Why I Can’t Sleep After a Workout

I’m a fitness enthusiast, and I love working out. I’m also a bit of a night owl. So, why can’t I sleep after a workout?


Exercising regularly may be a great way to boost your physical and mental health. However, if you’re someone who experiences difficulty sleeping after working out, especially at night, there could be some underlying causes that need to be addressed. Before we dive into the possible reasons that could be affecting your sleep patterns after working out, let’s take a look at the basics of post-exercise physiology and how it affects our sleep quality.

When you begin exercising, your heart rate and breathing rate increase, as well as the internal temperature of your body. This results in an increase in blood flow to working muscles which can cause your body temperature to rise. After finishing exercise, it can take up to three hours for the body’s core temperature to return back down to its pre-activity state — meaning that any heat generated by the workout will still be present afterwards and can interfere with the onset of sleep. Other physiological factors such as increased adrenaline levels or increased production of cortisol (the stress hormone) can also contribute to poor sleep quality after exercise.

Physical Factors

A good workout can often leave us feeling energized and invigorated, but at the same time, it can also cause us to have difficulty sleeping. Numerous physical factors may be influencing why this might be occurring, such as increased body temperature, increased heart rate, increased alertness, and increased endorphins. Let’s take a deeper look into how these physical factors may be contributing to difficulty sleeping after a workout.

Muscle Soreness

Temporary muscle soreness after a workout is common, especially for those new to exercise. This type of muscle soreness is referred to as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and typically occurs 12-24 hours after a strenuous workout. Because of the lactic acid buildup in the muscles from exertion, DOMS can be accompanied by feelings of fatigue, stiffness, joint pain and decreased flexibility. In some cases, this type of muscle pain can keep you awake or disrupt your sleep hours later.

If you find that your workouts are causing you difficulty sleeping, there are several steps you can take to reduce DOMS. Some people find relief using over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen or a topical analgesic cream and alternating hot and cold treatments on the affected areas before bedtime helps ease tension in the muscles and joints. When possible, taking a quick nap during the day may help boost your energy levels and make it easier to fall asleep at night. Additionally, stretching before and after workouts helps loosen tight muscles and connective tissue, leading to fewer aches and pains once late afternoon exhaustion sets in. Finally, don’t forget to drink plenty of water as dehydration could be exacerbating symptoms as well.

High Core Temperature

Maintaining a high core body temperature during and after exercise can lead to difficulty sleeping after a workout. This can happen as a result of both your internal core temperature and an increase in your external epidermal surface temperature. Exercise increases muscle metabolism, which causes heat production within the body. When the body is unable to regulate its core temperature more effectively, it may make it difficult to fall asleep or have interrupted sleep once you eventually drift off. Additionally, increased blood flow to the skin surface associated with exercise leads to the rise in dermal surface temperature, which can keep you awake for longer periods of time by making your body feel hot and uncomfortable. To help reduce core and skin temperatures before bedtime, it is recommended that you take a cool shower or immerse yourself in cold water for at least five minutes as this has been shown to be very effective in promoting sleep.

High Adrenaline Levels

High adrenaline levels are one of the most common physical factors that can impede sleep following physical activity. During vigorous exercise, we can strive for a “high”, which is further endorsed by the resultant post-exercise endorphin release. Endorphins are hormones released to enhance positive feelings. Feeling energized and motivated after a good workout provides stress relief, while your raised adrenaline and endorphin levels may make you feel euphoric and invigorated, something that is potentially counterproductive to sleeping.

Subsequently, it can be difficult to return to “normal” after such an invigorating feeling due to the physiological effects of increased adrenaline causing a surge in heart rate and alertness as well as enhanced reflexes — all of which keep us awake when we should be drifting off into deep sleep at night. Therefore, it is important to remember that although regular exercise facilitates better quality of sleep and increases overall energy levels during waking hours due to improved circulation, too much physical activity close to bedtime may disrupt slumber.

Psychological Factors

Working out can lead to a decrease in stress and a natural boost in energy which can make it tough to wind down and get to sleep. It’s common to have difficulty falling asleep after a workout, however there are many psychological factors that can contribute to having difficulty getting to sleep. This section will focus on exploring the psychological factors that could be preventing you from getting restful sleep after a workout.

Mental Stimulation

Mental stimulation can be one of the biggest culprits of difficulty sleeping after a workout. A workout can leave your mind racing and your body alert, making it difficult to calm down and settle into sleep. Your mind may replay previously successful exercises, think about all the tasks you accomplished during the day or potential goals for your next session. The adrenaline caused from physical exercise can make it difficult to be in the present and switch off after a workout.

To help reduce mental stimulation levels before bedtime, try calming activities such as reading, meditating or stretching to signal to your mind that it is time to de-stress and drift off to sleep. The more you can switch up your routine following intense activity sessions (length, location and type of activity) ,the less likely that mental alertness will be associated with bedtime and build anticipation for restorative rest sessions. Finding what works best for you is key.

Anxiety and Stress

When it comes to psychological factors that relate to why you can’t sleep after a workout, anxiety and stress play a key role. Intense physical activity can trigger a fight-or-flight response in the body, activating the nervous system and releasing hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. While these hormones provide motivation for exercise, they can also stimulate the mind and body, making it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep during post-workout cooldowns.

