Sleep or Workout? What Should I Do After Night Shift?


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I have always wondered if there is anything wrong with completing an exercise workout after finishing up a night shift. Will it affect how you sleep and consequently your health? This article will give you helpful insights for knowing how and when to exercise as a night shift worker.

For the majority, working out after a night shift does not negatively impact your health, workout or quality of sleep. However, if a decision is needed to be made between sleep and exercise, sleep must always come first.

If you’ve made it to this article because you want to start exercising and we’ve just burst your bubble, don’t fret, as you can always workout once you wake up or on break at work (should this be possible).

The key discussion maker here is managing time and what fits in best with your sleep schedule. This article is going to show you how juggling night shift and exercise can be done.

If you are interested in checking out the best fitness gear on Amazon, you can find them by clicking here.

Can You Exercise Too Close To Bedtime After a Night Shift?

Overwhelmingly, most graveyard shift workers including those who participated in medical research in this area, don’t see an issue with working out 1-2 hours before going to sleep after working night shift.

Some even said they slept much better versus if they didn’t workout!

There is a heap of very technical research articles written about this stuff which I have referenced often throughout this post.

If you’re in the mood for some “light reading” and want to check them out for yourself, go for it. Click on the following numbers to explore – (1), (2), (3).

If not, this post provides a comprehensive, but an easy to follow summary which will save your precious time. 

For some graveyard shift workers, yes, they may experience that endorphin “hit” or “runners high” preventing them from falling asleep quickly, but in most cases, exercising after night shift, even within 1-2 hours, does not make an obvious difference.

One study did suggest, however, that if you complete a vigorous workout like a cross-fit session or a difficult cardio and strength circuit within an hour of going to sleep, your total sleep time could be negatively affected and it could take a little longer to fall asleep.

But not every person included in this study felt this impact and that’s also what we have noticed from our own personal experience.

There seems to be an undeniable love for a morning workout both in the wider community and also from those whom we work with.

I’d be lying if I said it was the more popular choice, but it is WAY more common than I first thought.

But why is that?

It could be because the roads are less congested; the gyms are quiet (besides a few muscley, single brief wearing, bodybuilders who could actually be great for inspiration, particularly if you lift weights) and interestingly, the sleep post-workout was reported as incredibly restful.

I should mention that for those who did a workout in the morning, it is not always easy. But they suggested, that once you are in that fitness environment, with other motivated individuals, you might be surprised with how that inspires you.

But this method is not for everyone so let’s explore one of the most common questions we hear about working out after night shift...

running-cloudy-day | Sleep or Workout? What Should I Do After Night Shift?
It seems that even running after night shift will not impact on how well we sleep

Should I Push Myself to Workout After Night Shift If I Don’t Have the Energy?

Well no. It’s not really necessary IF, (yes a big IF) there is either time to exercise after sleeping in the afternoon, or you do it at work. 

Why I say this is because all night shift workers, well all humans actually, need to exercise vigorously (the huff and puff kind of stuff) daily for a recommended 150 minutes per week. That’s 2.5 hours worth of exercise…

Adding some strength training is also recommended to be done on at least 2 days per week.

The American Heart Association made these “rules” or guidelines I should say, to keep our hearts healthy and prevent disease.

It may seem like a lot but it’s do-able if you create healthy habits which work for you, your shift work lifestyle and of course your family. 

After a while, you WILL crave exercise and feel pretty sloppy without it. If you’re new to this, just wait, you’ll see what I mean.

So, when considering exercise when working night shift you really have three options in order to make this 150 minutes thing happen. (Psst you need to pick at least one…)

  1. You workout after you finish work, as this post talks about because you struggle to fit in exercise after waking up due to a magnitude of reasons like kids, jobs and running errands.
  2. Immediately after waking in the afternoon, you make time for a workout before you start your next shift. This is my favorite choice. You are probably the person who thinks the thought of exercising after night shift is worse than not having coffee for 48 hours. Right?
  3. You squeeze in a workout during work. You run on your lunch break with a head torch to avoid getting fat. You can read more about that strategy here, where we discuss how to stop being bored on night shift without the internet. It’s a cool read. 

So, where do you fall?

If you find that you are not falling into any of the above categories right now, we recommend firstly, ask yourself why. 

What is stopping you from working out?

Is it a lack of motivation? Or maybe you don’t have enough time?

After coming to a realization on what’s actually stopping you, be more prepared to get on board, easily choosing one of the above options. And yes… it’s totally worth it.

Your sleep will be better, your moods will improve (mine did anyway…) and you will have more energy throughout your shift, as crazy as that sounds.

Even Cher thinks so…

“Nothing lifts me out of a bad mood better than a hard workout on my treadmill. It never fails. Exercise is nothing short of a miracle.”

