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Fatal Fat Loss Mistake #3 – Working Out At Night

Today it’s pretty common to see 24-hour gyms with dedicated people working out late into the night. I’ve been a willing participant in late night exercise many times (note: this was in college while my decision making skills weren’t fully developed). I would head down to the gym and train after 10 p.m., play competitive midnight basketball, and I even went for a late night run or two.

Was I worse off for doing this? Was I wrecking my body and results? Why did I do this in the first place?

Today we’re going to answer these questions and help you walk away with some valuable tips to maximize the benefits of the exercise that you do. Here are the top 3 reasons that exercising late at night is not a good idea.

Reason #1 – You’re not leveraging your natural hormone cycles

The first thing to really glean from the example above is that I was young… very young. My hormone function was so tilted in my favor that it’s actually a bit scary. I could get away with some serious crimes. Not like robbery or Grand Theft Auto (which I played that video game a LOT in college) but I’m talking about I could be up all night, workout, canoodle with the ladies, and still be able to pass my exams the next day. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like some superhero level stuff to me.

Today if I try to pull that crap (minus canoodling with the ladies because I’m happily married now), I’m in a high level fog, I feel like I’m forcing myself to do even the simplest task, and my exercise performance definitely suffers. What happened between then and now? Well, my hormone levels changed, self-respect went way up, and my attention to detail has become razor sharp.

cortisol cycleBecause I was just doing what everyone else was doing in college, I never stopped to analyze if I could actually be doing BETTER than I was at the time. Today I’ve been able to research and test the best practices for performance and results. One of the most important things that I’ve found is that we have a natural high secretion of cortisol in the morning for the sole purpose of doing activity. This secretion gradually declines during the day, and bottoms out at night to cultivate the best conditions for quality sleep.

We are literally designed to do our strenuous activity during the day, and by taking advantage of these hormone cycles we can get radically better results in our performance. We also have spikes of testosterone and adrenaline in the late afternoon/early evening as well, which is another prime time for training. Learn to leverage this for better results.

Reason #2 – Nighttime is not the right time for stress hormones

When you’re exercising you are, in fact, activating your sympathetic nervous system (SNS). The SNS is commonly known as your “fight or flight” system because stress hormones are being produced more than normal, blood and nutrients are being pulled more to your muscles than your brain, digestion, etc, and rejuvenative hormones are lower than normal. The most important thing to understand is that this is a binary system. It’s either on or it’s off. When it’s off, your parasympathetic system is on (the “rest and digest system”). You cannot have both on at the same time… it just doesn’t work that way.

Some so-called experts will argue that exercising at night is fine because you’ll produce endorphins that help you to relax. Really? The main roles of endorphins are to be natural pain and stress fighters that wouldn’t need to be on if you weren’t exercising at night in the first place. Because you are going against your body’s natural cycles, you are creating more stress to fight, not fighting the stress that you already had. Sure tough exercise before bed can make you tired. But there’s a difference between falling asleep and passing out.

It’s impossible for your body to get the most rejuvenative sleep right after exercise. And sleep is the real name of the game when it comes to changing your body.

Reason #3 – Day time exercisers sleep better (the science)

A recent study at Appalachian State University found that morning workouts are ideal if you want to get the best sleep at night. Researchers tracked the sleep patterns of participants who worked out at three different times: 7 a.m., 1 p.m. or 7 p.m.

What they discovered was that people who exercised at 7 a.m. slept longer and had a deeper sleep cycle than the other two groups. In fact, the morning exercisers had up to 75% more time in the reparative “deep sleep” stage at night. This is so impressive, and a huge leverage point if you’re interested in a longer life and a better body.

Just being awake, itself, is a catabolic process. This means that your body is in a state where things are being broken down faster than they can be built back up. Sleep, on the other hand, is known as an elevated anabolic state. During sleep is when you have the most beneficial secretions of rejuvenating hormones, your brain and memory are improved (a process called memory processing), and your body is repaired from the activity you did during the day. Better Sleep = Better results. It’s as simple as that.

Your body also goes through a process called thermoregulation to help you sleep. During this process your core temperature drops to put you into the best state for deep sleep. Exercise intrinsically raises your core temperature, and it can take 5 to 6 hours for it to come back down. This is another reason why exercising close to bed is not ideal. Sure you can sleep, but your body is not in the optimal state to get the best sleep.

