There is nothing wrong with doing intensive exercise before bed, even push-ups, but understanding proper timing is the difference between good sleep and a restless night.
The idea makes sense – if you wear yourself out doing push-ups before bed, you will get a full work out and get a good night’s sleep! It seems like a win-win proposition but is it backed by scientific studies?
Exercise Doesn’t Hinder Sleep
According to a 2011 study by the European sponsored by the Sleep Research Society, regular physical activity does enhance overall sleep quality but might have an effect on “cardiac autonomic control” for the first few hours of sleep.
Eleven physically-active adults were measured for sleep quality after exercising vigorously. Non-rapid eye movement sleep increased after exercise, but heart rate variability stayed the same. (Source)
Another study published on October 29, 2018, in Sports Medicine, determined after examining 23 studies that evening exercise helped people fall asleep faster and increased deep sleep.
The same study, however, also found partial evidence of the no-exercise-before-sleep myth. Subjects who engaged in high-intensity exercises, followed by immediate bedtime, did report poorer sleep quality and longer REM latency. (Source)
The One Hour Interval
People who exercised and then took over one hour to recover from the high-intensity workout reported no change. However, those who went to bed within the hour could not fall asleep or did not sleep well.
The reason is most likely that their heartbeat exceeded 120 beats-per-minute and they were not able to recover in that hour for normal and relaxing sleep.
Remember that by nature, exercising excites the human body – it increases heart-rate, temperature, and boosts the nervous system, especially during high-intensity workouts.
You cannot fall asleep while in this state, but need a “cool-down” period afterward. Exercise reduces stress hormones and stimulates the production of endorphins, all beneficial to helping you get a good night’s sleep.
It takes about 1-2 hours for your core body temperature to fall back to normal and to get the full benefit of pain-killing endorphins. Returning to a normal state is what regulates mood and brings on feelings of sleepiness.
Stuart Quan, MD, Professor of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, states that going to bed too early after a workout will complicate matters.” (Source)
“Their adrenaline is high, their brain is active, and it’s difficult to wind down.”
Returning to your 98.6 body temperature takes 60-90 minutes and adrenaline levels must also stabilize. That’s when the subject feels the full benefit of both exercise and relaxation.
Just How Intensive Are Pushups?
Remember that these scientific studies refer to “high-intensity workouts” and pushups are generally not considered an intense cardio workout on their own.
A true cardio workout requires at least ten minutes of a consecutive, high-intensity workout. Jogging, pedaling, swimming, and other nonstop activities count as cardio. (Source)
Most people fatigue easily when doing push-ups and can’t keep up consistent movement for ten minutes straight. Therefore, push-ups are ideal for strength-training and working out shoulders and triceps, or as part of a full calisthenics program.
Professors like Christina Spengler suggest that “vigorous training” is defined as exercise intense enough to stop a person from talking.
Moderate training, on the other hand, which might include push-ups, might still be considered high intensity, to the extent that it would hinder a person singing comfortably. (Source)
In conclusion, if doing push-ups exhausts you to the point where your heart beats fast and you can’t easily speak or sing – which is the sign of a good workout – then give yourself some recovery time (at least 60 – 90 minutes), if you want a good night’s sleep.
I’ve been doing push-ups before bed for a few months now, and have seen a huge difference. I personally recommend using the Perfect Push-up Stand (link to Amazon) to help improve your form while also putting less stress on your joints. It has been an integral part of my before bed push-up routine.
There is nothing wrong with doing intensive exercise before bed, even pushups, but understanding the timing and recovery process makes all the difference.