This post predominantly focuses on people who are already motivated to workout, however, if this isn’t you, I’d suggest checking out the following posts:

If energy is what you are craving when thinking about exercise, check out AppetiteMax. It’s a weight-enhancing supplement that targets common underlying issues linked to a poor appetite and low body weight. Total Nutrition Support for Healthy Weight Gain. You can read more about it here.

Man riding bike with sun over bridge | Sleep or Workout? What Should I Do After Night Shift?
Can you ride home after a shift instead of driving?

For those who are time-poor and do fall into category 1 referenced earlier, yes you will need to push yourself to workout after working the 3rd shift because there is no time to complete a workout later in the afternoon.

But how do you find the motivation and energy to do it?

I am a big believer in quality over quantity when it comes to working out, particularly when night shift is concerned.

Why? Because sleep and maintaining good health needs to be prioritized, as we will discuss next. Therefore, being able to perform a quick, but effective workout is what I am drawn to.

Here are some examples of quick but super effective workouts that not only tick the “I’ve done my 30 minutes of exercise” box but also assist in reaching your health and fitness goals. 

  • Save time by making use of the gym at your workplace (if such a place exists) or duck into the local gym on your way home.
  • Swim for 30-40 in your local pool.
  • Enjoy a pre-paid, timed gym class (more incentive to turn up). Spin classes or cross-fit are popular right now.
  • Do a short, but hard yoga or pilates routine either at home or at a public class
  • Take a fitness class with a fellow night shift worker. You can’t quit on each other and it’s incredibly motivating
  • Bike riding to and from work if you live within a reasonable distance and the roads are safe.
  • Strength training. It will give you bang for your buck, as it burns a heap of calories and exhausts all of your muscles in little time.

Obviously, we don’t all have the same health and fitness goals and your choice of workout will support reaching those goals. 

But it’s important to remember that you don’t need to spend 3+ hours at the gym to see results.

The key with working out after night shift is making it happen, consistently choosing a workout method that inspires you to go and being resilient enough to know bed can wait.

Success Tip:
Have your activewear packed in the car and try to limit the other jobs on your plate as you will naturally push exercise to the side as these other jobs are generally quicker and easier to do. 

VIDEO – Best Time To Exercise When Working Night Shift

Morning Workout vs Afternoon Workout and What That Means for Your Health

When writing this post, my husband Dan, who has previously worked permanent night shift asked, “well, what impact does working out in the morning have on my body?”

I thought this was really interesting and important to discuss as it concerns all night shift workers. 

You have heard about our body clock, right? The circadian rhythm, as it’s commonly called, is a super clever and important part of our brain which regulates everything from sleep to digestion to the hormones released inside our bodies.

The role your body clock plays seems pretty straight forward, but it’s actually pretty hard, particularly when that clock is trying to judge what a night shift worker is going to do next.

Yep – us night shift workers are messing up this finely tuned system, ya’ll!

The light and dark signals are backward for us and our bodies often don’t know their roles with regards to sleep and digestion, particularly when working rotating shift work. 

This can lead to massive confusion within our body clocks, resulting in a higher chance of sleep deprivation diabetes and scary shift work specific stuff like Shift Work Sleep Disorder, which you can read more about here in a recent, detailed post we published. 

So, where does exercise comes into play here? Remember, we are already behind the 8 ball where our health is concerned.

Therefore, there is a VERY fine line between choosing the best time to workout and still getting enough sleep in order to function, both at work and at home.

We need to go the extra mile to stop these often preventable health issues catching up with us quicker than it would with a 9-5 worker.

If that means doing regular morning workouts, we just have to be very aware that sleep is still the priority and we have to do everything we can to make it happen.

If our sleep starts to be affected because either you’re too wired or “worked up” from your workout, the method is either no longer working or you have other stressors in your life that need attention.

It’s best not to ignore these little signs…

Bottom Line
If you choose a morning workout and your sleep starts to become compromised – stop. Find another way you can fit in working up a sweat.

I’m sure it’s sinking in by now, but maybe it’s a little slower if you’ve got night shift fog going on…. sleep is the bomb!

We need 7-9 hours of it in order to process information and rebuild and strengthen new cells. Night shift workers commonly need to break this up into different parts and that’s okay, but you need to prioritize sleep so you don’t get sick, which we talk about hereOpens in a new tab. (It’s worth a read). 

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    So, Should You Choose an Afternoon Workout If You Have a Choice?

    If your sleep is being affected and you’re starting to feel sick more often, then our recommendation is yes, the afternoon workout is best.

    However, if a morning exercise routine is working for you, your sleep and health, stick with it. 

    For me and many others, an afternoon workout gives your mind and body the chance to reboot, rest and mentally process the previous day through sleep. 

    I find my workouts are better, I am more focused, have more stamina and endurance and I simply just enjoy it more. 

