Running at Night VS in the Morning: What’s the Perfect Time to Run?

If you’re reading this article, you are most likely looking to get more out of your weekly run routine.  Maybe you’ve hit a plateau? Maybe you’re feeling an energy drain? Maybe you’re not seeing the results you want quickly enough.

Running is great exercise. And when combined with a healthy, balanced diet… it burns fat faster than most workouts, while also building lean muscle.

But did you know that you can maximize your efforts by taking into account the time of day that you choose to run?

It’s true.

By taking certain factors into account, you’ll be able to better determine what time of day you’ll get the most from your run (this includes calorie and fat burn). These factors include:

  • Energy level
  • Food intake
  • The weather
  • Unexpected disruptions

In this article, we’ll talk about the pros and cons of running at night vs in the morning, so you can educate yourself and decide which routine is best for you.

A Definition of Running At Night vs Running in the Morning

Running at Night typically takes place an hour or two after dinner… sometimes after sunset, depending on the season. For some, it relieves stress and improves sleep later in the evening.

Running in the Morning typically takes place right around sunrise and before you start your morning routine. Many people feel it elevates their mood for the rest of the day and is also a peaceful way to kick things off.

Running at Night Pros and Cons

Pros of Running at Night

  • Those who choose to run at night often find they have more energy to do so. This is because they’ve likely eaten at least two meals, maybe even some snacks, and drank plenty of water throughout the day. Eating healthy foods and staying hydrated before a run gives your body more fuel to work harder and go farther.   
  • Night runs often result in a deeper, better quality of sleep for many people. Research has shown that because your body will be tired after exercise… so will the rest of you. It’s important to note, however, that you should not run within an hour of going to bed for the night or the endorphins may make it harder to fall asleep.  Running at night, followed by a hot shower or bath before bed, can improve your chances of counting sleep faster!
  • Running at night is a great way to wash away stress and tension from the day. Running at night lowers blood pressure and releases endorphins to improve your mood. It also gives you time to reflect and figure out ways to make tomorrow a better day, allowing you to welcome mindfulness in and push negativity out. 
  • Since you’ve likely not been sedentary all day, your body is already nicely warmed up and somewhat flexible when it’s time for your night run. While you should always stretch before a run (and you’ll probably have more time in the evening to properly commit to this), having your body already warm reduces the risk of injury, cramps or muscle strains. 
  • Night runs give you more time to put in extra miles and truly enjoy your run without pressure. The mornings can be rushed at times… that, or we’re worried about being late for something, which often results in cutting our morning runs short. But with night runs, we’ve got all the time in the world to make it count (even if that means putting the kids to bed before the run)!

Cons of Running at Night

  • Visibility and colder temperatures can be an issue when running at night, especially in the fall and winter months. Darkness can leave you at greater risk for injuries from tripping over or bumping into something. Conversely, in summer, the nights are often hotter than the mornings… which can make running more challenging on your breathing, as well as leave you more susceptible to cramping.
  • Motivation can be a problem when attempting to run at night. Many of us are mentally drained after a long day at work… or physically exhausted if the job requires manual labor. Fatigue makes it all too easy to let yourself off the hook and skip the evening run after a full day.
  • Safety concerns come into play during evening runs, as there is often more traffic on the road, as well as an increased risk of attack by another person or animal. Without the proper reflective gear, a car may not see you crossing the road. If you run in more remote areas, be sure to keep your eyes open and have a cell phone or mace with you.
  • Unexpected disruptions can also be a problem when it comes to the night run. Maybe your boss asks you to work late? Or your child has a soccer practice you need to get him to? You’ve run out of milk for the morning and need to go to the store? Things happen. Life happens. If you put off your run until the evening, there is always a chance it won’t happen as other things take priority. 

