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Sleeping In or Exercising: Which is the Superior Choice?

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  • Post last modified:September 26, 2023

Keeping up with good health is so simple, isn’t it? Log in a good eight hours of rest, engage in physical activity for a minimum of one hour per day for at least five days a week, and make an effort to eat properly. It’s also important to stay hydrated, engage in meal prepping, and practice meditation. Trying to incorporate all of these into your life, along with other variables like children, work, and relationships, can feel impossible. So, when you’re faced with the decision of staying in bed for an additional two hours or dragging yourself to the gym, sometimes getting more sleep wins. It makes sense — working out without enough sleep can be quite challenging.

But is it really such a terrible thing? After all, there are mornings when you simply don’t feel well, or maybe you overexerted yourself the day before. Is it ever worth it to sleep in and skip the gym? As it turns out, science has yet to provide a definitive answer.

“Both sleep and exercise are fundamental behaviors that contribute to our physical and mental well-being,” explains Kelly Glazer Baron, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and associate professor at the University of Utah. Her research, published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, has discovered that getting at least seven hours of sleep can actually enhance your endurance and intensity during workouts the following day. And the relationship between exercise and sleep goes both ways — another study from Northwestern University found that individuals with insomnia who started a regular aerobic exercise program experienced an improvement in the quality of their sleep and felt less fatigued throughout the day. So, engaging in physical activity without proper sleep can actually help combat the challenge of insufficient sleep!

Considering that multiple studies highlight the direct correlation between sleep and exercise, it’s undeniable that you should strive for an adequate balance of both, emphasizes Shannon Fable, director of partnerships at Stronger U Nutrition and a health and fitness expert for the American Council on Exercise. “If achieving perfect balance is impossible, try sacrificing your sleep only two to three days per week in order to attend early morning indoor cycling classes. Make up for it by getting extra sleep on the other days and on weekends,” she suggests.

Deciding between Sleep and Exercise

If You Received Sufficient Rest Last Night: Perspire

If you acquired seven to eight hours of rest the previous night, you’re in good shape to visit the gym, affirms Fable. Seven to nine hours of slumber is the typical requirement for most grown-ups, as outlined by the National Sleep Foundation.

If You’ve Been Experiencing Insufficient Shut-Eye This Week: Slumber

If you’ve been experiencing fewer than six hours of sleep on most nights of the week, it’s time to reconsider your timetable, advises Baron. Evaluate where you can make time-saving adjustments to enhance efficiency: Go to bed 15 minutes earlier or trim 10 minutes off your morning routine to obtain a bit more sleep. If you’re not a morning individual, contemplate taking a midday break or allocating a slot for exercising after work.

If You Spent the Entire Night Awake: Slumber

Did you not sleep at all? Definitely skip your morning exercise regimen, recommends Fable. Not only do you require the sleep, but your coordinative abilities will be affected, potentially rendering exercise more hazardous. Your perceived exertion ratings will also cause exercise to feel more challenging than it actually is, cautions Fable. Even if you’re exerting the same level of intensity as usual, sleep deprivation can disrupt your cognitive performance, according to Preventing Chronic Disease, a peer-reviewed public health journal sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Exercising in moderation is crucial when engaging in physical activity without sleep or when feeling fatigued. Overexertion can exacerbate fatigue and heighten the risk of injury since weariness can impede concentration and form. “When you’re feeling drowsy, take a step back from your usual workout routine; reduce the intensity and duration of your exercise,” remarks Shawn Youngstedt, Ph.D., a professor at the Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation at Arizona State University.

If You’ve Been Procrastinating Workouts All Week: Perspire

If you’ve only engaged in one workout session this week (and it’s Friday), head to the gym! If your objective is to complete three to four workouts per week, it’s time to get moving, asserts Baron. Just 2 1/2 hours of vigorous physical activity per week can diminish your likelihood of experiencing a heart attack or stroke, according to the American Heart Association.

So avoid pressing the sleep button if you have the ability to!

If You’ve Been Hitting the Gym Regularly: Rest

If you’ve been consistently dominating your workouts that week, skip your exercise session, advises Fable. Everyone deserves a day off, and your body requires rest to recover after intense training sessions. Rest days allow for muscle building through protein synthesis, as indicated by a study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.

If Your Body Is Fatigued: Rest

If you’re feeling sore, take a day off and get some extra sleep. Excessive training can lead to a decrease in both the quality and duration of your sleep, notes Baron.

How Your Eating Habits Can Give You Energy All Day

After a challenging night, whether you’re working out without sufficient sleep or heading straight to work, skip the energy drink and opt for revitalizing nutrients instead. “It’s incredible how consuming the appropriate foods can help you power through the day,” says Lauren Antonucci, R.D., the director of Nutrition Energy, a private nutrition-counseling service in New York City.

Antonucci’s meal plan will keep you energized and satisfied until dinner.

Hydrate with Water First Thing

Dehydration worsens fatigue, so drink two glasses of water as soon as you wake up. Strive to consume half your body weight in fluid ounces by the time you go to bed (for a person weighing 145 pounds, that’s approximately 72 1/2 ounces or around nine cups).

Start Your Day with Protein-Packed Breakfast

When sitting down for breakfast, opt for eggs, whether scrambled or hard-boiled. “They’re one of the most easily absorbed forms of protein, containing just the right amount of fats and a dose of energy-enhancing B vitamins,” explains Antonucci. To sustain your energy levels, add healthy carbohydrates like a slice of whole-grain toast and some fruit. If you need a kick-start, have a cup of coffee; if caffeine makes you anxious, grab a mug of green tea (or matcha). Matcha contains some caffeine along with a compound called epigallocatechin, which studies indicate can induce a state of relaxation and attentiveness.

Snack on Fiber-Rich Nuts

In the late morning, improve your focus by enjoying a handful of assorted nuts such as almonds, walnuts, and peanuts. The protein in nuts provides an energy boost, while the combination of filling fiber and omega-3 fatty acids keeps you satisfied until lunch.

Opt for a Macronutrient-Rich Lunch

Construct your midday meal with lean protein, slow-burning complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats.

Avoid Afternoon Energy Slumps

Potato chips or chocolate chip cookies may sound incredibly appealing later in the day, but after giving you a sudden burst of energy, they will cause a sharp decline. For a consistent and long-lasting energy boost, opt for nourishing high-fiber snacks like chickpea dip with a whole-grain flatbread or young carrots.

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