Why Can’t I Sleep After a Hard Workout or Race?

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Here’s a scenario a ton of athletes experience, but few talk about: The night after finishing a big endurance competition or a long and strenuous workout, you lie awake in bed or toss and turn despite being thoroughly exhausted. Your sleeplessness may be compounded by feeling like you are radiating heat or you can feel/hear your heartbeat. And even if you are able to get to sleep initially, you struggle to stay asleep and fail to have a restful night. What gives?  How can an exhausting event leave you sleepless?

There isn’t one simple cause for post-exercise insomnia, but there are definitely factors that contribute to it:


Exercise ramps up your heart rate, core temperature, and sweat rate. It also has an excitatory effect on your nervous and endocrine systems. The more strenuous the exercise and the longer the workout or competition, the longer you have been in this excited or aroused state. Two of the hormones that appear to play a significant role in post-workout sleep disturbances are norepinephrine and cortisol.


Cortisol is released in response to stress, which means elevated cortisol levels are a natural consequence of exercise. This increase isn’t all bad; it contributes to the training stimulus that drives positive adaptation. However, when an athlete’s training workload is too high and someone is struggling to recover from workouts, chronically elevated cortisol levels are likely part of the problem.

On a day to day basis your cortisol levels fluctuate naturally on a cycle which peaks about 30-minutes after you wake up and slowly declines throughout the day. As a result, you are normally at the lower portion of the cycle when you go to sleep at night. A day-long endurance competition like the Leadville 100, Dirty Kanza 200, or an Ironman pushes cortisol levels up and out of sync with the normal daily cycle for cortisol, which can contribute to sleeplessness.

What about shorter workouts or events? A shorter event closer to your bedtime can have a similar effect to a longer event that ends further before bedtime. What matters are the magnitude of the exertion and the time between the finish and bedtime. The good news for athletes who train in the afternoon or evening is that you can habituate to a routine and essentially train yourself to get to sleep after a workout. Post-exercise insomnia is more common when the magnitude of the exertion is greater than normal for you, or the workout/competition is later in the day than you are used to.

Norepinephrine and Adrenaline

Exercise and competition are exciting, and as a result you release more adrenaline and norepinephrine. Adrenaline levels fall quickly after exercise, but according to a 2011 study by Shahsavar norepinephrine levels may stay elevated for up to 48 hours after exhaustive exercise. This may help explain why some athletes can train in the evening and normally sleep fine, but struggle after exceptionally difficult training sessions and/or very long competitions.


Many athletes consume foods or drinks that contain caffeine before or during workouts and competitions. Caffeine is a stimulant you can habituate to quite readily, meaning that some people can drink coffee late in the day and fall asleep just fine. However, if you are a person who struggles to sleep following a late afternoon/evening workout or after long endurance events, take a look at how much caffeine you are consuming and when you are consuming it. In the case of long events, you may realize that you are ingesting a whole lot more caffeine than you normally would over the course of 10+ hours. If that’s a problem, reserve the caffeinated sports nutrition products for when you will benefit most from increased focus and alertness.

Dehydration and Core Temperature

There isn’t too much you can do to change your hormonal response to exercise (although, being more fit and less stressed out will help), but you can absolutely influence your hydration status and its impact on your core temperature. Your body temperature dips slightly during restful sleep and starts to increase again as you awaken. People also sleep better in cooler environments compared to hot ones. When your body temperature remains elevated you are very likely to have trouble sleeping. Exercise elevates body temperature, and cooling the body becomes increasingly difficult when you are inadequately hydrated. Some level of dehydration is highly likely following long endurance events lasting more than 4-5 hours. It is essentially inevitable after ultraendurance events like Western States, the Dirty Kanza 200, or an Ironman. Dehydration also leads to an elevated heart rate, even hours after your workout or race. When these factors combine, athletes report feeling like they are radiating heat while lying in bed listening to their heart rate in their ears.