    Sleep may not seem like a big deal but we actually cannot survive without it. Not survival like a shift worker without coffee but more like a human without oxygen kind of survival. It’s big. 

    HOWEVER, just because you chose this option for working out, doesn’t make it easy… at all!

    From personal experience, it’s easy being caught in the rut of eating, sleeping, working and eating again without ever breaking into a sweat. 

    To overcome this and to get your backside into gear, here are a few workout suggestions which don’t require you to pound the pavement.

    • Water aerobics class at the local pool
    • Pilates routine streamed for free from YouTube
    • Home fitness circuit of pushups, situps, weights using cans or bottles of wine, squats and wall sits.
    • Hold the plank on the ads when watching TV or while the kettle is boiling or waiting for the microwave to finish.
    • A core activation yoga routine by streaming Youtube to your TV. I personally recommend Yoga with Adriene. I have attached a video below for you to check out.

    Any exercise is good exercise!

    Have your workout clothes ready and laid out by the door. Let the physical cue of your activewear be the first thing that you see after sleeping. Don’t give yourself an excuse, not to workout

    Simply finding something which gets you excited to move despite feeling somewhat of a zombie when working night shift is key. 

    Regardless of what you choose, you need to make sure the period of time between either the gym and bed or work and bed looks consistent.

    Let’s dive into that and make sure you’re organized before hitting the hay. 

    Work Night Shift, Exercise… Then What?

    Do you have a sleep routine organized or does the period between working out and bed look entirely different every day?

    If yes, it’s time to establish a new sleep routine. 

    This sounds very important and scarily official but what I mean is simply doing the same thing in the 1-2 hours before bed…every time. 

    This allows your mind and body to know what to expect in the future and what role it is supposed to play.

    Despite being on the night shift and already confusing our body clocks as we talked about earlier, there is a chance for us to make amends and be kind to our bodies with routine.

    For example, your sleep hormone Melatonin really enjoys when it’s dark as it can start preparing you for sleep. But what happens if you come home from the gym, turn on all the lights while you find your PJ’s and play video games for the next 2 hours.

    How are your poor hormones meant to know what to do when there are lights on everywhere?

    Here are the kinds of things to consider when creating a new routine for yourself particularly after exercising in the morning.

    • Instead of hurriedly scoffing down a meal and having a 25-second shower after working out, take your time and allow your body to wind down naturally – don’t force it.
    • Stick to the same bedtime consistently. 
    • Enjoy a warm shower and don’t make it too hot, as it sucks away all the moisture in your skin, leaving you with dry itchy skin in bed. We go into a lot more detail about this and the best skincare routine for night shift workers. Click hereOpens in a new tab. to take a look and learn a few helpful tricks.
    • Eat breakfast. You might not feel like eating after working out and your choice may differ depending on your health goals, but something small and filling is my go-to. Here are 6 tasty breakfast suggestionsOpens in a new tab. you’ll want to try which we explored in a previous post.
    • Embrace aromatherapy like lavender. This may seem like something only for hippy’s but it’s SO effective to help you sleep and wind down after a workout. Read more about how you can make this a “thing” for you here.Opens in a new tab.
    • Meditation. Take time out from your screen.
    • Turn up the sleep music and listen to the beats through some snazzy headphones we discovered in this postOpens in a new tab., which are both headphones AND an eye mask. Very cool.
    • If this whole sleep aids thing is new, we created an entire post about our favorite sleep aids which are really ace. You can take a look here and buy yourself a trial for not much of an investment at all. See our fav’s here.Opens in a new tab.
    • Lastly, blue light blocking glasses are a must. If I touch on the video game example I gave earlier, you can still play these games while your body AND importantly your mind and sleep hormones prepare for rest. Be sure to explore Swanwick Sleep, our recommended blue light blocking glasses provider. They have some incredible deals on stylish glasses and other nifty sleep aids to get your hands on. See more here at Swanwick Sleep.

    Insider Tip:
    Wearing blue light blocking glasses can really speed up the process of transitioning into night shift mode if using your device, watching TV or being exposed to lights after a workout. Yes, you may feel like Austin Powers or Bono from U2 but these glasses can really help you sleep by preparing your sleep hormones to do their job properly.

    Dan wearing Aviator blue light blocking glasses from Swanwick Sleep – see website here.
    Remember to keep your blue light blocking glasses on even when brushing your teeth! See what other Sleep aids are available from Swanwick Sleep – here

    What to Eat After Working out Before Going to Sleep?

    How often have you opened and closed the fridge 10+ times after night shift hoping the breakfast genie will work her magic and “pop”… there’s breakfast!?

    I have wasted SO much time in the kitchen after night shift so I wanted to run you through a few things to think about when choosing what to eat and drink after nights and working out in these early (or late?) hours.

