to activity patterns and attitudes toward physical activity

The study was presented at the recent SLEEP 2014 conference, the annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies. The researchers indicated that based upon their findings, people might want to keep their sleep routines in mind when they are trying to come up with an exercise regiment for themselves, saying, “Sleep timing should be taken into account when discussing exercise participation.”

So what is a good exercise routine for night owls? The first thing to do is to recognize your own body’s patterns and stop trying to fight it – instead you can work with it and see what you can do to try to help yourself along. Even the most dedicated night owl will benefit from getting out into the morning light, despite how challenging it may feel to pull themselves out of bed. Even if you just take a walk around the block in the morning before taking your shower and heading to work, you’ll find that exposure to the sunlight will help you feel better. According to Dr. Baron, “It could help them feel more alert and awake. Sunlight can also help advance a rhythm and help them feel more alert Morning light at the right time can help.” She also recommends that mornings will run more smoothly if you take a few minutes to sit quietly and gather your thoughts. “Night people feel best at night no matter what you do, but they can do things like this to help them function better in the morning.”

Most importantly, sleep experts say that you should not work against your personal nature If you feel most active later in the day, then that is the time when you should exercise. For all of the joggers that you see out there in the morning, there are an equal number of people who are getting their sweat on after work each day. Take the time to get out for a jog at sunset rather than at sunrise, or sign up for a class at the gym. Though there used to be a great deal of talk about late exercise interfering with sleep, recent studies have shown that this is not the case – though morning exercise may help you to get to sleep more easily, those who exercise at night have been shown to fall asleep in about the same amount of time as those who do not exercise at all, so there is absolutely no benefit in skipping the nighttime workout – especially if you are a person who goes to bed late anyway. The rule of thumb that most researchers tend to stick with is to try to have your exercise done by two hours before bedtime.

Men’s Fitness magazine says that if you are a night owl, there are a couple of tips that will help you get through your workout more easily. The advise that you eat a late-afternoon snack so that when you work out at six or seven in the evening, you have the energy that you need to work out effectively. Even if it’s a protein bar, you’ll provide yourself with the fuel you need. They also suggest that if you’re going to work out after sitting at a desk all day, you concentrate on some hip-flexor stretches to loosen up tight muscles. Finally, they encourage their readers to go straight from work to their workout. Not only will you find that doing so allows you to let go of any stress or tension that follows you out of the office, but it will set you up for a productive evening once you’re done.

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