If you have suffered through a sleepless night or a night of tossing and turning after an already-exhausting endurance event, here are some recommendations for getting more and better sleep next time:

  1. Maximize your fitness: As with many aspects of performance, fitness solves most problems. The more fit you are, the better you will cope with the acute stress from a workout or event. Essentially, your fitness gives you greater ability to absorb the stress before it impacts your sleep.
  2. Minimize lifestyle stress: “Let it go, let it go…” Seriously, the stress you’re carrying from your job or your busted car or your visiting in-laws just pours more cortisol on the fire and heightens the sensitivity to excitatory hormones like epinephrine (until a chronic overload of these hormones subsequently reduces your sensitivity to them).
  3. Ease up on the stimulants: Remember, caffeine doesn’t actually give you any additional energy. It primarily helps with focus and awareness, and in that regard consuming more doesn’t necessarily lead to greater benefit. In long events, caffeinated products are not likely to help you all day. A better strategy for endurance events is to consume caffeine before a portion of the race where you actually need it. Read more on caffeine for endurance athletes.
  4. Proactively cool down: Many athletes have gotten the message about post-workout or post-event rehydration and fuel replenishment. But proactively bringing your body temperature down is also important. Effective methods include wrapping yourself in wet towels, dousing clothing with cold water, ice packs, cool water immersion (not necessarily ice baths), cool showers, and hanging out in an air-conditioned environment.
  5. Cool your sleeping environment: Both core and skin temperatures decline when you fall asleep, and a cool sleeping environment helps create a temperature gradient that facilitates this process. Everyone is a bit different, but optimal room temperatures for promoting restful sleep are typically in the 60-70 degree Fahrenheit range.

Chris Carmichael
CEO/Head Coach of CTS

Shahsavar, Ali Reza, and Mohammad Javad Pourvaghar. “Follow-Up Alterations of Catecholamine Hormones after an Intensive Physical Activity.” Biosci., Biotechnol. Res. Asia Biosciences Biotechnology Research Asia 8.2 (2011): 591-95. Web.


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Comments 49

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  2. It was so helpful to find this article and see the replies of other people suffering from this problem. No one else I know had suffered from this and there is a comfort knowing I’m not alone! I’m in my 40’s now and have trained at the gym regularly for the past 12 years or so. The last couple of years I’ve experienced problems in staying asleep. I would fall asleep fine at around 10ish but the wake up about 3:00am feeling wired and absolutely could not go back to sleep. It was absolutely killing me. My diet was healthy and with all that exercise I thought I was doing everything right and I didn’t know what the problem was. I fell ill through something unrelated and had to take 6 weeks off training and my sleep returned to normal almost immediately! It was great to get proper sleep again (7-8hrs a night) but I didn’t want to sacrifice my exercise which helps me in so many ways. I’ve now adapted my training whereby I only lift weights in a circuit session at the gym once a week and I now incorporate other forms of less intensive exercise in such as swimming and cycling. Generally speaking it all works fine and things are much better but I still get a funny night here or there sometimes. I think this whole problem gets exacerbated for some people by high intensity training and older age and you just have to play around and adapt to find what works. Sorry for the essay but I hope whoever reads this finds a way to balance their exercise and get something approaching normal sleep again.

    1. This article and your comments, Ben, are so helpful to me. I appreciate your insights. My situation is different in that I’m a senior and have had disrupted sleep on days that I work out (morning classes) for over a year. It’s awful. I suspected hormone imbalance but never found support for that until now. At least I now know what’s happening. No doctor had any idea why this was going on, nor did my instructors. I’ll try less strenuous workouts and hydrate more. Hopefully, that will work.

    2. I Read it ! This lack of sleep is killing me ! I even went to see a doctor ?my normal Heart rate resting is around 87…. My new norm is now 95 ? I can hear and feel my heart at night ! 7 a.m. comes so quickly ! Next day how can I train with 1 hour of maybe sleep ? Scared to do squats ! Thinking I might die ! 😂😂 I’ve just turned 40 recently and with the world on fire and Covid ! I wanted to get back into it ! I’ve been training hard real real hard for about a month ! Then all of a sudden I cannot sleep for the life of me…. After reading this I’m going to take the day off…. Sleep wake up at 8 instead of noon eat and train not less but smarter…. Give my self a full day of healing before bed ! I’ve been taking zzzzquil no affect ! Melatonin! Won’t even touch me ! Nothing works…. I’m hoping this is the way ! It’s hard to admit that .y body is changing…. I went from a 12 min 2 Mile at 19 …. To 40 over weight …. I just want to be Healthy ! Thanks again!

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  4. I can not sleep after a run of between 7-10 miles and when I am exhausted, it is a nightmare. I have to train this long to burn fat or gain any cardio or conditioning effect but I can’t sleep after until about 3-4 in the morning.

    I tried jogging earlier in the day and a longer cool down and this was even worse.

    I don’t take stimulants or energy drinks to cause this effect but I literally feel like some kind of chemical adrenaline is rushing through my blood giving me a high alert catatonic stimulant effect.

    Sometimes I get exhausted and it takes me 2-3 days to recover but at the same time I have this peace and tranquil feeling, I am able to concentrate and study more and I don’t gain these benefits if I’ve not been strenuously training.

