It was around mile two of the Joshua Tree Half Marathon that I started to hear animals I couldn’t see. Was that a horse? I wondered (and hoped). The daylight was officially gone.
But I realized that as spooky as night running might be, it also creates an eerie kind of magic. Lights twinkled in the valley below the hilly path I was climbing, but all around me it was pitch black, aside from the few feet of sandy trail that each runner’s headlamp illuminated. With nothing else to see, all I had to focus on were my own footsteps and my breath—and how I could race through the desert as quickly as possible.
Experts In This Article
- Amie Dworecki, B.S., M.A., MBA, Amie Dworecki, B.S., M.A., MBA, is a running coach and founder of Running With Life.
- Brad Whitley, DPT, physical therapist at Bespoke Treatments in Seattle
- Marnie Kunz, CPT2, USATF- and RRCA-certified running coach
Most long-distance races take place in the morning, but this half marathon starts right around sunset. Because the scenery of the course is a tad monotonous, the race organizers embrace the adrenaline rush you can get from running under the stars.
I joined as part of a press trip sponsored by Nathan Sports, Skechers, and Swiftwick. The experience reminded me that even when the days are short during the winter and pushing your pace after the sun goes down becomes the norm, night running can be its own unique adventure.
The more I looked into running at night, the more advantages I found—even if you need to take a few extra safety precautions when you’re lacing up.
In This Article
Night vs. Morning Running
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The perks of running at night
What are the main benefits of night running? Here are a few of the top reasons to get in a nocturnal workout.
1. The temperature is cooler
Earlier in the day before the Joshua Tree race, I’d been cowering from the heat anytime the sun touched my skin. But once it was dark out, the desert air got so cool that my sweat-wicking T-shirt barely had any work to do.
As it turns out, temperatures around 40° Fahrenheit are ideal for long-distance running, largely because our hearts don’t have to work quite as hard to pump our blood to cool us down, according to a May 2012 study in PLOS One.
Even if the mercury doesn’t get quite that low after dark in a hot or humid climate, night running after sunset (or, alternatively, heading out before sunrise) is clearly the way to go to nab those cooler running temperatures.
2. Your body’s more ready to run
Running shortly after rolling out of bed can sometimes feel like wading through molasses. It’s no surprise why: You’ve just been lying stationary for hours, so your body temperature and mobility aren’t exactly ideal.
“This is the reason for the high perceived rate of exertion and respiration when running in the morning,” Brad Whitley, DPT, a physical therapist at Bespoke Treatments in Seattle, previously told Well+Good. “If you choose to run in the morning, you might incur a physiological speed bump due to the low body temperature, leading to a longer warm up period.”
But when you choose an evening running time, your body’s already slightly looser and warmed up from going about your day.
3. It might feel easier
The dark can be a secret weapon for runners. One August 2012 study in the Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology on optic flow (our perception of our movement in relation to our surroundings) suggested that because we can’t see as far in the dark, we feel like we’re going faster because close objects seem to pass by more quickly than those in the distance.
Even though your watch might not record any speedier miles, running in the dark can be a helpful confidence boost when you get the sense that you’re zooming along.
4. Night running can help you sleep
How can running at night affect your sleep quality? Despite rumors to the contrary, there’s some evidence to suggest evening runs might actually help you get deeper zzzs.
An October 2018 meta-analysis in Sports Medicine found that as long as you finish running more than an hour before your bedtime, it most likely won’t mess with your sleep quality. Instead, it could actually help you spend slightly longer in those restorative deep sleep stages.
Anecdotally, some people say they also seem to fall asleep faster.
That’s something to experiment with, according to certified running coach Amie Dworecki, CPT. Everybody’s different, so you might need to find out what works best for your own circadian rhythm.
5. You’re likely better fueled
Eating can be tricky for morning runners—you’ll run better with some food in your stomach, but if you don’t give yourself enough time to digest, you might run into GI issues.
At night, though, you should be fairly well-fueled from noshing all day, Dworecki says. Just be sure to have a snack to top off your carbohydrate stores before heading out the door, says certified running coach Marnie Kunz, CPT.
6. It’s more peaceful
Depending on where you run, during the day you might feel like you’re playing Frogger with traffic and pedestrians, dogs, and baby strollers. At night, most of those hurdles typically fade away.
“It’s really almost a meditative experience because of the quiet and solitude,” Dworecki says. “It can really add relaxation to your running.”
7. You have more options
Because you’re less likely to have a certain time you need to be back by at night than you would in the morning, it’s easier to choose your own adventure based on how you’re feeling. You can add a couple extra miles if you feel like it, or end early and walk home instead.
“It’s really almost a meditative experience because of the quiet and solitude. It can really add relaxation to your running.” —Amie Dworecki, CPT.
Running at night vs. morning: How to choose
Many runners swear by their morning miles. But obviously, the a.m. hours aren’t the only time to run. How do you know whether night or morning runs will serve you best?
For some people, it’s purely logistical: The best time to get in a run is whenever you can run. But if you have a choice, it might help to pay attention to the natural ups and downs in your energy levels.
“If you’re a night person, you can actually feel better or more energetic if you’re running in the evenings,” Dworecki says. Or, she adds, you might be able to use running to give yourself an energy boost at a time when it would typically dip.
