I’ve just run for MILES – why can’t I sleep?!

Do you notice a pattern between heavy exercise and light sleep?

“Wow,” said my housemate when I got back from my run last night, “you look wrecked. Your hair is kind of everywhere and… wow…”

Working out in Gym Series

I beamed at her, face red, hair frizzballed, sweating profusely and promptly slumped onto the counter. “I’m knackered!” I announced proudly, sitting up and guzzling my water like it was a drink of champions.

Five minutes later she told a joke and I laughed and laughed and laughed. Really loudly and for quite a long time. Everytime I revisited the joke in my mind it sent me into bellows of laughter again. This happened a number of times throughout the evening, including when I was clapped out on my bed and she threw my phone at my head (it was a helpful throw, I was too exhausted to move, I think that’s important to indicate).

Later, after a very ill-advised 10pm bowl of Sugar Puffs, I tossed and turned and giggled to myself as I tried and utterly failed to drop into a restful night’s sleep. Dozing I managed, a little bit of reading was achievable too, but other than that I lay on the bed and buzzed out of my head.


I’ve experience this kind of thing before after heavier than usual, strenuous exercise. I’ll return feeling exhausted and sure that a quick bath and some dumpy food are all it will take to send me off into a deep and satisfying sleep and actually the opposite happens. I toss and turn, feel playful and euphoric but cannot catch those much needed z’s.

Is it endorphins? Dehydration? Or something else entirely? And is there anything I can do about it or will I just have to move my heavy exercise to an earlier point in the day?

According to Dr Rob Danoff, exercising beyond your current level of fitness or conditioning can lead to “a prolonged stimulation of heart rate, respiratory rate, blood pressure and body temperature.” All of these will need to calm down before your body reaches a state of enough rest to actually lapse into sleep implying that you’ll need to start your long run, challenging bike ride or mountain trek in the morning, or at least finish it a good few hours before bedtime in order to give your body enough time to recover and drop back into a more relaxed state.

The Appalachian State University experimented with this by monitoring 20 participant’s sleep after half an hour’s exercise at 7am, 1pm or 7pm. They noticed that exercising in the morning resulted in a significantly deeper and less interrupted sleep. There are reports to the contrary too though, saying that exercise late at night doesn’t affect your sleep and The Huffington Post reports that “most of us don’t exercise intensely enough or long enough to counteract the sleep improving benefits of that work-out.” They do concede though that it’s usually best to leave at least two hours between exercising and crawling between the sheets.

It seems from my brief flurry of research that actually the results vary and are highly dependent on the individual. Some natural born sleepers will find it possible or easy to drop off regardless of how much exercise they’ve done while others who are prone to light sleep or insomnia may find it more of a problem.

I’m pretty convinced that listening to your body is one of the best things you can do to stay fit and healthy. If I’m dreaming of steak it’s probably because I’m low on protein. Sore throat and run down? It would be a good idea to take it easy for a day and get a good night’s kip. These things are obvious but oh-so-easy to ignore or over-ride in the desire to do something fun or complete something important.

Personally, I’m going to make sure I get home at least a couple of hours before bedtime, drink a LOT of water, maybe do some yoga and if all else fails make sure I’ve got a damn good DVD box-set.

What’s your experience? Do you sleep soundly after exercise or toss and turn?