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Pre-workout supplements are popular for their energy and performance-enhancing benefits. A common negative side effect of these pre-workout supplements, however, is insomnia or difficulty sleeping.
Pre-workout supplements often have moderate to high doses of caffeine (200mg-420mg per serving) and contain other ingredients that act like stimulants including synephrine, taurine, and guarana. Taking these products later in the day (within 5 hours of going to bed) can lead to insomnia and restless/disrupted sleep.
As a personal trainer and supplement store manager for the past decade, I’ve had countless conversations with customers and clients who want to take pre-workout for their evening workouts, but struggle to fall asleep afterward.
Despite the performance boost they offer, if your pre-workout is affecting your sleep you could experience additional negative side effects like poor recovery, worsened mood, an inability to focus or concentrate the next day, and weight gain.
In this article, I’ll cover:
- Reasons why you have trouble falling asleep after taking pre-workout
- 9 tips for falling asleep after taking pre-workout (and what to do next time)
- My top 3 stimulant-free pre-workout recommendations
Why You Have Trouble Sleeping After Taking Pre Workout
The most obvious reason why you might have trouble sleeping after taking a pre-workout is because of the product’s caffeine content. Most pre-workout supplements fall between 200mg of caffeine and 420mg of caffeine per serving.
For reference, an 8oz cup of coffee has, on average, around 95mg of caffeine. In order to avoid adverse effects like jitteriness, anxiety, and heart palpitations, the FDA recommends an upper limit of 400mg of caffeine daily.
This could mean that, depending on your pre-workout supplement brand, you might be exceeding the recommended upper limit of caffeine in one pre-workout serving. If you consume other sources of caffeine in your day like coffee, tea, or energy drinks then you could be well over the FDA recommendation.
Even some of the lowest caffeinated pre-workout supplements still contain the equivalent of two cups of coffee per scoop.
Caffeine aside, pre-workouts often contain additional ingredients to help with energy and mental focus like synephrine (or bitter orange extract), taurine, and guarana. These ingredients can amplify the effects of caffeine and stimulate the central nervous system, causing you to lose out on time and quality of sleep.
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Guidelines for Daily Caffeine Consumption
The research is pretty clear on how consuming caffeine – even small amounts – at any time in the day can negatively impact sleep quality.
Study #1 – Caffeine 6 Hours Before Bed Resulted In 1 Hour Loss of Sleep
One study had participants split into three groups. Each group took 400mg of caffeine, but one group took it immediately before going to sleep, the second took it three hours before going to sleep, and the third group took it 6 hours before going to sleep.
Even the group that took the large dose of caffeine 6 hours before going to bed still resulted in a total of 1 hour of lost sleep. So, if your bed time is at 11, even taking your pre-workout at 5pm could substantially impact your total sleep time.
Study #2 – Any Amounts of Coffee Throughout The Day Will Have An Impact On Sleep
Another study gave participants 200mg of caffeine at 7am. They measured caffeine levels in the blood which spiked an hour later, and 16 hours later were reduced to less than a 5th of that level. Even with the dramatic drop, sleep quality was reduced in the caffeine-consuming group relative to the placebo group who consumed no caffeine.
Caffeine’s Half-Life: What’s the Connection?
In regards to caffeine half-life, it’s important to monitor your total caffeine intake over the course of the day. On average, you will still have 50% of the caffeine you consumed in your system five hours after ingestion.
If you then take a pre workout supplement containing 300mg of caffeine at 5:00pm, the total amount of caffeine in your body at that time is actually 350mg. (300mg from the pre workout + 50mg left over from your morning coffee).
With this combination, by 11pm you would still have 40mg of caffeine circulating in your system. Ultimately, it might take some trial and error to assess your individual tolerance.
Top Tips For Caffeine Consumption
- You might metabolize caffeine quickly, meaning it will start to empty out of your system at a faster rate. In this case, it might be acceptable for you to take a high-stimulant (300-400mg) pre-workout in the afternoon or evening with no adverse effects.
