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Sleep tight: Why working out late can keep you awake

Today Well+Good kicks off Sleep Week. We’ll present five well-being perspectives on getting quality zzz’s—from what time of day to workout to what mattress to sleep on.

“In an ideal world, you should probably work-out before 2:00 p.m.,” says Geralyn Coopersmith, the trainer’s trainer at Equinox. Author of Fit + Female, The Perfect Fitness and Nutrition Game Plan for Your Unique Body Type, Coopersmith has an masters degree in exercise physiology from Columbia University and she runs Equinox’s in-house education, keeping up on the latest exercise research and teaching it to the gym’s 1,400 trainers. “There’s a connection between lower body temperature and getting quality sleep,” Coopersmith explains, “Exercise raises body temperature and revs up the metabolism. It’s a good thing in terms of burning calories, but it’s not great if you want to relax and fall asleep.”

Coopersmith doesn't know any New Yorkers who get the necessary 7-9 hours of sleep.

For a fit person, the body can learn to adjust to a p.m. workout. Coopersmith believes consistency in evening workouts is why all those regular gym-goers get good sleep. For a less conditioned person, the body takes longer to cool down, so those evening workouts can translate into a sheep-counting session that night. (With a hot bath, body temperature only rises temporarily as a result of the environment; exercise’s metabolic temperature spike lasts much longer.)

If you find yourself with only an evening slot for a workout, Coopersmith suggests yoga, Pilates, or Tai Chi. “These forms of exercise take you into a parasympathetic state—the flip side of the fight or flight stage. So if it’s 7:00, choose something other than cardio and weight training.” Coopersmith cites a recent study that compared people doing a stretching program with people doing an intense cardio workout and how quickly each group feel asleep. The results: the stretchers slept while the cardio warriors tossed and turned.

Bottom line for New Yorkers who can’t sleep: Set your alarm clock for your cardio boot camp, jogs, and spin classes; and plan to do yoga or Pilates for those days when after-work working out is the only option.

What time of day do you workout? Have you noticed any effect, positive or negative, on your sleep? Tell us, here!