Sleep vs. Exercise

Increasing evidence suggests that hitting the gym at the expense of sleep could be causing more harm than good. With a lack of sleep contributing to everything from an increased appetite to a slower metabolism and reduced cell recovery, could building in extra bed-time be the secret to a better body?

Sleep is the platform on which a healthy mind and body stand. From the immune system to energy levels, mental state, appetite and dozens of other health variables, if that base is unsettled then your health will suffer.

What does the research say?

Research has shown that when sleep is compromised, not only is it harder to stick to a healthy diet, but it will lead to low energy levels as well as a lack of stamina, both of which are essential elements required to complete that intensive workout.

Cheri Mah, a sleep medicine researcher at Stanford University, says that “when it comes to your health, there are few absolutes. But that’s not the case with sleep and exercise. You need both.” Mah goes on to say that, “not only are both necessary, but it’s difficult to get healthy doses of one without the other. Research suggests that regular physical activity is important for high-quality sleep, and high-quality sleep is important for physical performance.” But when pressed to choose one that’s more important, Mah decides on sleep. “Sleep is foundational.”

“While specific needs vary from person to person,” she says that “most of the scientific literature suggests adults need a minimum of seven hours of good sleep every night. Lots of individuals think they can operate on less, but when you test them, you find they’re not performing at their best, they just get used to feeling tired, and they think that’s the norm.”

To snooze or not to snooze?

Many sleep experts say constant snoozing disrupts the body’s circadian rhythm which will undoubtedly cause that groggy feeling. So if your plan is to do your work out early, then don’t be tempted to press the snooze button just get up at the sound of that first alarm!

So how much sleep do we really need?

This differs from person to person (some people thrive on less than five hours) but the recommended time is somewhere between seven to eight hours per night. The key is to listen to your body – if the alarm goes off at the crack of dawn and your body feels genuinely tired, with the thought of hitting the treadmill filling you with dread, head back to dreamland.

Exercise early?

Exercising early comes with a whole host of benefits that are hard to ignore – from increased alertness and endorphins to improved sleep come bedtime. If you are reluctant to abandon your morning workout, be sure to give your body some time to wake up before exercising – try to incorporate at least 15 minutes of stretching into your routine to avoid injury and general muscle soreness.

Why is sleep so important for wellbeing?

Research shows sleep plays a major role in your overall physical and emotional health, helping your brain function, reducing your risk of chronic diseases, promoting mental well-being and boosting your immune system. Plus, studies also suggest sleep loss is associated with increased hunger and appetite (especially for fatty, high-calorie foods), linking a lack of sleep with an increased risk of obesity.
The Zing365 article on The Secret to Wellbeing may also be of interest.

Can lack of sleep affect metabolism?

Yes, and this can happen after just one night of sleep deprivation. A recent Swedish study found when a group of healthy, young male subjects stayed awake all night, their metabolic rate slowed, reducing their energy expenditure for tasks such as breathing and digestion by as much as 20% the following day. A cumulative lack of sleep will therefore undoubtedly affect the rate at which your body burns calories.

So, sleep or workout?

Unfortunately, there isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ answer as everybody is different. However, instead of sacrificing a full two hours of sleep for that marathon gym session, just focus on getting some form of exercise; a quick, high-intensity 20-30 minute workout or walking to work at a brisk pace will set you up for the day.


Sources: Tor Cardona, Sheerluxe, 29/11/2016. Markham Heid, Time Health, Cheri Mah, Stanford University/06/2015



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