    I can use a stepper for 1-2 hours and I feel refreshed but it’s no way near as beneficial as jogging for conditioning or cardio.

    The fitter I get, the more training I need to do to have the benefit but it is seriously increasing my inability to sleep.

    What else can I do?

    I would really appreciate expert advice.

    Thank you.

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  7. When there are jobs that require overtime, I often take the time to exercise first, usually after that I will be fresher and ready to work longer. Surely a cup of coffee to accompany me

  8. Is it the skiing or the double energy drink? Alpine. Fatique, mood, doesnt feel right. Feels like im pressurized.

    The tip is to get more fit, i need more muscles. More breaks, I try to eat as much as possible, preferly before session.

  9. Great findings Chris. In my study on sleep, I have seen that many people want to know how they can sleep well after a long bike ride but most of the people missed the basic issues. In your article, I think you cover the key points of why people cannot sleep after a hard/long race.

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  11. It is interesting to me that cortisol is released to respond to stress. I never thought that this might cause my trouble sleeping. I do not want to cut back on my exercising, but maybe I should try some sleep medication at night.

    1. Before going to drugs, try magnesium supplements. About 70% of Americans do not get enough magnesium due to a lack of leafy green vegetables, of which is the primary source. Magnesium helps with energy, heart rhythm and sleep. But don’t use magnesium in the form of magnesium citrate. That is primarily for bowel movement.

  12. Find Jacky soilan on facebook her technique work greats. You can sleep faster by using her technique and it work for everyone.

  13. I’m close to 40 years. I am a male. I work a lot during the day. I wake up very early everyday and by 9pm I would have been very tired. If I sleep through I wouldn’t have a problem but if I have any reason to wake up around 20 to 30 minutes after I have slept it always not a comfortable experience.
    I feel not being myself. Feel so much uncoordinated, feel unbalanced if I walk and do have shortness of breath and my heart beat fast any time I want to sleep back. It takes a little time to also sleep back. Please what is your advice?

  14. Thank you for all your comments…
    I am a 64 year old female and started the gym 10 weeks ago…
    Since doing this I am getting to sleep quickly (as always) but then wake up around 2-3 in the morning in a big sweat … Legs restless and unable to get back to sleep even though Im Really tired.
    Don’t want to stop going to the gym as I enjoy it …
    I’m drinking plenty of water throughout the day…
    What can be done to overcome this

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  17. I have this issue..especially after weightlifting on leg day. A few things that help me are self hypnosis recording..on anything that’s meant to relax and calm you. There are many on you tube. I don’t look at the screen, just listen through headphones. It is like guided progressive relaxation. I get worried about not sleeping..which adds to the problem, so I allow myself to read something.sometimes watching funny shows..I have some YouTube favorites and it may sound counterproductive because of the light emitted but the laughter overrides that and relaxes me. I do limit my time on electronics. I do not use sites which could create stress, which may not seem obvious, social sites are not a regular place I visit anyway but especially not before bed. I drop the indoor temp to about 68 because I will wake up feeling on fire. Lastly, I will take L-theanine which is an amino acid and blocks the excitatory. It has less of a hang over effect for me.

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  19. I usually have a bike race on Wednesday night 6pm-7pm and can never fall asleep that night. It’s a real problem this one.

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  21. Did the Thursday night MTB race series last night at 6:30 (and also used a decongestant before hand due to sinus issues.) No wonder I could sleep last night!! Now I know.

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  23. I struggle so much with exercise induced insomnia. Some nights I’ll fall asleep initially for an hour and then toss and turn all night long. Some nights I am up in the middle of the night wandering around the house or eating or wide eyed watching tv again or reading. Drives my wife crazy to the point she often just sleeps in another room. I’ve tried OTC products to no effect. My schedule for training and local events and races is so wacky, evening, mid day, evening, mid day, early morning, all day endurance, rest day thrown in. Been like this for years. Unless I travel for a training block where the training is similar every day for a week or two and the regimen is the same… A timely article for me. At least Chris explains some of the whys, which is always good to know.

  24. This is a common problem for me too. I also find I have ‘twitchy legs’ which adds to the overheating and brain racing, which stops me getting to sleep. I have found taking a taurine supplement before bed really helps. Its is a protein used widely in the body (immune system, nervous system, cardiovascular system and more). It calms my twitching muscles and my racing mind which helps me get to sleep more easily and sleep better overall. I prefer it to taking an anti-Inflammatory or sedative.

