Published: 2022-08-29

Morning exercise improves sleep quality in university students

Krystel R. Chahine, Nathalie R. Chahine, Moni Nader


Background: Although sleep is influenced by exercise, a proper management of physical activity’s time promotes the quality of sleep. The objective of this study was to evaluate, in university students, the effect of morning or evening physical exercise on sleep pattern, along with the dynamics of hormones controlling sleep quality.

Methods: We recruited 92 healthy sedentary adolescents, 18-20 year-old, poor sleepers, with normal anthropometric characteristics and no musculoskeletal or neurological problems. They were randomly distributed into 3 groups:  34 subjects practicing morning physical activity, 28 subjects practicing evening physical activity, and 30 subjects remained sedentary. The quality of their sleep was assessed using the Spiegel validated questionnaire. Body temperature was recorded in the morning and evening, and saliva samples were collected. Saliva cortisol and melatonin levels were evaluated by ELISA.

Results: The group practicing exercise in the morning experienced a better quality of sleep (71.4%) versus the one exercising in the evening (44.1%, p<0.05). In parallel, the levels of melatonin and cortisol significantly increased, at night and morning simultaneously, in participants exercising in the morning. Moreover, body temperature significantly decreased in participants that exercised in the morning compared to those who practiced evening exercise, or maintained a sedentary lifestyle (p<0.05).

Conclusions: Our data indicate that morning physical activity exerts a positive impact on the sleep quality, probably by decreasing cortisol and increasing melatonin levels in the evening. We presume that morning activity may efficiently reduce the burden of sleep disorders, particularly those caused by COVID-19 lockdown.


Adolescents, Cortisol, Melatonin, Physical activity, Sleep quality

Full Text:



Zielinski MR, McKenna JT, McCarley RW. Functions and mechanisms of sleep. AIMS Neurosci. 2016;3(1):67-104.

Youngstedt SD, Goff EE, Reynolds AM, Kripke DF, Irwin MR, Bootzin RR, et al. Has adult sleep duration declined over the last 50+ years? Sleep Med Rev. 2016;28:69-85.

Yang B, Wang Y, Cui F, Huang T, Sheng P, Shi T, et al. Association between insomnia and job stress: a meta-analysis. Sleep Breath. 2018;22(4):1221-31.

Ong JL, Lau T, Massar SAA, Chong ZT, Ng BKL, Koek D, et al. COVID-19 related mobility reduction: heterogenous effects on sleep and physical activity rhythms. Sleep. 2021;44(2):zsaa179.

Salari N, Khazaie H, Hosseinian-Far A, Ghasemi H, Mohammadi M, Shohaimi S, et al. The prevalence of sleep disturbances among physicians and nurses facing the COVID-19 patients: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Glob Health. 2020;16(1):92.

Pérez-Carbonell L, Meurling IJ, Wassermann D, Gnoni V, Leschziner G, Weighall A, et al. Impact of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on sleep. J Thorac Dis. 2020;12(Suppl 2):S163-75.

Cappuccio FP, D’Elia L, Strazzullo P, Miller MA. Sleep duration and all-cause mortality: a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective studies. Sleep. 2010;33(5):585-92.

Crowley SJ, Acebo C, Carskadon MA. Sleep, circadian rhythms, and delayed phase in adolescence. Sleep Med. 2007;8(6):602-12.

Carskadon MA. Sleep in adolescents: the perfect storm. Pediatr Clin North Am. 2011;58(3):637-47.

Claustrat B, Leston J. Melatonin: physiological effects in humans. Neurochirurgie. 2015;61(2-3):77-84.

Short MA, Gradisar M, Gill J, Camfferman D. Identifying adolescent sleep problems. PloS One. 2013;8(9):e75301.

Uchida S, Shioda K, Morita Y, Kubota C, Ganeko M, Takeda N. Exercise effects on sleep physiology. Front Neurol. 2012;3:48.

Reid KJ, Baron KG, Lu B, Naylor E, Wolfe L, Zee PC. Aerobic exercise improves self-reported sleep and quality of life in older adults with insomnia. Sleep Med. 2010;11(9):934-40.

Rezk CC, Marrache RCB, Tinucci T, Mion D, Forjaz CLM. Post-resistance exercise hypotension, hemodynamics, and heart rate variability: influence of exercise intensity. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2006;98(1):105-12.

Driver HS, Taylor SR. Exercise and sleep. Sleep Med Rev. 2000;4(4):387-402.

Spiegel R. Sleep disorders in the aged. Der Internist. 1984;25:552-5.

Liu H, Zhao M, Ren J, Qi X, Sun H, Qu L, et al. Identifying factors associated with depression among men living with HIV/AIDS and undergoing antiretroviral therapy: a cross-sectional study in Heilongjiang, China. Health Qual Life Outcomes. 2018;16(1):190.

Ackermann K, Ballantyne KN, Kayser M. Estimating trace deposition time with circadian biomarkers: a prospective and versatile tool for crime scene reconstruction. Int J Legal Med. 2010;124(5):387-95.

