Fortune Well October 15, 2023
No matter when you lace up and step outside, walking is a win for both your mental and physical health. But if you’re someone who’s always in search of a good night’s sleep, experts say there’s a strong case for saving your daily miles for right before bed.
Sleep troubles are ubiquitous. According to the Cleveland Clinic, about one in three adults worldwide experience insomnia symptoms, including mood disruptions, trouble focusing, and difficulty remembering things. “Behavioral factors like drinking coffee, using blue light devices, drinking alcohol, or eating right before your bedtime can impact insomnia,” says Neil Paulvin, D.O., a New York-based longevity and regenerative medicine doctor.
Biological factors may also keep you awake at night. “Many health conditions can affect your sleep, and conditions that cause chronic pain, conditions that make it difficult to breathe, and conditions that increase urinary frequency can also impact your sleep—just to name a few factors,” says Paulvin.
According to Paulvin, a nighttime walk is a good pre-bed practice for anyone who’s ready to defy the wide range of factors keeping us awake at night. Below, he explains the benefits of taking a walk before bed. Plus, his four best practices to follow for your first twilight stroll.
While walking has so much to offer regardless of the time of day, Paulvin says there are a few specific wins when it comes to strolling at night. “In general, walking is great for longevity and helping you sleep,” says Paulvin.
“Walking before bed will decrease stress and calm down the sympathetic nervous system to help you sleep,” he explains. Because melatonin—the sleep hormone—is stimulated by darkness, taking a walk away from screens and artificial lights will send the message to your body that it’s time to prepare for some much-needed R&R.
Research shows that walking before bed may help you fall asleep faster and may even improve sleep quality and sleep efficiency (the amount of time you spend asleep in bed).
Before you grab your walking shoes and go out for a starry walk, Paulvin has a few pro tips for ensuring your pre-bed walks help (not harm) your sleep. Below, he offers four guidelines for planning tonight’s melatonin-producing walk.
Here’s your mantra for this walk: Take it easy. “If sleep is the goal, this isn’t the time to engage in rigorous exercise. It takes a longer amount of time for your body to cool down after intensive workouts, so save those for earlier in the day,” says Paulvin.
“I’d recommend walking with a partner, wearing reflective gear and a safety light, and staying distanced from traffic whenever possible,” says Paulvin. “I’d also plan your route in advance and try to pick a route you know well, one that you’ve traversed in the daylight. This way, you know your way and will have less of a chance of running into unanticipated obstacles.”
If you have to walk alone, text a friend or a family member your route and ask them to check in on you when you get home. You can also use tools like “Find My” to allow loved ones to track your location.
“Tech-wise, I’d bring your cellphone but lose the music,” says Paulvin. “Since your sight is inhibited in the dark, you want the best of the rest of your senses.” Plus, going podcast- or music-free will ensure that whatever you’re listening to doesn’t end up stuck in your head right before bed. After all, nothing will make you hate your favorite song more than hearing it on-repeat in your head at 3 a.m.
Paulvin doesn’t recommend going for a walk immediately before you crawl under the covers.
“Based on the research, I would recommend leaving at least 90 minutes between the time you end your walk and the time you go to sleep,” he says. “Your core body temperature increases while exercising, and it takes about 90 minutes for your temperature to return back to its base.”
Leave yourself plenty of time to shower, get ready for bed, and read beneath the covers. Avoid harsh, bright lighting and stimulating TV shows or movies. After all, you wouldn’t want to undo all the effects of your melatonin walk.
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