And here’s a little bonus tip: After your core temperature finally comes back down after exercise, it actually goes lower than normal. So timing your exercise around 6 hours before bed time can help you sleep better from a thermoregulation perspective. This is why I still often train around 4:30 p.m. if I’m going to bed at 10:30 p.m.

Now, let me make this one thing clear. This is not just about staying up and exercising late at night, this is also about getting up extremely early and interrupting your sleep for the sake of exercise. I’ve had clients who get up at 3 a.m. just to get a workout in. Daytime hormones are still at extremely low levels at that point, but hey, who cares about evolution… I’m going to do what I want anyway silly hormones.

Seriously though, we need to be aware of this and structure our lives so that we can train at ideal times to help us get the best results. As human beings we’re not just products of our environment, we are CREATORS of our environment and more powerful to affect change than we realize. We are better off sleeping those extra two hours than getting only 5 hours of sleep and trudging along on the treadmill at 4:00 a.m. There are ways to shift things around, it’s just a matter of putting our focused attention on them.

So after finding out all of this, why did I exercise late at night when I was younger? Well, first of all, I didn’t know any better (obviously). Secondly, I had the construct in my mind that it was the only time that I had to exercise, which was totally false looking back on it. I’ve worked with a few thousand people at this point, and one of the most life-changing things I’ve been able to help people with is re-prioritizing their lives and helping them to free up more time to do the things they love and take care of their bodies.

In the bestselling book Sleep Smarter I’m sharing 20 more incredible tips like this to help you optimize your sleep and get a better body as a result. Your ability to burn fat is predicated on your ability to get high quality sleep, and Sleep Smarter will give you an edge in that department that nothing else can. It’s a fun, easy read, and will provide you with strategies that will last you a lifetime. Get your copy of the #1 bestselling book right here now:

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  1. Mornings may be the best time for people to exercise, however not everyone has the time to do that. People who work night shifts may be getting home in the morning, so they’d rather workout at night. I agree with you that stress hormones don’t particularly do well at night but there are ways to exercise after a busy day, or just at night in general. Doing stretches, or a warmup is way better than not doing a workout at all. This warmup will boost your adrenaline, making you want to continue exercising (most of the time). If you want to learn more about this, I’d check out this link: https://www.fitnesssolutionsplus.ca/blog/exercise-end-day-youre-exhausted/. Hope it helps!

  2. If you work out first thing in the morning do you have a smoothie and then breakfast or is the smoothie your breakfast? Also, Do you only eat 3 times a day?

  3. Thank you for everything you do! I’ve quickly become addicted to your podcast and my coworkers and boyfriend laugh because I’m constantly chatting about and discussing new facts I’m learning from your podcast. I have just recently started looking at your blog and so excited! You are an inspiration and I loved finding this one because I came home tonight feeling guilty I didn’t work out this morning so wondering if I should workout at night. I had a gut feeling its not a good idea and now real evidence. ..now to find the motivation to going back to working out in the morning, I’m recovering from a back injury and had been working out in the morning.

  4. Couldn’t agree more. As a 72 year old fitness freak I see idiots on the gym every day necking down “sports shakes” after a workout. Wrong, wrong, wrong!
    I have tried to explain that to avoid muscle catabolisation in heavy workouts the body needs specific proteins and amino acids before and during the workout in small sips.
    The body cannot make use of a deluge of the mix after.
    The liver is incapable if processing such fuels fast enough and just converts it all to FAT!!!

  5. Pingback: Best Times to Go to the Gym in College – Quads on the Quad
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  7. I have been on night shift for 3.5 yrs and as much as I like to think my body has adjusted to this schedule, it hasn’t. But for me to do a morning work out, technically it would be the end of my day for me. Do the same rules apply or should I exercise in the late afternoon when I’m waking up?

  8. Hey Shawn,
    Wondering what your recommendations are for those of us that work the night shift? Thoughts on working out prior to work? during? after?
    Any differentiation between using cardio or weights during these timeframes?
    Thanks in advance!

  9. Unfortunately for me, literally the only time (besides weekends) I can get to a gym is at night after my kids and husband are in bed. So it’s either that, or not going at all. Is it really so bad to work out at night that I’d be better off not doing it at all? I don’t think so. But hey, I’m not the expert.

  10. But I am too tired most times in the morning does this mean i shouldn’t exercise at all. When I return from work it’s usually at least 6:30. Isn’t it better to exercise that evening than not at all ?

