6 Ways to Have a Great Late-Night Workout
Finding time to exercise can be a challenge for busy people.
If you're like me, one of the few times I can find to workout is late at night, after the boss is happy, the kids are asleep, and the dishes are done. I've found it to be a relaxing time to exercise because the gym is usually not crowded, and I don't feel rushed. And I must not be the only one; one of the largest fitness chains in America is now 24-Hour Fitness, boasting more than 400 locations and 3.8 million members. (See also: 8 Ways to Use the Gym for Free)
The problem is that nighttime is not the ideal time to be exercising. Doctors and fitness experts agree that most people aren't operating with peak energy late at night, and such workouts can disrupt a person's sleep schedule. The National Sleep Foundation says exercise can raise your body temperature, which is not ideal for getting a good night's rest.
But a late-night workout is better than getting no exercise at all. I've personally had some success with exercising between 9 p.m. and 11 p.m., but it has required some discipline to ensure I'm also getting to bed at a decent hour. Here are six ways I've made late-night gym sessions work for me. (See also: Fitness for People Who Hate Exercise)
1. Eat Dinner, but Don't Pig Out
Dinner is often the largest meal of the day, but you don't want to workout after loading yourself down with food. So be smart. A good-sized meal will give you the energy you need later, but you'll want to eat something that won't upset your stomach. Avoid things like potatoes or meat that take a long time to digest. I find that a modest plate of pasta with some vegetables works well, particularly if I wait a couple of hours before heading to the gym. (See also: Using Portion Control to Lose Weight)
2. Stay Hydrated
It always makes sense to drink fluids before and after a workout, but it's especially important when you workout at night. Remember that when you sleep, you're going six to eight hours without fluids, so you never want to go to bed thirsty. If you want to avoid feeling rotten in the morning, drink two glasses of water before your workout. After your workout, drink until you're no longer thirsty, and then drink a little bit more. And don't forget to hydrate well after waking up.
Also consider drinking something with nutrients to restore much-needed minerals, protein, and carbs. I find that chocolate milk works awesomely.
3. Be Like the Pros, and Take a Nap
Think about the game schedule of most pro athletes. They're expected to be at peak performance at 7 p.m. or later. So it's common for them to take a nap earlier in the day.
"Guys make more time for naps now," NBA trainer Greg Farnam told the New York Times. "Before, they'd just take a nap when they were really tired instead of building it into [their routine.]"
So consider sliding 20-minute siesta into your daily schedule if you can. It may come during the commute home on the train, or as a quick snooze before or after dinner. This will help supplement your nighttime sleep and give you more energy later in the day. If the pros do it, why not give it a try?
4. Take a Shower, and Keep It Cool
One hopes you plan to take a shower after working out anyway. The good news is that a shower will not only get you clean, but will help lower your body temperature and help you get ready for sleep. Make the water temperature lukewarm or even cool, and consider lowering the thermostat in your house to help aid the cooling process.
Actively working to cool yourself down will aid in the recovery process and reduce inflammation, as well.
5. Take It Easy
The more intense the workout, the higher your heart rate will be. And the higher your heart rate, the longer it will take you to cool down and fall asleep. If you're having trouble winding down after a late-night gym session, consider easing off the pedal a bit and workout at 50% to 75% effort. You'll still benefit from the exercise, but will find it easier to get calm. You can always save your most intense workouts for the weekend. (See also: Ways to Exercise in Under 5 Minutes)
6. Shut Off the Electronics
There's a lot of research that shows that television, computers, and mobile devices can make sleep difficult because they can rev up your brain when you should be trying to wind down. If you're already amped up following a workout, the last thing you want to do is get your brain overstimulated, too.
I like to wind down by reading a good book or magazine, or even doing menial tasks like sweeping the kitchen floor or folding laundry. You may find your own ways to get calm after a workout to ensure a good night's rest. But you'll most likely want to put away the phone and shut off the TV.
Do you workout late in the evening? How do you get to sleep afterward?