Can vigorous exercise cause insomnia? (+1 study)

In this article, we will discuss how vigorous exercise may cause insomnia. We will also discuss how you can improve sleep if you indulge in vigorous exercise.

Can vigorous exercise cause insomnia?

Yes, vigorous exercise may cause insomnia. However, the timing of exercise is important. Psychiatrists believe that doing vigorous exercise just before bedtime may affect sleep hygiene. Exercising in the late afternoon improves sleep (1).

Studies have shown that vigorous exercise might cause insomnia due to the release of various neurotransmitters. On the flip side, mild and moderate exercise has a positive effect on sleeping patterns and body relaxation (2).

Maintaining good health requires enough sleep and engaging in healthy physical activities and exercise. On the contrary, insomnia and poor sleep quality can also influence and delay your exercise routines. 

How does vigorous exercise cause insomnia?

Doing vigorous exercise just before bedtime can cause insomnia due to the following reasons:

  • Cortisol level: Under normal circumstances, cortisol level declines at night time due to circadian rhythm. This helps the person sleep peacefully at night.

When a person does intense exercise at night time, cortisol level goes up. Although it is a short-time deviation but exercising just before bedtime can cause insomnia or delayed sleep.

  • Norepinephrine level: The body secretes norepinephrine during intensive workouts.

A high level of norepinephrine causes an increase in blood flow, elevated heart rate, and alertness. It can make the body and muscles stiff, and difficult to relax and cool down. The elevated heart rate makes it difficult for the person to fall asleep.

  • Temperature change: Normally, the body’s core temperature minutely declines 30-90 minutes after the person falls asleep.

Vigorous and intense exercise sessions increase the body temperature and might take time to come back to normal. Going immediately to bed after vigorous exercise can hinder sleepiness due to sweating and elevated body temperature.

  • Exercise stress: Ache and pain caused by vigorous exercise before bedtime can disrupt sleep.

What does research suggest?

A cross-sectional study of college students with sleep disorders has shown that 41% of the students had suicidal thoughts after vigorous exercise, while moderate exercise was good for their spirit and willpower (2). 

However, another study reported that there was no correlation between exercise and insomnia among college students (n=702). Insomnia was more common in students who had stress, bad relationships, and anxiety (3).

One study demonstrated that seniors with depression showed an improvement in sleep quality when they engaged in a supervised weight training program (3 times/week) (4). 

Similarly, moderate intensive aerobic exercise improved the quality of sleep in healthy elders, who otherwise reported sleep disorders. Engaging elders in vigorous exercise might cause musculoskeletal pain, leading to insomnia (4).

What other factor causes insomnia apart from vigorous exercise?

Some factors that might also cause insomnia include: 

  • Stress: People who are under constant stress may have insomnia. Although exercise helps to cope with stress, individual variability still exists.
  • Antidepressants: People on antidepressants frequently report insomnia in the early days of treatment. Examples of such antidepressants are Prozac and Zoloft.
  • Occupation: Athletes and people who are involved in vigorous physical activity might have insomnia due to their occupational obligations.

What are the recommended exercise guidelines for improved sleep?

The following recommendations related to exercising might improve the sleeping pattern (5):

  • Avoid doing vigorous exercise just before bedtime.
  • Do not indulge in vigorous exercise 4-6 hours before bedtime.
  • Do not indulge in moderate exercise 2-4 hours before bedtime.
  • Exercise moderately or vigorously in the daytime.
  • After exercise, do not take a hot or cold bath two hours before bedtime.
  • Practice progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) exercise.

PMR involves steadily tensing and relaxing muscle in the body, which helps to alleviate tension and anxiety. This induces a state of relaxation, slows down breathing, and improves sleep.

Due to overburdened work routine, I only get to excercise in the evening. However, I never do workout sessions at night. Keep yourself hydrated and always perform vigorous exercise under a tained professional. 

If you are taking antidepressants or blood pressure medication, consult your trainer to select moderate exercises to prevent extra burden on body and mind. Adopt good sleep hygiene and avoid caffeine and smoking before bedtime. 

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Morin CM. Cognitive-behavioral approaches to the treatment of insomnia. J Clin Psychiatry. 2004 Jan 1;65(Suppl 16):33-40.


Xu H, Jiang H. Research on the influence of physical exercise on insomnia and suicide of college students. Biotechnology and genetic engineering reviews. 2023 Mar 3:1-1.


Demirer İ, Erol S. The relationships between university students’ physical activity levels, insomnia and psychological well-being. Journal of Psychiatric Nursing. 2020;11(3):201-11.


Ancoli‐Israel S, Cooke JR. Prevalence and comorbidity of insomnia and effect on functioning in elderly populations. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. 2005 Jul;53(S7):S264-71.


Sharma MP, Andrade C. Behavioral interventions for insomnia: Theory and practice. Indian journal of psychiatry. 2012 Oct;54(4):359.