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’d like to watch me explain this, tune into the video below. If you’re on public transport and forgot your headphones, maybe reading is a better option. If so, feel free to keep scrolling down.

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 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-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.

running-cloudy-day | Sleep or Workout? What Should I Do After Night Shift?

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...

Should I Push Myself to Exercise After Night Shift?

Well no. It’s not 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 in fact need to exercise vigorously (the huff and puff kind of stuff) 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 created these guidelines, to keep our hearts healthy and prevent disease.

It may seem like a lot but it’s do-able if you create healthy habits that 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 first, 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.

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.”

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 need 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 to take a water aerobic class
  • 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

Night Shift Workouts: Balancing Exercise and Sleep

My husband, Dan, a former night shift worker, once asked, “What happens to my body if I exercise in the morning?” This question resonated deeply because it affects every night shift worker.

Our internal clock, the circadian rhythm, governs everything from sleep to digestion and hormone release. When working nights, this rhythm gets disrupted due to conflicting light and dark signals. This confusion can lead to sleep deprivation, diabetes, and even Shift Work Sleep Disorder.

Considering these health risks, finding the ideal exercise time becomes crucial. While exercising in the morning has its benefits, it’s vital to prioritize sleep for optimal function.

If morning workouts affect your sleep due to feeling wired or sleep-deprived, it’s time to explore alternative solutions. Ignoring these signs can exacerbate stress and hinder progress.

Remember, prioritizing sleep is non-negotiable. Aim for 7-9 hours, even if it means split sleep schedules. Prioritizing sleep empowers you to function effectively and stay healthy in the face of night shift challenges.

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    Recommended Book

    Want to learn more about how to become the healthiest shift worker you can be? Buy this book!

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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. 

    Tip: 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

    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.


    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:

    In 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.

    Before you go, I have a quick product recommendation for those suffering from poor appetite and low body weight. It’s called Appetite Max, total nutrition support for healthy weight gain. You can read more about it here and get yourself a bottle here.

    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.

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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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