Can evening sports promote sleep problems?

Does evening sports really lead to insomnia?

Again and again it is advised not to exert yourself too much and to exhaust yourself before going to bed, because it will make you sleep less. But just a few weeks ago, a study was published that concluded that evening sports did not reduce sleep quality. But what's wrong now? We are looking at the current study situation.

Serious health problems

Sleep disorders can not only result in tiredness and poor concentration, but also serious health problems. According to doctors, sleep disorders increase the risk of diabetes, cardiovascular diseases such as high blood pressure and stroke, mental illnesses such as depression and lead to a weakening of the immune system. However, it is generally not advisable to use medication for poor sleep. Instead, we recommend a healthy lifestyle with relaxation exercises and avoiding coffee, nicotine, alcohol and intensive sports in the evening. Does evening training really have a negative impact here?

Regular exercise promotes sleep

“Regular exercise promotes sleep. However, the positive effect of sport depends on general personal fitness and the time of day when it is exercised, ”the German Society for Sleep Research and Sleep Medicine (DGSM) writes in a patient guide on“ Problems falling asleep and staying asleep ”.

Sporting activity can "disrupt sleep if the time interval from bedtime is too short and the activity is unusually stressful", it continues.

However, new studies show a contradicting picture of the thesis that sport can disturb sleep shortly before bedtime.

No negative impact

Researchers from the Institute of Movement Sciences and Sport at ETH Zurich analyzed a total of 23 studies on the subject for a meta-analysis published in the journal "Sports Medicine".

They came to the conclusion that exercise within four hours before bedtime did not fundamentally affect sleep.

"If sport in the evening has any effect on sleep quality, then it is more likely to be positive, if only slightly positive," explains Christina Spengler, head of the Laboratory for Human and Sport Physiology, in a message.

Results relate to very intensive training

The scientists explain that the only form of evening exercise found in the analysis that may have a negative impact on sleep is very intensive training within an hour before bed.

An example of intensive training would be interval training, which is often used by competitive athletes. A longer endurance run or a longer ride on a racing bike should mostly fall under moderate training.

The analysis showed that the participants had to wait longer before going to sleep after intensive training shortly before going to bed.

The study also provided an indication of why this is so: the test subjects did not recover sufficiently in the hour before bedtime; her heart rate was still increased by more than 20 beats.

Not all people react in the same way

"Due to the data situation, there is no reason not to move moderately in the evening", says Jan Stutz, PhD student in Spengler's group and first author of the analysis.

In none of the studies examined did moderate exercise cause sleep problems. Not even if the workout ended just 30 minutes before bed.

"However, very intensive training or competitions should be started a little earlier if possible," says the ETH doctoral student.

The study authors emphasize that they looked at average values ​​in the analysis, which only allow general statements.

“Not everyone reacts immediately to sports, and of course everyone should continue to listen to their bodies. If you notice that he or she has difficulty falling asleep right after exercising, you should start training a little earlier if possible, ”says Stutz.

"It is generally known that sport improves sleep quality during the day," says Spengler. "We have now shown that even sport in the evening does not have any negative effects."

Small number of study participants

A message from the dpa news agency points out that the Swiss meta-analysis is actually quite meaningful compared to previous individual studies, but also has limitations.

The study included 23 studies - but only 275 people, i.e. an average of twelve study participants.

With a small number of subjects, the risk increases that the results in other samples are different. In fact, the results changed partially when individual studies were excluded from the analysis.

No comparison with non-athletes

In addition, evening athletes were not compared with morning or afternoon athletes - but with non-athletes.

However, the agency report mentions a study overview from 2015 in which US psychologists compared sport at different times of the day.

At the time, it was shown that people who exercised less than three hours before bedtime woke up less often than those who exercised in the afternoon or early evening (three to eight hours before bedtime).

However, the time of day did not affect other factors, such as how long it takes to fall asleep. In addition, the positive results were only for occasional exercise (less than once a week).

"There were not enough studies on regular exercise that took the time of day into account," the scientists explained.

Little research so far

There is also little research on the relationship between evening sports and people who already suffer from sleep disorders.

Recently, researchers from Australia have studied the effects of evening sports especially in overweight men with sleep disorders and found no evidence of poorer sleep after sports in the evening than in the morning or afternoon.

However, a new study from the USA suggests that movement apparently influences the biorhythm and can act as a timer in a similar way to light.

It is currently still unclear how evening sports should affect sleep at all. Do factors like higher body temperature, sore muscles, heartbeat or nightly hunger play a role? Previous studies on this are not clear.

According to the dpa, the German guidelines for the treatment of sleep disorders do not state anything about exercise as a therapy method. The data situation is too thin for this. (ad)

Author and source information

Video: How to Fall Asleep in 2 Minutes (January 2022).