Hitting the Gym Instead of Hitting the Hay


“Wanna hit the gym?” says a text message from my friend Joshua Danas. I get up from my bed, wide awake, throw on some workout attire and reply to his text. It’s around 12:30 am, and we are headed to the gym. Yes, that is right — 12:30 A.M.

Exercise is somewhat an important part of my life. I am used to vigorous workouts because I trained and competed for swimming competitions before I went into high school. Although staying up past 1 a.m. is not surprising for most high schoolers, going to the gym at ungodly hours of the night was something new to me.

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Going to the gym or working out late at night would seem strange to most people. However, people who are busy during the day rely on late night workouts for their daily exercise. There is little scientific evidence backing the idea that a vigorous workout before bedtime can impair sleep. According to a study conducted by the University of Jyväskylä in Jyväskylä, Finland, intensive exercise is not suggested within three hours of going to bed.

Although exercising so close to bedtime was not suggested, it did not stop me from trying it out. The first night was just a little different because my body was still adjusting to exercising instead of lying in bed (and watching Netflix) at 1 a.m. I was falling asleep in the car, and the only thing keeping me up was my dad.

I was reluctant to get out of the car because sleep seemed like the perfect thing to do, but we were already at the gym, and there was no turning back now. I mustered enough energy to drag myself out of the car and into the gym with my friends, and we were determined to stay awake. The smell of bleach and disinfectants hit my nose, and I was less bothered by the thought of other sweaty people using the equipment. There was no music blaring from the speakers, and the only sounds were the voices of personal trainers pushing their clients and the rumble of the exercise machines.

First, we spent about 20 minutes on the ellipticals to get our heart rates up, and it would serve as our cardio workout. I was actually wide awake five minutes into the workout, and I felt great. I wish I could say the same for my friend Chris Lorenzo, but he looked exhausted, so we hopped off the ellipticals and went to work on our core muscles.

Chris was having a hard time doing sit ups because in order to do sit ups, one must lie on his/her back and would make him feel comfortable. “This is so relaxing,” he said as Joshua and I counted to 25. I looked over at Chris, and his eyes were closed. It was a good thing that we got up after 25 more, because I’m sure that Chris would have knocked out right then and there.

As the weeks went on, we fell into a routine. Joshua and I, along with his dad, my dad, and our younger brothers, would go to the gym Friday night/Saturday morning. (Chris stopped going with us after the second week because he was busy.) My midnight snacks went from chips to protein shakes. I quickly adjusted to this system, taking short naps after school and staying wide awake at midnight.

During my workout sessions, I looked around the gym and saw a handful of people around my age or older, but it seemed to be mostly people in their twenties. These young adults can still be earning their degrees, finishing grad school, or just starting a job. There were a few groups sprinkled around the gym, but there were mostly people by themselves, or someone accompanied by their personal trainer.

One of these grad students was Kyle Villalon, a twenty-six year-old student at Cal State Los Angeles. He says that he has no time to exercise during the day because of school. “I’m at school the whole afternoon, and my girlfriend works a late shift at the hospital,” Villalon said.

He got tired of sitting around and he needed something to keep him occupied. “It got pretty lonely,” Villalon said. “I guess I just decided to start working out because it keeps me distracted, and I get back home by the time my girlfriend is there.” Villalon said he usually stays at the gym for two to three hours on Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays.

Working out so late at night actually helped me stop eating little snacks after dinner. The only substances that I would consume were protein shakes and bananas after my gym session. I stopped getting hungry, and my exercise did not go to waste because of the junk food I used to consume in the middle of the night.

When we skipped two gym sessions, I was really tested. At the time, our parents were doing something that required them to wake up early the morning after we hit the gym, so Joshua and I had no one to take us. I tried doing at home workouts like sit ups, crunches and other exercises, but it wasn’t the same as going to the gym, so I got lazy. I actually felt kind of gross for skipping workouts.

I was rather happy to go back to the gym after that two week gap. Unfortunately, I had to readjust to the routine, but it was not as hard as the first time. We stayed an extra 30 minutes the first night we went back, and we eventually turned our usual hour into a two-hour gym session.

Besides the obvious health benefits that come with regular exercise, I found other benefits. I spent time with my friends in a more productive way, and I also toned the muscles that I lost over the years that I stopped swimming. My abdomen is actually more toned than it was when I was swimming, but unfortunately, I was not able to return my arms and legs to their former glory.

According to the study out of the University of Jyväskylä, exercising so late at night does not affect sleep quality, but it may have effects on cardiac autonomic control of heart, during the first few hours of sleep.

Exercise influences our body’s internal clock. Christopher Colwell, a professor of psychiatry at the UCLA’s Brain Research Institute, led a series of experiments on how exercise affects the body’s internal clock. Problems with internal clock, or the circadian rhythm, can lead to health problems, and that is why Dr. Colwell and his colleagues are trying to determine if exercise can “fix” a broken clock.

They conducted an experiment on mice, and they found that the afternoon is the best time for exercise. An article in the New York Times by Gretchen Reynolds shared some unpublished results from the lab. “Late-night exercise, meanwhile, is probably inadvisable,” said Dr. Colwell. “Healthy mice running at the animal equivalent of 11 p.m. or so developed significant disruptions in their circadian rhythm. Among other effects, they slept poorly.”

I am unphased by this conclusion for two reasons: one, they conducted the experiment on mice; and two, because after a good workout, I fall asleep easily. I guess the effects just depend on the person.

If you do not exercise regularly and you plan to start doing so, do not push too hard the first few times. You have to gradually adjust to your new routine, or else you can get hurt.

I was only going to the gym once a week for a good four months, but it was enough for me to develop a habit of exercising regularly in order to maintain my current fitness level. Although going to the gym at 1 a.m. sounds crazy, you have to realize that they call it 24 Hour Fitness for a reason.