I tried exercising at night for a week straight — here’s what I learned

Early morning athletes intimidate me: where do they find the motivation to get up at 6 a.m. and go out the door? When is the ideal time to exercise?

Working out first thing in the morning doesn’t work for me. I’ll hit the snooze button one too many times.

I love sleeping in, and though I regularly walk my dog every day, I don’t make time to exercise the way I should. As an adult who works fully-remote, I spend most of my time sitting in front of a screen—something many of us are doing more these days as many workplaces have shifted to remote due to COVID-19. With my mostly sedentary lifestyle, it was easy to settle into an unhealthy routine, justifying late-night snacking, and not hitting the gym.

It’s easy to justify not working out—but I was ready for a change. I wanted to challenge myself. I wanted to accomplish at least one fitness goal for the year.

What if I worked out every night? It seemed almost impossible for a couch potato like me—and late at night, my cravings are for comforting ice cream, not uncomfortable squats.

It wasn’t easy, but I made it happen. I’ve learned a lot along the way and I hope that these lessons will inspire you. Regardless of where you are in your fitness journey, exercising at night will benefit your daily routine.

Exercising at night actually made me sleep better

This seems counter-intuitive, right? Bumping that heart rate up seems bound to make you ready for an all-nighter.

Actually, working out after dark made me fall asleep faster than normal. I slept deeper and longer and woke up feeling restored. And since I didn’t spend the night tossing and turning, I felt capable of fully focusing on the day.

Suddenly, I had steady energy levels and wasn’t stumbling out of bed desperate for my first cup of coffee to start the day. I was ready to take on any challenges.

Studies have shown that it’s possible to enjoy a nighttime workout without compromising on sleep. A 2019 review by Sports Medicine analyzed 23 studies on evening exercise and sleep patterns. The analysis found that moderate evening exercise can improve sleep as long as it’s completed an hour before bedtime.

Plus, quality sleep is linked to continuous fitness improvements and muscle recovery, which made it easier to tackle future workouts.

Making time to work out is a challenge that taught me to prioritize

While I prefer a nighttime exercise routine to an early morning jog, there have been some miserable moments where I had a hard time finding the motivation. At the end of the day, sometimes I didn’t feel like being active and wanted to relax.

I had to remind myself that I had to push through. That it would ultimately only take an hour of my time, and then I could cool off with an hour-long episode of Hometown before going to bed. I reminded myself of my goals: Did I want to feel strong? Did I want to change my habits?

After a few days of working out, I got better at prioritizing. If I wanted to work out by 11 pm, that meant I had to take fewer breaks while working or take the dog out for the last walk of the day a little earlier.

Working out with a friend led to better health benefits

Workout buddies are the best: they’ll encourage you to make it through the last 20 minutes of a grueling session, hold you accountable, and assure you that you’re not alone.

“You can do it,” my roommate Rachel told me whenever I started to lag. This encouragement motivated me to push myself harder.

Another reason why I was inspired to do better? The innate competitive edge we all have. One study by the Society of Behavioral Medicine displayed that working with a partner improved workout time and overall performance compared to those who exercised alone. Working out with someone you perceive as better than you also increases both workout time and intensity, researchers at Kansas State University discovered.

Working out at home with a trusted friend made me less self-conscious. When I’m at a gym, it’s easy to look around and compare myself to the in-shape athletes around me executing moves perfectly. But at home, I was able to fully commit to a workout without fear of judgment.

Diversifying workout routines increase motivation and stave off boredom

After two days of regular workouts, I realized I was starting to zone out. There are so many exercises that can be performed alone—so there are no excuses for boredom. I had to be willing to try new routines.

Kickboxing made me feel powerful while Bollywood dancing made me happy and energetic. Yoga helped me recover on a low-intensity rest day after a few days of intense workouts. My daily workouts are now a mix of cardio sessions, strength training, and stretching.

This made working out more appealing—trying new workouts with unpredictable moves made zoning out impossible. Implementing multiple fitness routines forced me to use different muscles, which helped me fight off muscle fatigue.

Nighttime sweat sessions made me change my mindset

The reality of any workout is that there’s always a midpoint where you want to stop. Your thighs are shaking during a squat, or your wrists are cracking from too many pushups. Though sometimes physically you may need to stop (no shame in that), it’s easy for self-doubt to creep in and derail your plans.

I only have to hold this for 30 seconds, I told myself as my arms started shaking during a plank.

I hit the ground. But I got up a second later, my posture tight and tired.

I can do this, I thought. I can rock it.

The only thing that matters is that I tried my best. I slayed just by showing up. When you work out with determination, you will begin to regularly feel results.

Intentionally setting aside time each night made me practice self-care

Exercise pumps out feel-good endorphins that improve your mood and helps you relax, according to the Mayo Clinic. Research also suggests that physical activity can even reduce depression and anxiety.

After only my first day of working out, I felt less stressed. I was in a happier state of mind. Things that would typically annoy me rolled off my back.

I am more powerful than I realized

The first day I completed a kickboxing circuit, I didn’t know if I could power through the rest of the week. My muscles are on fire, I thought.

But I worked out the next day and the next. I was able to hold positions that intimidated me and last past the 30-minute mark when I didn’t think I was capable. The limits I had were imagined. The only way to make progress is to power through these self-imposed limitations, self-doubt, and anything else standing in the way.

Although my fitness journey is a work in progress, I’ve accomplished more in a short period of time than I ever realized I could. Working out every night has been rewarding, and it’s something I recommend anyone try at least once.