a man yawningWant to sleep well? Try exercising strenuously in the evening. Research from the University of Basel in Switzerland found that young adults who played sports several times per week fell asleep faster and woke up less at night than their peers. The authors suggest that the findings may have practical applications for adults who typically exercise in the evening after work.

The study’s participants were 52 Swiss high school students with an average age of 19. The students played sports two to three times per week for 65 to 90 minutes. On the day of the study, they followed their normal daytime and evening routine, playing sports approximately 1.5 hours before their normal bedtime. Before bed, the students completed a questionnaire rating how vigorously they exercised, their hunger levels, and their mood. The researchers observed the students’ sleep patterns using a sleep EEG.

Students who reported exerting themselves more during sports fell asleep faster, woke up less during the night, and slept more deeply than the students who exercised less vigorously. The researchers observed a connection between more strenuous exercise with increased tiredness, better moods, and less hunger at the night. The connection carried over into the next morning when the students woke up.

The researchers suggest that strenuous exercise in the evening can increase the metabolic need for sleep. Although the study is limited because the researchers only observed young, healthy adults, the findings may be generalizable for older adults.

“We believe that the present study has the potential to shed light on the issue of whether evening exercising should be discouraged. The findings may also have practical implications, since, for most employed adults and parents, evening hours often provide the only opportunity for exercise,” wrote Serge Brand, corresponding author of the study.

This research is published in the journal Sleep Medicine.

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