- If you are more sensitive to caffeine, then even a small amount (100mg or less) within 5 hours before bed might keep you awake. If you find that you have trouble falling asleep even after ingesting a small amount of caffeine, it’s probably best to opt for a stimulant-free pre workout alternative (click to check out my recommendations).
- Rather than taking a large dose (300mg-400mg) at one time, try to space out caffeine intake over the course of the day to minimize the amount of caffeine remaining in your system at bedtime.
- Start with a ¼ or ½ scoop of pre-workout to see if the product affects your sleep, and slowly increase it from there.
4 Supplements To Help You Fall Asleep After Taking Pre-Workout
So here you are, you have taken a pre-workout supplement and you are struggling to fall asleep.
Four supplements that you could try to help you fall asleep faster are Melatonin, Magnesium, GABA, or L-Theanine.
Each of these products are readily available in most drug stores and show promise for helping increase relaxation and reducing the amount of time it takes to fall asleep.
In the past, it has been recommended not to regularly supplement with melatonin because it was thought that your body could get used to the supplement and end up producing less of its own naturally, but that seems to have been debunked.
Melatonin supplements come in a wide variety of forms: spray, tablets, sublingual tablets, and gummies. They also come in widely varied dosages, from 1mg up to 20mg. There is no official dosage recommendation for melatonin, but start small to avoid adverse side effects such as headache, dizziness, or nausea.
Start with 1-3mg of melatonin approximately 1 hour before desired bed time, and increase from there as needed. It’s generally regarded as safe for adults to use up to 5mg doses.
There are some contraindications with melatonin, including anticoagulants, seizure medications, diabetes medications, and immunosuppressants. Be sure to check with your doctor before taking any new supplements if you are on prescription medication.
You’ve likely already heard of magnesium, but may not be familiar with its roles in the body. Where sleep is concerned, magnesium can regulate some of the hormones that affect sleep (like melatonin) and it plays a key role in muscle relaxation.
Where melatonin, mentioned above, will decrease the time it takes to fall asleep, magnesium can help with feelings of relaxation and increase overall sleep duration.
There are different forms of magnesium that can have different effects on the body. To help with symptoms of insomnia, look for either 200mg of Magnesium Glycinate (sometimes called Bisglycinate) or 200mg of Magnesium Citrate.
My favourite forms of melatonin for relaxation are the Natural Calm magnesium drinks, which I enjoy mixed with warm water like a tea (and are also available unflavoured) Pure Encapsulations Magnesium. The former I like because it comes in an easily digestible capsule form instead of a hard pressed tablet, which can be harder to swallow and harder to break down.
Note: Other forms of magnesium, like Magnesium Oxide for instance, act as a stool softener and likely won’t be beneficial for your feelings of insomnia.
GABA (or Gamma-aminobutyric acid) is a chemical messenger in the brain that can improve relaxation. It is called an inhibitory neurotransmitter, which means that it has the ability to block chemical messages from being passed further along through the brain.
This inhibitory effect is what gives GABA its calming effect, increasing feelings of relaxation, reducing anxiety, and ultimately improving sleep.
In a 2018 study, GABA supplementation was shown to improve sleep quality and reduce the amount of time it took for participants to fall asleep.
Another study was able to show that GABA levels peaked in the body 30 minutes after ingestion, which makes it an appealing option if you’re currently having difficulty falling asleep, because you should feel its effects rather quickly.
Aim to take between 100mg and 300mg of GABA 30-60 minutes before going to bed.
Now Foods offers an unflavoured powder that provides 500mg of GABA per ¼ tsp. Based on the research, you should be able to take only ⅛ of a teaspoon before bed to experience the feelings of reduced anxiety and increased relaxation.
Most studies that have looked at GABA and sleep have operated on a longer timeline (1 week to 4 weeks of supplementation) rather than as a single dose. As such, I cannot say for certain that a single dose of GABA will help you fall asleep right now, it can definitely help with feelings of relaxation.