Additionally, mentally intense activities during exercise — such as focusing on proper form or counting reps — can also increase tension levels and make switch into rest mode difficult. People who are prone to anxiety or who have difficulty managing stress can experience higher levels of arousal following physical activity. This heightened state of awareness coupled with post-exercise fatigue often leads to inability to sleep at night or poor quality of sleep.

An effective strategy for managing stress and anxiety includes pre-workout relaxation techniques (such as progressive muscle relaxation) as well as mindful attention to breath control during exercise. Additionally, incorporating gentle stretching following an intense workout helps ease the transition from “go time” back into relaxation mode so that you can enjoy restful sleeping experiences at night.

Post-Workout Euphoria

After a workout, the body releases a flood of dopamine and endorphins, the “happy hormones” known for giving an overall sense of calm and euphoria. During these intense post-workout moments, people often feel an intense but healthy high that can be hard to replicate in any other area of life. This state of happiness temporarily pumps up adrenaline levels and reduces inhibitions and sensations of stress, causing a natural boost in confidence and self-assurance. The surge in these chemicals can also lead to feelings of invincibility and may limit the body’s ability to wind down for restful sleep. Additionally, regular strenuous exercise can interfere with melatonin production, which further disrupts sleep cycles.

Tips to Help You Sleep Better

Exercising is a great way to stay in shape, but for some people, it can be difficult to get a good night of sleep afterwards. Many people have experienced the phenomenon of feeling energetic and unable to fall asleep, or waking up in the middle of the night. If this is something you struggle with after a workout, there are some tips you can use to help you get better quality sleep.

Take a Cool Shower

A good way to promote better sleep after a workout is to take a cool shower. Cool showers provide an effective way to lower your body temperature, which can have a regulating effect on your sleep quality. In fact, studies have found that taking a cool bath or shower before bedtime can actually lead to longer and more restful nights of sleep.

Showering also helps reduce muscle soreness and tension, helping you feel more comfortable when turning in for the evening. Be sure to choose lukewarm water—not too hot and not too cold—which will help improve your circulation even further. Make sure the water is not too hot as this could make you feel uncomfortable while trying to fall asleep.

Finally, try adding some gentle stretching exercises in the shower such as shoulder rolls or hip circles that can help relax tight muscles further and create an even more calming atmosphere for your evening routine. Also, consider using soothing products like lavender scented soap or lotion which can aid in calming your senses and induce relaxation prior to bedtime.

Use Relaxation Techniques

If you find yourself struggling to fall asleep after a workout, relaxation techniques can be a useful way to help calm your mind and body. Examples of these techniques include deep breathing, guided imagery, meditation, yoga and progressive muscle relaxation. When done properly, these methods of relaxation can lead to an overall decrease in tension and anxiety which can be beneficial for getting a good night’s sleep.

When using breathing techniques for relaxation, focus on inhaling slowly through your nose and exhaling through your mouth very slowly. Counting to four or five while you inhale and then exhaling similarly can help create greater focus on each breath as well as help distract you from any other thoughts that may be swirling through your head at night. Visualizing a peaceful place or scene in your head can also act as an ideal distraction from stressful thoughts or worries before bedtime.

Meditation is another powerful tool which helps promote sleep; there are many free apps available today with varying guided meditation sessions designed to work specifically with people’s individual needs such as encouraging sleep. Yoga poses such as Corpse pose (Savasana) greatly promote physical and mental relaxation before sleep. Progressive muscle relaxation is another useful technique which involves tensing specific muscle groups throughout the body from the feet up towards the face then releasing tension gradually each time as well- this helps relax the entire body into a deeper state of calmness in readiness for fatigue and sleepiness to occur quickly when one gets into bed!

Avoid Stimulants

In order to achieve a restful and restorative night’s sleep, certain lifestyle changes may be helpful. One of the most important sleep hygiene tips is to avoid stimulants, such as caffeine and nicotine, during the hours before bed. Caffeine can make it difficult for your body to relax into sleep, so best practice is to quit consuming it by 4:00pm in the afternoon. In addition, if you are a smoker, quitting or cutting back significantly can be beneficial for improving sleep quality.

Alcohol should also be avoided close to bedtime because although it may help you fall asleep initially, it is likely to disrupt your sleep later in the night as your body metabolizes it. Eating large meals late at night can also have a similar effect on your sleep quality as your body works hard processing energy-dense foods instead of allowing you to settle into restful slumber.

If these changes are not enough and you find yourself frequently struggling to get enough quality sleep at night, consider consulting with a medical professional such as a physician or psychiatrist who can help develop an individually tailored plan that will bring you back on track and set you up for healthy sleeping habits.


After analyzing the many factors associated with why someone may have difficulty sleeping after exercising, it is clear that this phenomenon is quite complex. Each person will have a unique combination of nervous system, lifestyle and health factors that must be accounted for.

The best way to determine the true cause of insomnia after exercise is to talk to your doctor. They can provide professional medical advice tailored to your specific needs, based on their understanding of your body and lifestyle. With proper medical support, the mystery of why you can’t sleep after a workout can be solved and pave the way for improved nighttime rest.

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