  11. I work overnight, 12 hour shifts, I typically go to the gym every evening at 8pm and then proceed to work my shift afterwards..is that what you would consider “late at night”….

    The timing works best for me bc after work, I go to school, then home to sleep.

  12. Very very informative article, Thank you for sharing some of your knowledge.

  13. Hi:) I had just googled working out late at night tips and came across your article, I work till midnight so plan to begin my workouts when I get home. I have a just one year old daughter and am just back to work. I would like to spend maximum time with her so given that my two workout options are 5 am or 1 am .. which is the lesser of the two evils? For fat loss?.. even on days off work I will either be setting an alarm for mornings or having follow through in the late late evenings in order to stay in a routine . Thank you in advance for your advise!

  14. Thanks for what you do and help Shawn, I fpund out things that I didnt know. So I would like to ask you something…. about me The only time I have to work out is about 7:30 pm. Ans why is that… I get up at 6:00 am, I work from 7am to 3:30pm. I get back home about 4:15 pm then I release my wife from kids duty and I take over to help them with their activities, so she can do her personal things. I take the kids to their outdoors/indoors things such as, Girls Scout, swimming lesson, horseback riding lesson, soccer practice… etc… I have 4 kids and they are involved in the things they like and enjoy. So when I get back aftet that routine. We have dinner about 6 pm. Then bed time for my kids at 7:15 pm. They are used to their schedule and they have enough sleep. So From 7:30 to 8:30 it is my time to work out and I got to bed around 9:30… is that a goos time? I do arerobics and biking… and I see results but now I dont know if that timw it the appropiate it one.
    Thanks again fo your blog and help…
    have a great one!! 🙂

  15. I was making terrible mistakes. Thank you for the enlightenment. I really needed this.

  16. Yo Shawn, from the bottom of my heart thank you! This article is very well written and very informative, and like all your work a privilege to read! You da man my friend!

  17. Love this shawn. I have yet to get it systemized for my workouts. I intend to work with my body and my natural cycle to incorporate my workouts.

    1. You said it, Megan. That’s what it’s all about… Paying attention to YOUR amazing body, and working with it, not against it, to be the best version of you. Booyaaaaa!

  18. In one paragraph you state a study that had results that favored the group who exercised first thing in the morning, “What they discovered was that people who exercised at 7 a.m. slept longer and had a deeper sleep cycle than the other two groups. In fact, the morning exercisers had up to 75% more time in the reparative “deep sleep” stage at night.”, and then a few paragraphs later you seem to contradict the results of that stated study advising that people do as you do and exercise 6hrs before going to sleep, ” So timing your exercise around 6 hours before bed time can help you sleep better from a thermoregulation perspective. This is why I still often train around 4:30 p.m. if I’m going to bed at 10:30 p.m.”. If your personal sleep/exercise pattern didn’t prove to be the optimum one on the basis of reaching the “deep sleep” stage for the longest time in the previously mentioned study, why would you state something that in many ways steers readers away from tested and observed optimum results? Especially within the same article.

    1. Monte, thank you for post, but I think that you are missing the underlying point of the article which is to IDEALLY not work out late in the evening. For me, as a health professional that understands the various lifestyle, family, work, and health situations that people have, to say that there is only one way (working out in the early morning) is negligent and putting people in a negative position if they simply aren’t in a situation where they can workout in the morning.

      I also mentioned that, yes, working out in the morning is clinically proven to yield more benefits, but I stated from a thermoregulation persecutive working out in the late afternoon is good as well. This doesn’t negate the fact that working out early in the day is ideal, nor is it contradictory, it’s just saying that you can find good things to support your goals if you choose to workout later (but not too late) in the day.

      Again, the point of the article is to drive people to not be in the gym in the middle of the night if at all possible. I hope this helps clear things up, and I’m wishing you the best on achieving all of your goals. Take care!

  19. How does Oprah NOT know about you yet??? I mean really. I know you’re one of my favorite things lol. You constantly blow me away with your knowledge, not even exaggerating. Can’t wait for the webinar!

    1. Katherine..think the same way too!! I believe Oprah knows him; she just needs to “see” him. Shawn’s vibe is alive. Won’t be long. =) Especially w/ fans like you. =)

    2. This is the first time I am learning about the time go workout. I use to workout about 6 pm because I dreded the 4am routine.
      So ad you made sense out if why I felt the way I did!

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