Trouble debugging restless sleep after working out

I’ve been struggling with this issue for a while, and typical googling has not been of any use, so I thought I would ask this here. The best definition I have for the problem is that I basically have restless sleep after working out at night. I have no problem going to sleep, but after 3-5hrs I will toss and turn and be awake. At that point I cannot go back to sleep. As I’m still trying to really pinpoint this issue, I don’t have a complete set of data, but I have the following observations:

  • This only seems to be after BJJ class (Brazilian Jiu Jitsu) which ends at 8:30 or 9:00PM. I have not attempted any other exercise at that time frame to isolate it but am fairly certain that’s what causes the issue.
  • I’ll have a recovery shake after class which is a 3:1 ratio of carbs to protein
  • I’ll generally go to sleep between 10:00PM and 11:30PM, which (as I understand it) is plenty of time for adrenaline to dissipate
  • As a rule I’ll only allow caffeine in the morning. Occasionally I will have something caffeinated at lunch but not often. Either way, it doesn’t seem to impact this issue.
  • Sometimes I’ll take a half dose of Waklert in the AM; this seems to have no impact on the issue.
  • Blackout curtains are in the bedroom, and there is little to no ambient light at night
  • I have recently begun taking BCAAs before the gym (around 6:30PM), but these also seem to have no impact on the issue.
  • There is no TV in the bedroom. Sometimes I will watch TV in the living room before bed, sometimes not. This seems to have no impact on the issue.
  • I’ve tried melatonin pills, they seem to have on impact. The dosage was whatever was suggested on the bottle
  • I’ve even tried a beer or two before bed. That can certainly make me go to sleep even faster but I’ll still wake up in the middle of the night

I’ve tried just about everything I can think of that’s within reason. I’ve not tried any other medication and I have not seen a doctor about this yet. I’ve grown a bit weary of their tendency to diagnose a problem based on a snapshot in time, but doing something like a sleep study may be the only thing left.

I am currently using a Withings Aura to track my sleep. I also use a Fitbit to track HR throughout the day, and I have the ability to take BP and SpO2 measures as needed, although last I checked these things they seemed to be within normal ranges.

The next thing I am looking at is Cortisol measurements, but it seems to get decent numbers from this it needs to be a blood test not a saliva test, and this could be cost prohibitive if I am to attempt a test over time.

That’s the background. Has anyone here had success debugging this or any other sleep issue they have had, and if so, what did you do that I have not?

Hmmmm…have you tried a relaxing cool down or meditation? I’ve been playing around with HRV recently and am finding it one of the best/easiest/most effective biofeedback tools. Heart rate can be elevated for a couple hours after exercise, so that might have something to do with it. Also: what do you eat after exercise? A late meal might either help you recover from exercise, or it might be hard to digest. is a brand-new startup specifically targeting open-sourced sleep questions that can be self-tracked. They have a number of “trackathons” they are trying to get people with wearable HR sensors to sign up for.

Hope this helps!

Thanks for the response!

I haven’t tried a relaxing cool down or meditation; both are kind of not very palatable for me, but I may need to examine them. I wasn’t ready to go down that road until it made sense to do so, and the fact that getting to sleep isn’t an issue suggests to me that I’m plenty relaxed enough. That’s just the way I reason it though; maybe my thought process is incorrect.

I track heartrate, but not HRV; what do you use to measure this?

After my evening workout I will usually only have a recovery shake. I try not to go to bed on a full stomach.

Maybe you can provide a little more context around when you wake up. For example, are you fully awake all of a sudden? Do you feel anxious? Is your heart racing? Anything like that would be useful.

That seems like an obvious thing to do, before getting cortisol tests and doing sleep studies :slight_smile:

Also, would be interesting to see how late your workouts can be without affecting your sleep.

Finally, when you wake up after 3-5 hours of sleep, do you end up feeling tired during the day?

Hey JW,

If you track HR, have you noticed any elevation of HR on nights when you wake up? That’s one place to start.

Heart Rate Variability (HRV) is an integrated measure of autonomic nervous system state…often interpreted as “stress”. HRV is calculated by precisely measuring the time between heart beats. You’d need a chest-strap HR monitor to do that accurately (there are a few finger or ear sensors, but they are more expensive) and an app like eliteHRV or Stress Detective to calculate HRV. Alternately, the iPhone app HRV4Training claims to be able to measure HRV with just an iPhone camera, but I haven’t tested that.

There is a huge amount of research on HRV. Here are some citations for HRV and sleep that might give you other ideas for variables to track or hack.

This topic has been updated by one of our “Wiki Home Nutrition” promoters, whose response has been hidden. I’ve gotten tired of these promotional posts and am deleting them and their posters (who mainly use throwaway email addresses anyway). However, the topic remains interesting, and if anybody has updates since it was originally posted last April I’m glad to read them!

Some relevant research:

So it appears that heart parameters are affected by late-night exercise but it is unclear if this extends to quality of sleep. All the usual sleep hygiene recommendations (e.g. very dark room) apply. In addition, there are several variables you can do n=1 experiments on such as: room temperature, hot bath before sleep, no food within 4-6 hours of bedtime, etc. You could also try HRV training before sleep (e.g. heartmath for 15 min).

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