If you struggle to fall asleep on a regular basis, it might be worth supplementing with GABA nightly and see improved sleep quality and duration in as little as one week.
L-Theanine is an interesting amino acid, because while it can be used to improve mental focus, it has also been proven to promote relaxation and improve sleep quality. It has been studied in individuals with ADHD and was proven safe and effective in improving sleep quality.
One important thing to note is that it can induce a state of relaxation, but doesn’t outright cause drowsiness. Taking L-Theanine might help you calm down if you are feeling jittery and anxious from your pre-workout, but it’s probably best to pair it with melatonin or some of the lifestyle interventions mentioned below.
Like GABA, if you experience chronic difficulties with asleep, supplementing with L-Theanine daily over several weeks may help improve sleep quality on a long-term basis. It might be less beneficial in a single dose.
I’ve personally been using and enjoying the Now Foods L-Theanine in a 100mg capsule form, which is also available in extra strength (200mg) or in powdered form. To improve sleep quality, you should aim for 400mg daily, which can be split over several doses throughout the day.
5 Other Tips For Dealing With Sleeplessness After Taking Pre Workout
If you don’t have time or access to supplements, there are some steps that you can take at home right now to help you fall asleep after taking pre-workout. Try drinking warm water or tea (chamomile or lavender), taking a warm bath, meditation or yoga, and turning off back-lit screens like phones, computers, and TVs.
1. Drink Water
I will start off by saying that drinking a large volume of water before bed will likely result in you having to pee a lot, which will obviously be a detriment to your sleep.
That being said, there are some benefits to having some water before bed to help you sleep.
Drinking water won’t completely nullify the effects of caffeine, but it can help your body process the caffeine from your pre-workout more quickly, reducing its effects.
Caffeine is also a natural diuretic, so drinking water can make sure you don’t experience symptoms of dehydration like headaches or dizziness.
2. Drink Chamomile Tea
Chamomile tea has been shown to increase sleep quality, though research is a bit limited in active populations. A lot of the research surrounding chamomile tea and sleep has been done in individuals who are experiencing health complications like cancer or dysmenorrhea.
Even so, chamomile tea is an easy and inexpensive option (from $0.15 – $0.35/cup if purchased online or from a supermarket or drugstore) with virtually no side effects.
Anecdotally, I’ve used chamomile tea before bed for years to help with anxiety and insomnia. There are a lot of blends available that combine both chamomile and lavender together in a relaxation tea.
3. Take a Warm Bath
A 2019 meta-analysis was able to determine that taking a warm bath or shower before bed increased total body temperature and was associated with improved sleep quality and a reduced time to fall asleep.
While a lot of studies done have looked specifically at the elderly population, there was a study done on youth soccer players that showed it elicited the same results.
If you try this method, you want to be under warm water (around 40°C), either in the shower or submerged in a bath, for 10 minutes.
4. Turn Off Blue Light Screens (Read a Book)
Blue light is a particular part of the light spectrum that can affect alertness and sleep cycles. Specifically, blue light screens suppress the body’s release of melatonin, making it harder to fall asleep.
This is important because blue light is the wavelength that is often emitted by electronic devices like TVs, tablets, e-readers, smart phones, and tablets.
If you are having trouble falling asleep after taking pre-workout, spending time scrolling apps on your phone, watching TV, or reading on a backlit tablet could be making the problem worse.
Put away your electronic devices and find a physical book to read (no e-readers). The act of reading itself can be a stress reducer, and can help take your mind off of the fact that you’re having difficulty falling asleep.
5. Try Meditation or Yoga
While looking at blue light screens can have a negative effect on sleep quality, there are a lot of apps at your disposal that you can use to help you fall asleep.
Slow breathing can have a positive impact on the amount of time it takes to fall asleep as well as improve sleep quality once you are asleep.
There is a lot of anecdotal support for yoga to help with insomnia, with many youtube yoga instructors offering 5 to 15 minute Yoga for Insomnia and Yoga for Sleep videos. The comments section of a lot of these videos praise the videos for their calming effects.
