does a walk before bed help you sleep?
Better Sleep

Should You Go for A Walk Before Bed?

Last Updated on September 29, 2023 by Louise Carter

Taking a late-evening walk for 30-60 minutes increases your chances of falling asleep for longer.

Walking 1-3 hours before bedtime is connected to improved physical and mental health. It assists with digestion, which is essential for people with sedentary jobs and lifestyles.

Walking also provides an opportunity to relieve stress and anxiety, enhance your mood, share time with a partner, and stop thinking about things that bother you at work.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, a single session of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, like walking, enabled volunteers with insomnia to fall asleep sooner than vigorous aerobic exercises.

What Are The Benefits of Walking Before Bedtime?

It was once believed that working out before bedtime prevented sleep, but that’s not the case.

Scientists have found that light exercise helps you sleep more soundly before bedtime. Studies have revealed that walking reduces the stress and anxiety associated with sleep issues like insomnia.

There are many reasons to make walking a nighttime habit:

Less Screen Time

In today’s hectic world, resting on the couch after dinner to watch TV and have a glass of wine seems harmless. However, if getting quality sleep is your goal, this post-dinner ritual is detrimental.

Fortunately, going for a walk may be a solution. When you spend 30-60 minutes walking post-dinner, you’re not watching TV and using your cell phone.

While this may not sound like much, it impacts your circadian rhythm. The problem with social media, watching TV, and playing video games before bedtime is the temptation to stay awake.

The action, suspense, and bad news can make you anxious, causing you to toss and turn for hours. Also, the bright light from a screen can keep you alert.

Usually, as the evening progresses and it gets darker and cooler, the body naturally produces the hormone melatonin, which leads to the gradual onset of sleep.

Melatonin production continues throughout the night, helping you remain asleep until your alarm rings. It diminishes as you reach the end of your sleep and will cease when the sun rises.

benefits of walking before bed

How Artificial Lights Disrupt Your Sleep Pattern

With the advancement of technology, humans have slowly moved away from their reliance on nature to determine the best time to stay awake and sleep.

An increasing number of individuals are now using screens, like laptops, smartphones, and televisions, before bedtime, which can adversely affect their sleep.

Electronic devices release a blue light that prompts the brain to inhibit melatonin production. You may feel this isn’t the case because your eyes begin to open and close during engagement.

You decide to sleep when the show ends, but your ability to rest is adversely affected. Exposure to blue light postpones the onset of REM sleep, causing you to feel groggy in the morning.

Sleep comprises 2 cycles: NREM (non-rapid eye movement) sleep and REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. Each cycle is 90 minutes long and alternates during the night.

NREM sleep is light sleep. As sleep progresses and deepens, you’ll gradually enter REM sleep. During REM sleep, the brain is most heightened, so you experience vivid dreams.

Importance of REM Sleep

During REM sleep, the body experiences more activity in the brain’s emotional, motor, visual, and autobiographical memory regions and less activity in those involved in rational thought.

This explains why some dreams are lucid, even if they make little or no sense.

Scientists describe the brain in this stage as a second gut as it digests all information gathered during the day, separating essential from non-essential memories.

REM sleep also affects how individuals read emotions. For example, people who napped and reached REM sleep were better at reading facial expressions than those who never entered REM sleep.

Researchers have found that REM sleep reduces fear-related effects during scary situations, reducing the risk of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Dreaming also affects creativity, memory, and mood.

Even if you can fall asleep after screen time, the chances are that REM sleep is compromised. This is evident because most people exposed to blue light at night feel drowsy and unrefreshed.

Substitute TV time for late-evening walks alone or with a partner, spending quality time together. If you can’t miss your favorite shows, unplug all devices at least 1 hour before bed.

Reduced Alcohol Consumption

You’ll have to finish a glass of wine or beer before you get up from the table, which prevents you from taking a half-full glass to the couch and giving in to the temptation of filling it up again.

Alcohol is a popular choice during the evening due to the misconception that it helps you wind down. Unfortunately, 20% of Americans use alcohol as a sleep aid.

If you have insomnia or trouble falling asleep, reduce alcohol to 2-3 glasses a week and restrict alcohol consumption to daytime hours only.

This may feel difficult initially, but changing your nighttime routine to fit in with other activities, like walking or going to the gym, are ways to distract you from drinking.

Effects of Alcohol on Circadian Rhythms

Circadian rhythms are 24-hour periods controlled by the biological clock.

The biological clock is a tiny region of the brain that manages circadian rhythm activity throughout various organs and systems of the body.

Circadian rhythms control almost all bodily activities, from sleep, sex drive, mood, and cognition to immunity and metabolism. Alcohol can impact the internal clock and its ability to synchronize.

Because circadian rhythms heavily influence the body, alcohol can affect all bodily functions. This affects sleep and other life-critical activities, such as:

Digestion

The digestive tract and its microbiome (called the second brain) function under circadian rhythm activity.

The effects of alcohol on the circadian rhythm can contribute to leaky gut syndrome. It weakens the gut lining, allowing food, toxins, and bacteria to enter the bloodstream from the digestive tract.

Liver Function

The liver is the body’s natural filtration and detoxification system that metabolizes food and chemical substances like alcohol. It draws toxins from the bloodstream and helps the body remove them.

