How to Sleep After Exercise – A Guide to Post Workout Sleep Recovery

3 min read

Last Modified 17 September 2021 First Added 4 April 2018

By Gemma Curtis

Trying to sleep after exercise can prove a lot more difficult than you’d first imagine. Though you may feel physically exhausted, post-exercise insomnia can set in, particularly after strenuous workouts or endurance tests. As it’s such an important topic, we gave it the Dr. Pixie treatment and used how exercise affects sleep as a subject for our Sleep Matters podcast. We’ve also created an infographic below, of our tips and tricks for better post workout sleep and the reasons why it’s so important to do so if you want those gains.

Related – Sleeping Positions Guide

How To Sleep After Exercise Infographic

We’ve all felt the benefits of a great night’s sleep. But it’s even more important for athletes to rest properly to aid muscle recovery and growth after exercise.

Training, tossing & turning

After a big race or heavy training session, sleeplessness can occur. This is also known as post-exercise insomnia.

Ways to prevent post-exercise insomnia

  • Work out no less than 3 hours before bedtime
  • Drink lots of water before, during and post workout
  • Only consume caffeine before your exercise, not continuously throughout
  • A hot bath/shower will prepare your body for sleep
  • For a comfortable sleep cool your bedroom to between 15-20°C

What happens in your body during exercise?

  • Dehydration from sweating
  • Caffeine consumed through energy drinks/snacks
  • Increase in heart rate & core temperature
  • Suppressed melatonin production
  • Stimulated nervous & endocrine systems

How does this affect your sleep?

  • It’s difficult to lower your core temperature when you’re dehydrated from endurance exercises. Dehydration also raises your heart rate, meaning no sleep for you!
  • During exercise, we produce the stress hormones cortisol and norepinephrine. Put simply, the body stays hyped even after the race is over!
  • Cortisol also stops the production of melatonin, a.k.a. the sleep hormone. Bright lights at the gym will inhibit melatonin production, too.

Deep sleep

During sleep, we pass through various stages, all of which play a role to restoration. Stages 3 and 4 of non-REM sleep, also known as ‘deep sleep’, are the most important for muscle recovery.

Ideal sleep time

8-10 hours

Anything longer can reset your body clock and damage your sleep cycle the following night. Anything shorter may not give adequate time for your body to fully recover from the stress of training.

What happens during deep sleep?

  • Blood pressure drops
  • Breathing becomes deeper and slower
  • Blood not used in your resting brain is sent to muscles
  • Muscles receive extra oxygen & nutrients which helps with healing and growth
  • Pituitary gland releases human growth hormone, causing tissue growth & muscle repair
  • New cells are regenerated & muscle tissue is replenished

More exercise = more sleep required

Physical activity puts stress on the muscles and nervous system. This is rebuilt during sleep.

When it’s most important

  • Strength or weight training
  • Periods of extra training leading up to an event
  • Endurance tests like marathons

Why it’s most important


During strenuous workouts, muscles build up microscopic tears. Sleep helps to heal those tears as your body produces larger molecules to repair muscular, immune and nervous system problems.


The body needs to synthesise proteins faster than it breaks them down to build up muscles. Sleep is the best time for the body to use absorbed nutrients for this protein synthesis as it’s the longest we go without eating.

Did you know?

Building muscle mass is also known as hypertrophy

Make the most of your training with a great night’s sleep – the results should follow!

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