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  28. Unlike most of the people who have commented on the this site I am not very fit and this is partly due to the fact that if I train hard ,be it weight training or tramping were hills are involved I have a real problem staying asleep.i mostly get to sleep fine but will wake an basicly have a interrupted sleep. No one I have spoken to have even heard of this let alone have a remedy so it’s quite annoying. These effects can last for several days even if all I did was one heavy set with the weights. If anyone has any ideas I’m all ears,thanks Robbie

    1. For what it’s worth, which isn’t a lot, I’m in the same boat. I discovered when I stopped exercising that I felt a lot better, slept better, etc. The downside is, obviously, that after 4 or 5 years (now in mid-50s) my muscle has turned to fat–leaving me skinny but with a roll around my waist. My doctor and a sleep specialist said I could lose a few pounds, but if I exercise much I spiral downward. I’ve found that I can do a lot of walking and it doesn’t interfere with my sleep. So I’ve been doing about half an hour almost every morning and then incorporating it into my day. That has helped without hindering my sleep (I usually wake up at 3:30 if I exercise). I’m trying to very gradually build up to where I can get some real exercise, and will restrict it to the morning. Hopefully that will let me sleep.

      1. That is how it is for me Phillip,frustrated to the max. Seems the moment I over step the exercise I’m doing I’m stuffed for sleep. A chiropractor did help abit. I live in New Zealand an do
        abit of tramping,climed mt egmont this year so feel my fitness isn’t real bad road my Exercycle to hard a week back an had a shocking sleep so go figure. Not sure what to do next other than crack on with it a try to get fitter

  29. Been there last night. I could not sleep til about 3 am and my workout was around 6:30 to 7:30 pm. Was having hot flashes, tossing and turning all night. I think I will try next time some of the tips they mention in this article and from some of the replies. Some workout I push myself even further and don’t want to necessary cut back if I don’t have too. Usually I feel better in the morning besides feeling a little tired from less sleep.

  30. Back in the day…September of 2000…whilst (classy, eh?) on a cross country bike ride with PACTour, I found that one Celebrex with my vitamins in the morning and two Darvocet at bedtime helped me cope with the pain and suffering a 100-plus mile bike ride brought about. I slept just fine and was always rarin’ to go the next day. Of course, in the intervening years, both Rx drugs have been deemed unfit, unsafe and unacceptable for human use but they certainly worked wonders for me over the course of the 25 days and 3200 or so miles…though it probably didn’t hurt that I was in the best shape of my life and literally forced myself to stay hydrated (the gallons of Coke at the end of each day notwithstanding…hey, I’m nobody’s poster boy for good habits!). I wouldn’t change a thing.

  31. I don’t always have this issue. But I find that when I do, if I take just one 250mg Motrin right before I go to bed, it quiets things enough that I generally get a good night’s sleep. I don’t know what the dosage works out to be, but I weigh ~184-188 lbs.

  32. It’s more of an over load or overheating of the body running on the edge. For periods at a time longer than you normally do. I know if you are slightly dehydrated your heart rate will be up trying to cool off your body from stress. Your post seems right on. Just my thoughts.

  33. Great article. I’ve Done DK which is associated with all of the elements mentioned in the article. However, other events in which I’ve competed like LoToJa (206 miles to Jackson Hole) and Fireweed 200 (206 miles to Valdez, AK), the temperatures at the finish are quite cool and I find myself needing to warm up after crossing the finish line (and taking a hot shower soon afterwards), yet I still have the same issues falling asleep. This leads me to believe that, at least in my case, the hormones are the cause (I don’t use stimulants). Years ago, I discovered that I could address this problem by taking an ambien just before bed time. That’s my remedy for now, until I can find another to replace it.

    1. I ve been running long distance for a very long time most mostly on the Treadmill last night I ran for almost 14 km burned 1100 calories this is my routine for the past so many years then afterwards I really struggle to fall asleep I live in Srilanka it is so exhausting what am I to do

  34. Excellent article Chris!!
    As an endurance athlete who has competed in all the above mentioned events (thanks to Jane ) I find you are right on mark!! In addition to the adaptive responses you mentioned , I find with the restless sleep my sore muscles, legs and feet (on ultra runs) also keeps the sleep disrupted. I will occasionally take a Tylenol with my recovery drinks which helps at times.
    Thank you for all your informative emails !!

  35. WOW you have just answered all my questions! I have a problem with all these that you talked about Thank You!

  36. I had trouble calming to sleep after racing our local evening events. I have found the AdrenaCalm cream by Apex Energetics works well post race to calm the cortisol rush necessary to race effectively. FYI I have no vesting in the product, just a fan.

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