Like all the other organs, the liver operates based on circadian rhythms. Alcohol disrupts circadian rhythms, reducing liver function and causing liver toxicity.

Mood

Alcohol is correlated with depression and sleep. People constantly under stress or have depression have disrupted circadian rhythms, as drinking alcohol causes interference.

Why is Alcohol Bad for Sleep?

Alcohol suppresses melatonin, which is vital for the sleep-wake cycle. According to Chronobiology International, some alcohol 1 hour before sleep can inhibit melatonin production by 20%.

Alcohol reduces sleep onset latency, which is how long it takes to fall asleep. As you develop a tolerance for alcohol’s sedative effects, you must drink more to get the same result.

The effects of alcohol can last throughout the night, even during sleep. While the body metabolizes alcohol, the body spends less time in REM sleep, which is essential for memory, processing of emotions, and creativity. Alcohol disrupts sleep during the second half of your sleep when metabolized.

As the sedative effects of alcohol diminish, you experience a rebound effect. This is where the body transitions from deep to light sleep, causing more awakenings during your sleep.

Most people don’t recall these awakenings, but they can significantly affect sleep quality.

Alcohol can have the following effects on sleep:

  • Alcohol increases adenosine levels, a chemical that can cause you to fall asleep at times you normally wouldn’t, severely disrupting the sleep-wake cycle.
  • You may need to use the bathroom frequently during the second half of your sleep.
  • Increased risk for sleep-disordered breathing and snoring, as alcohol relaxes the muscles, throat, head, and neck, causing these muscles to collapse during sleep.
  • There’s a higher risk of parasomnia, which includes sleepwalking and sleep-eating.
  • Alcohol can trigger or worsen sleep disorders like insomnia and sleep apnea.

Calms The Mind

Watching TV may distract you from your troubles momentarily, but as soon as you brush your teeth and prepare for sleep, you may notice your deadline anxieties creeping in again.

A short workout, whether walking on the treadmill before bed or going for a light stroll around the block, is an effective way to reflect on everything you’ve accomplished that day.

Most successful entrepreneurs take the time to write down good things that happened. Taking stock of what you’re grateful for during your walks can help you get through the tough times and stay motivated.

In today’s world, it’s easy to get trapped in an endless loop of negative thoughts regarding the day’s happenings, which you wish you’d dealt with differently.

Despite how badly you think the day went, most successful individuals avoid negative self-talk, knowing it’ll only worsen their stress and impair productivity.

Therefore, reflecting on positive outcomes makes you feel happier and more grateful.

Walking increases dopamine and serotonin levels, which can improve your mood. This can boost positivity, help you visualize positive outcomes for your current projects, and reduce stress.

Improved Sleep Schedule

Many external cues, like the time of the day and the presence of light, trigger sleep.

When you have a consistent sleep schedule, specific nighttime activities, like making herbal tea or brushing your teeth, can signal to the brain that it’s time for sleep.

When you have a nighttime habit of walking before you sleep, you’re helping the brain realize you’re about to go to bed. This can help the body decelerate its metabolic functions.

Count back the hours you need to sleep, and set the alarm to remind you to prepare for bed.

Plan walks for at least 1-3 hours before you sleep so you have sufficient time to drink water, get into your pajamas, brush your teeth, and do something relaxing.

Time with Partner

What’s nicer than going for a late-evening stroll with a partner?

Involving your partner in this nighttime habit will improve their sleep and allow both of you to enjoy each other’s undivided attention without modern-life distractions.

Walking with a partner is a way to connect with them and discuss your days. It also sets you both up for a good night’s sleep, so you wake up feeling happier and more positive in the morning.

is it bad to walk at night?

Improved Digestion

Walking after eating aids digestion, reducing the risk of digestive issues like heartburn and acid reflux. Exercise also makes you feel less bloated and promotes bowel movements when you wake up.

Weight Loss

Going for a walk after a meal regulates blood sugar levels. The body experiences a blood sugar spike after a heavy meal, leading to elevated insulin release and fat storage.

However, going for a walk at night in a well-lit, safe area gets everything moving in your stomach and reduces the effects of insulin, assisting with weight management.

Watching TV at night triggers late-night cravings because the body releases more ghrelin (hunger-inducing hormone) and less leptin (hunger-suppressing hormones) at unusual hours.

Giving in to your cravings and consuming high-sugar or processed food triggers the brain’s reward center, causing you to overeat junk food.

Walking stimulates the brain’s reward center to be a healthy substitute for nighttime cravings.

Therefore, walking has the opposite effect on the body’s biochemistry, inhibiting your cravings and allowing you to sleep without a rumbling stomach.

Activities You’ve Delayed

Most days, when you’re rooted to the couch, you may notice the books you’d like to read, the gratitude journal you intend to start using, and the meditation pillow you’d like to use more often.

Going for an evening walk can impact how you spend the rest of your night. When you perform one activity to improve yourself physically and mentally, you start doing more to reach your goals.

You’ll start reading and meditating at night instead of relying on TV or your phone as your only source of relaxation. You’ll realize that a warm shower before bed can improve your sleep more than resting on the couch while drinking wine or beer.

Just a few days into your new routine, you’ll have more me-time to write in a journal, perform other positive nighttime activities, and still have enough time to get 7-8 hours of sleep.