While most of the research done on yoga and sleep have dealt with ill populations, like cancer patients, there is some preliminary research to suggest that yoga can help with insomnia and sleep quality.
If you try either the meditation or yoga route, try to do so without looking at your phone to reduce the effect of the blue light emissions.
If you want to try yoga but need to follow along with a video, adjust the settings on your phone or find an app to reduce the blue light effect of your phone. (It’s usually called “night mode” or “night shift” in your settings).
Key Takeaways: Sleep & Pre Workout
- To combat insomnia caused by pre-workout naturally, try sitting in a hot (40°C) bath or shower for 10 minutes while sipping on 8oz of chamomile and lavender tea. Turn off blue light screens (e.g. phone, tablet, tv) and read a book until drowsiness sets in. Consider a meditation app or bedtime yoga routine.
- To avoid insomnia next time you take pre-workout, try taking your pre-workout earlier in the day and be mindful to keep your total daily caffeine intake at or below 400mg. If you notice chronic insomnia when taking pre-workout, switch to a low stimulant or a stimulant-free option.
My Top 3 Stimulant-Free Pre-Workout Recommendations
Axe & Sledge Hydraulic
Axe&Sledge Hydraulic is a high quality and great tasting product that offers a lot of ingredients to increase strength and power, without stimulants.
It contains citrulline, glycerol, nitrosigine, and agmatine to help with pump and nitric oxide production, creatine to help with strength, beta-alanine for endurance, and tyrosine for mental focus.
Magnum Opus offers stimulant-free energy, increases strength, and offers a high dose of leucine (4g) to help encourage muscle building and beta alanine (3.2g) for endurance.
This product is also buffed up with added electrolytes, B Vitamins, and amino acids to help keep you hydrated and feeling good before, during, and after your workout.
Ghost Pump offers a clinical dose of L-Citrulline at 6g per 2 scoop serving, with an additional 3g of arginine for enhanced nitric oxide production and blood flow.
On top of the traditional pump ingredients, Ghost Pump has pine bark extract which acts as an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant and taurine, which helps reduce muscular fatigue.
Another stand out ingredient in Ghost Pump is glutathione, which is an important antioxidant involved in tissue repair.
Ultimately, not only will this product help you get a great workout without any stimulants, but it will help improve recovery and muscle repair.
Other Pre Workout Resources
- Is It Bad To Take Pre-Workout Every Day? (3 Drawbacks)
- Caffeine Pills vs Pre Workout: Pros, Cons, & Which Is Best?
- Pre Workout Sickness: How Common Is It, Causes, & How To Fix
Frequently Asked Questions
Can Pre-Workout Give You Insomnia?
Pre-workout supplements can give you insomnia. Most pre-workouts contain anywhere from 150mg to 425mg of caffeine per serving, equal to between 1.5 and 4.5 cups of coffee. Taking pre-workout too close to bedtime, or stacked with other sources of caffeine throughout the day (e,g coffee), could lead to insomnia.
How Do I Calm Down From Pre-Workout?
If you are currently experiencing insomnia from your pre-workout, try supplementing with melatonin, magnesium, GABA, or Theanine. Alternative solutions include drinking chamomile or lavender tea, taking a warm bath, and turning off back-lit screens like phones and TVs. Consider meditation or yoga for relaxation.
How Long Should I Take Pre-Workout Before Bed?
Optimally, caffeine shouldn’t be ingested within 8 hours of bed time. This might not be feasible if your schedule requires you to workout after work or school. Even still, in order to minimize the amount of caffeine left in your system, try to take your pre-workout at least 5 hours before your desired bed time.
Let’s get you in the best shape of your life. Sounds good?
About The Author
Jennifer Vibert is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, Nutrition Coach, and supplement store manager. She has a Bachelor of Kinesiology with a major in Fitness and Lifestyle and a minor in Psychology from the University of Regina. She is a Certified Nutrition Coach through Precision Nutrition, with a passion for helping clients learn the fundamentals of nutrition and supplementation in order to build healthy, sustainable habits.