Pros of Running in the Morning

  • You’re less likely to skip a morning run because the day hasn’t started yet. If running is the first thing you do after you wake up (even if it’s before anyone else is awake), there is nothing getting in your way. It will happen the same way your shower will happen… and possibly breakfast. It’s hard to skip a morning run because there are next to no excuses for doing so that early in the day.
  • I’ve got two words for you… “cortisol” and “endorphins”, baby! Cortisol is your body’s main stress hormone and it’s favorite time of day is the morning. That is why so many people battling depression or anxiety often have a hard time getting out of bed in the morning. But endorphins are your body’s natural attack against stress. They elevate mood and get you going! They also reduce pain. Running in the morning will ward off any feelings of negativity and leave you feeling fired up to face whatever the day throws at you!
  • Running in the morning can build muscle faster than an evening run, especially in men. Testosterone levels are highest in the morning and gradually drop throughout the day. So a morning run is your best shot at getting the physique you want in the shortest amount of time.
  • If you are looking to maintain or lose weight, morning runs are also the way to go. They are a great boost to the metabolism, but studies have also shown that if you run on an empty stomach, your body is forced to refuel itself on the food you consume afterwards, rather than store it as fat. You’re also less likely to overeat after a morning run.
  • Morning runs can help you kick or curb that caffeine habit. Face it, most of us can’t start our day without a cup of coffee or tea. But running in the morning can give you that burst of energy you crave, naturally… directly reducing the amount of caffeine you’ll need to get going, if any at all.  Also, studies have shown that too much caffeine can have a negative impact on the body and cognitive abilities over time.

Cons of Running in the Morning

  • If you’re a night owl, you may find getting up early to be an extremely difficult habit to start. Try as you might, there will be days when you’re more likely to hit the snooze button than get out of bed for your run. If you’re not a morning person, you are much more likely to skip your workout.  And skipping it one day makes it easier to skip it the next… and the next… and.
  • Running in the morning can increase your risk of injury. This is because most of us have  stiff joints or tighter muscles in the morning (especially as you get older). Sleeping all night long means your body is still in wake up mode and not fully ready for a long or difficult run without a proper warm-up.  If you don’t allow enough time to properly stretch and ease into the workout, you may get hurt.
  • Morning runs have a tendency to be shorter and less productive after not eating for at least 7-9 hours, which is the amount of sleep recommended for adults age 26 and over. And since we all know you shouldn’t eat right before bed anyway, your body probably hasn’t had food for closer to 10-12 hours. If you can’t get up early enough to eat a small meal before your run, your body won’t have enough calories to convert to energy, which means you’ likely won’t be able to run as hard or as far.
  • Depending on the time of year, weather and a lack of sunlight can wreak havoc on morning runs. Early fall and winter mornings can be extremely cold and unpleasant… even dangerous if snow or ice are on the ground. The lack of sunlight can also be a factor if you’re running in an area where traffic is an issue.  Not to mention, poor visibility can increase your risk of falling.

To Sum Up the Pros and Cons…

To sum up what we’ve learned here, we’ve created this infographic comparing the pros and cons of running at night vs in the morning. You may find that one, or all, of the comparisons ring true with regards to the time of day you prefer to run.

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How to Decide Between Running at Night and Running in the Morning

When deciding which time of day is best to run, you should keep in mind your unique set of circumstances.  For instance, your physicality, work schedule and run location will all factor into interpreting what we’ve discussed here and figuring out what works for you.

  • Go running at night if:
    • Your work schedule allows flexibility and you have no evening obligations
    • You’ve eaten a health course of meals all day long to properly fuel your run
    • You live in a place where the evenings are typically cooler
    • You run in well lit areas or have proper reflective gear
    • You are not a morning person
  • Go running in the morning if:
    • You enjoy waking up early and having time to yourself
    • You are not rushed
    • You want that “natural high” to wake up and start your day off on a positive note
    • You have obligations after work most days or a family to care for
    • You want to decrease your chances of skipping the run later in the day

Final Thoughts on Running at Night VS in the Morning

At the end of the day, developing a running routine you’ll stick with is a habit that requires planning and accountability. You know yourself better than anyone, so being honest is the first step in being successful.

When deciding whether to go running at night vs in the morning, you have to ask yourself if you’re an early bird or a night owl. From there, you’ll need to examine your typical day and lifestyle to determine which time of day will provide the most consistency for your routine.

After that, ask yourself the other questions like:

  • Do you like running in the heat?  
  • What is your stress level like most days?
  • How is my sleep?

The list of pros and cons outlined here should help you determine which plan is right for you. In the meantime, be sure to equip yourself with the proper running gear to help you keep unforeseen injuries at bay. This article on compression socks is a great read, especially if you never thought about wearing them.

And don’t forget to share your personal experiences from morning or evening runs in our comments section.  

Nicole Krause has been writing both personally and professionally for over 25 years. Her work has appeared in some of the country’s top publications, major news outlets, online publications and blogs.

She is an avid runner and incorporates walking, hiking, golfing and kickboxing into her weekly workout routine to keep things fresh and maximize calorie burn. She lives in the beautiful Sourland Mountain area of New Jersey, which offers many challenging and scenic trails.

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