    But before we dive in I wanted to mention that you might be surprised to learn our diet also impacts how we sleep when working the night shift. 

    Coming home after a night shift and devouring a big, fat doughnut and polishing off a can of coke or beer may seem appealing, but your guts need to work really hard to digest this while you sleep. 

    Digestion slows down while we snooze so we need to be kind in what we feed our bodies before we sleep to make the job of the digestive system easier. 

    Take the time to stock your cupboard with healthy breakfast meals like eggs, oats and gut-friendly foods, think Kombucha, so you don’t have to stop for take-out on your way home. 

    Kiwi fruit with pinterest pin title
    Check out this post too here

    What to Eat and When After Night Shift

    Post-Workout:

    According to Dr. Axe an online health expert, we have about 30 to 60 minutes post-workout where your body is ready to be refueled. Use this time wisely my friends.

    • To get the most out of your workout, you need to replace the amino acids and glycogen lost during your workout. #Protein
    • Protein pancakes could be a delicious option. Egg whites, rolled oats, cottage cheese, baking powder plus a hint of vanilla extract. Read the full recipe here
    • High protein oats (simply add a scoop of protein powder).
    • Tuna crackers with avocado on whole-grain crackers. Chopped up pickles could make this snack more exciting for the taste buds.
    • Scrambled eggs with ham/bacon, tomato and peppers
    • Protein powered smoothie but ditch the caffeine if this is something you would normally add.
    • If you want a few mouthfuls of a heavier “meal” just be careful as your digestion slows as you sleep. This Chicken and Sweet Potato Hash recipe could be a winner but just don’t pig out. 

    No Workout:

    • Oatmeal. My go-to breakfast. Instead of adding protein powder as suggested above, stick to adding frozen berries, unsweetened yogurt, honey and some slithered almonds for crunch. Throwing a handful of chia seeds onto your oatmeal will also keep you nice and full.
    • Unsweetened yogurt with some heated frozen berries on top
    • Poached eggs on whole-grain toast
    • Banana and cinnamon on toast
    • Veggie sticks dipped into hummus 

    Insider Tip:
    Eating something hot like oats or drinking warm milk helps encourage and induce sleep. It sends signals to our brain to trigger the ‘winding down’ process. There is a reason babies are given warm milk before bed…

    Just to point out something obvious, which doesn’t belong on either list before bed, is coffee. I know… you need it but you’ll probably be up all day feeling wired and needing to pee. It’s just not worth it. Instead, stick to chamomile tea to help you relax.

    Lastly, some health guru’s talk about the paleo diet or the keto diet as a way to manage weight gain as a night shift worker.

    While others suggest that intermittent fasting is the way to go.  We dive into what intermittent fasting is here to give you a full explanation of how to do it and why you should try. 

    If weight gain is something you’re trying to get on top of these three diet suggestions could be worth investigating.

    fruit oats and flowers | Sleep or Workout? What Should I Do After Night Shift?
    Choosing a healthy, filling breakfast after nights will stop you waking up with hunger pains

    Related Questions

    How do I stay in shape and work both 12-hour night and day shifts?  

    Meal planning for the days you are at work, regular exercise, staying hydrated and getting adequate sleep are all critical in staying in shape despite working long hours.

    Avoid the vending machine and using high sugar energy drinks to keep you alert and instead focus on eating meals that provide sustained nutrients.

    Here we explore in much more detail about the challenges of working 12 hours shifts and how to manage 3 in a row.

    Summary: Sleep or Workout? What Should I Do After Night Shift?

    It is totally safe to workout after night shift.

    Most find that sleep is not impacted in any way and even some night shift workers report sleeping better as their bodies recover from a workout.

    Just make sure you’re complimenting your workout with a healthy, balanced diet and you’re getting 7-9 hours sleep.

    Thanks for reading this post about working out after night shift. What do you do? Let us know in the comments below.

    Cheers,

    Disclosure: This page may contain affiliate links, meaning we receive a commission if you decide to make a purchase through our links, but this is at no additional cost to you. Please read our disclosure and privacy statement for more info.

    Two women stretching gym equipment bands
    Bike riding at night
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    Emma @ The Other Shift

    Hey there! I'm Emma Smith a passionate, Registered Nurse from Australia. Together with my husband Daniel, we run The Other Shift. Our sole aim is to help shift workers and those on unusual schedules find balance between work and life. I understand the challenges of fitting in exercise, maintaining relationships and getting enough quality sleep, but I'm excited to show you that it’s possible to do shift work and still thrive. Read more about us and our story here.

    2 thoughts on “Sleep or Workout? What Should I Do After Night Shift?

    1. Is it also a thought to not workout on your work days and just work out on days off? Would love to know your thoughts!

      Malinda

    2. Thanks much more these tips, i don’t really find a lot of a more in depth tips from other websites.

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