Kredlow MA, Capozzoli MC, Hearon BA, Calkins AW, Otto MW. The effects of physical activity on sleep: a meta-analytic review. J Behav Med. 2015;38(3):427-49.

Buysse DJ, Yu L, Moul DE, Germain A, Stover A, Dodds NE, et al. Development and validation of patient-reported outcome measures for sleep disturbance and sleep-related impairments. Sleep. 2010;33(6):781-92.

Jones TW, Howatson G, Russell M, French DN. Effects of strength and endurance exercise order on endocrine responses to concurrent training. Eur J Sport Sci. 2017;17(3):326-34.

Strassman RJ, Appenzeller O, Lewy AJ, Qualls CR, Peake GT. Increase in plasma melatonin, beta-endorphin, and cortisol after a 28.5-mile mountain race: relationship to performance and lack of effect of naltrexone. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1989;69(3):540-5.

Hackney AC, Viru A. Twenty-four-hour cortisol response to multiple daily exercise sessions of moderate and high intensity. Clin Physiol. 1999;19(2):178-82.

Puterman E, O’Donovan A, Adler NE, Tomiyama AJ, Kemeny M, Wolkowitz OM, et al. Physical activity moderates effects of stressor-induced rumination on cortisol reactivity. Psychosom Med. 2011;73(7):604-11.

Zisapel N. New perspectives on the role of melatonin in human sleep, circadian rhythms and their regulation. Br J Pharmacol. 2018;175(16):3190-9.

Atkinson G, Davenne D. Relationships between sleep, physical activity and human health. Physiol Behav. 2007;90(2-3):229-35.

Youngstedt SD, Elliott JA, Kripke DF. Human circadian phase-response curves for exercise. J Physiol. 2019;597(8):2253-68.

Morita Y, Sasai-Sakuma T, Inoue Y. Effects of acute morning and evening exercise on subjective and objective sleep quality in older individuals with insomnia. Sleep Med. 2017;34:200-8.

Vitale JA, Bonato M, Galasso L, La Torre A, Merati G, Montaruli, A., et al. Sleep quality and high intensity interval training at two different times of day: A crossover study on the influence of the chronotype in male collegiate soccer players. Chronobiol Int. 2017;34(2):260-8.

Burgess VN, Antonio J, Bland HW, Wagner R, Tartar JL, Melton BF. The effect of timing and type of exercise on the quality of sleep in trained individuals. Intl J Exerc Sci. 2020;13(7):837-58.

Bagci S, Mueller A, Reinsberg J, Heep A, Bartmann P, Franz AR. Saliva as a valid alternative in monitoring melatonin concentrations in newborn infants. Early Hum Dev. 2009;85(9):595-8.

Sinnott-O'Connor C, Comyns TM, Nevill AM, Warrington GD. Salivary biomarkers and training load during training and competition in paralympic swimmers. Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2018;13(7):839-43.

Diab-Ladki R, Pellat B, Chahine R. Decrease in the total antioxidant activity of saliva in patients with periodontal diseases. Clini Oral Investig. 2003;7(2):103-7.

Chahine N, Nader M, Chalhoub W, Chahine R. Natural antioxidants and vitamins supplementation shelters adolescents from upper respiratory tract infection. Int J Child Health Nutr. 2020;9(1):26-33.

Palladino F, Merolla E, Solimeno M, de Leva MF, Lenta S, Di Mita O, et al. Is COVID-19 lockdown related to an increase of accesses for seizures in the emergency department? An observational analysis of a paediatric cohort in the Southern Italy. Neurol Sci. 2020;41(12):3475-83.

Janati Idrissi A, Lamkaddem A, Benouajjit A, Ben El Bouaazzaoui M, El Houari F, Alami M, et al. Sleep quality and mental health in the context of COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown in Morocco. Sleep Med. 2020;74:248-53.

Stutz J, Eiholzer R, Spengler CM. Effects of evening exercise on sleep in healthy participants: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Sports Med. 2019;49(2):269-87.

Aloulou A, Duforez F, Bieuzen F, Nedelec M. The effect of night-time exercise on sleep architecture among well-trained male endurance runners. J Sleep Res. 2020;29(6):e12964.

Yamanaka Y, Hashimoto S, Takasu NN, Tanahashi Y, Nishide SY, Honma S, et al. Morning and evening physical exercise differentially regulate the autonomic nervous system during nocturnal sleep in humans. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Physiol. 2015;309(9):R1112-21.

Morita Y, Sasai-Sakuma T, Inoue Y. Effects of acute morning and evening exercise on subjective and objective sleep quality in older individuals with insomnia. Sleep Med. 2017;34:200-208.

Roenneberg T, Wirz-Justice A, Merrow M. Life between clocks: daily temporal patterns of human chronotypes. J Biol Rhythms. 2003;18(1):80-90.

Fairbrother K, Cartner B, Alley JR, Curry CD, Dickinson DL, Morris DM, et al. Effects of exercise timing on sleep architecture and nocturnal blood pressure in prehypertensives. Vasc Health Risk Manag. 2014;10:691-8.