If you’re someone who needs camaraderie to lace up, one of the benefits of night running is you’re more likely to find a group run to join after the work day, or convince a friend to join you for a few social miles.
Even if you’re alone, night running can also give you more of a thrill than the chore-like approach you might take to morning runs.
“It’s kind of an adrenaline rush running at night sometimes,” Kunz says.
On the other hand, running in the morning can be safer because there’s typically more people on the street, and more daylight means you’re more visible to cars.
Running first thing in the morning can also make you more consistent—even if you get stuck working late hours or friends convince you to head out for a happy hour, your workout will already be done.
Safety precautions for night running
1. Make sure you have enough light
Unless you know you’ll be running in a well-lit area, you’ll need to bring or wear your own running lights, Dworeck says.
I ran the Joshua Tree Half Marathon with the lightweight Nathan Sports Neutron Fire RX 2.0 Runner’s Headlamp, which securely attached to my forehead, and gave me 250 lumens of light in any direction I turned. Although it took me a little while to find the right spot on my forehead so it didn’t slip or bounce, once I did, I forgot it was even there.
If the thought of wearing a light on your head doesn’t sound appealing, you can also opt for a chest lamp or carry your own small flashlight. There are even have lights you can put on your shoes or your gloves, Dworecki says.
2. Stay visible to cars
Before the race, I was sent Nathan’s Laser Light 3 Liter Hydration Pack, which has a genius double-duty design that gives you a place to stash water as well as lights on the back in case you’re running anywhere there might be cars.
If you don’t have actual lights on your body, at least be sure to wear bright reflective gear so drivers can easily see you. Light-up reflective vests aren’t your only option—these days, many pieces of running gear stylishly incorporate reflective details, and there are even several reflective running shoes.
3. Consider leaving your headphones at home
Night running probably isn’t the right time to zone out to a podcast. Because you won’t be able to see as well, it helps to keep your other senses sharp.
“Watch your use of headphones just to be aware of what’s around you,” Dworecki says.
4. Let someone know where you are
Although running when the streets are quiet can feel less stressful than during busier, noisier parts of the day, empty roads or trails can also be dangerous.
“Let someone know where you’re going or share your run so they can track you,” Kunz says.
Apps like Strava let you proactively send your location to select contacts in real time. Alternatively, you can choose to stick to sidewalks or a track where you know other people will be out and about.
How to motivate yourself to run at night
After a long day, forcing yourself to get off of your warm couch and out into the dark doesn’t always sound super appealing. Kunz suggests making a promise to yourself to simply run 10 minutes—it’s just a little exercise snack that doesn’t feel like too much pressure.
“You know you can turn back, but once you’re out the door, usually you’ll feel okay and just keep running,” she says.
Dworecki adds that for some people, it’s easier to run right from their workplace. When I was training for an ultramarathon, for instance, I used to run home four miles from my office every night so that I didn’t waste half an hour commuting on the subway—my commute was my run (and it only took slightly longer). Then, once I stepped in the door, I could just relax without having to convince myself to leave again.
It can also be helpful to make night running more social by joining a group run or turning it into a date with a friend to catch up after work.
“[It] makes your run more fun and it gives you some accountability,” Kunz says. Even running with a dog can help a night run feel less lonely.
1. Do I need a light to run at night?
If you’re going on trails or areas without ample street lamps, you’ll want to bring your own light source with you to make sure you can see where you’re going and what you’re about to step on. The most popular option among runners is a headlamp.
2. Can running at night help in managing stress?
Running is always a good stress release—the extra blood flow to our brain triggers a release of dopamine and endorphins, sometimes leading to the famous “runner’s high.” These benefits might be especially welcome at night.
“It’s a great way to kind of blow off steam at the end of the day, and help unwind and relax before going to sleep,” Kunz says.
3. Is it bad to run at 10 p.m.?
Sometimes the only chance you have to fit in a workout is after many people go to bed. Dworecki says that sometimes when she’s struggling with insomnia, she might head out for a run around 1 a.m.
Just know that working up a sweat with intense exercise, like running vs. walking, for instance, will raise your heart rate pretty high, so be sure to give yourself enough time (at least an hour) to wind down after you’re finished so it doesn’t mess with your sleep.
No matter when you get back home, do a cooldown, take a hot shower, eat some food, and settle in for the night knowing you’ve gotten all those longevity benefits and health perks.
Well+Good articles reference scientific, reliable, recent, robust studies to back up the information we share. You can trust us along your wellness journey.
- El Helou N, Tafflet M, Berthelot G, Tolaini J, Marc A, Guillaume M, Hausswirth C, Toussaint JF. Impact of environmental parameters on marathon running performance. PLoS One. 2012;7(5):e37407. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0037407. Epub 2012 May 23. PMID: 22649525; PMCID: PMC3359364.
- Parry D, Chinnasamy C, Micklewright D. Optic flow influences perceived exertion during cycling. J Sport Exerc Psychol. 2012 Aug;34(4):444-56. doi: 10.1123/jsep.34.4.444. PMID: 22889688.
- Stutz J, Eiholzer R, Spengler CM. Effects of Evening Exercise on Sleep in Healthy Participants: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Sports Med. 2019 Feb;49(2):269-287. doi: 10.1007/s40279-018-1015-0. PMID: 30374942.
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