Did you know that I wake up at 4:50 AM every weekday to hit the gym? Yes, that may sound nuts to a lot of you, but that’s what works for me…mostly. However, I have noticed over the years that there is a huge connection between exercise and sleep. Both with how well I sleep and my subsequent quality of exercise. And with how well I recover based on my sleep quality.
It’s all so connected!
And, both exercise and sleep are crucial to managing your health and your weight!
The Sleep Essentials
Of course, you know that exercise helps keep your body healthy, right? Exercise and activity burn calories, build muscles and bone tissue, and improve circulation of blood and fluids to ward of illnesses. Exercise is amazing!
But, sleep is just as essential. And it’s not something you should ever skimp on. Would you sleep fewer hours if it meant hitting the gym in the morning before work? Or, would you sleep in after a late night and save your next workout for another day?
This is a common dilemma…for me and many of my clients and friends. It’s been ingrained into our brains that exercise is SO important that many of us, myself included, will work out while exhausted.
And this isn’t good.
We need exercise to sleep better but we also need sleep to exercise. And when it comes to weight management, we need both. But, you do need to walk a fine, balanced line between the two for optimal results.
The Exercise & Sleep Connection
Without a doubt, to get a better sleep, you should lace up those running shoes.
A study by the National Sleep Foundation found a 65% improvement in sleep quality for participants who performed 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise a week.
Which means that you can simply walk briskly for 30 minutes 5 times a week to benefit from the exercise and sleep connection. At a minimum, anyway. Vigorous exercise, like HIIT or running at a fast pace, will provide added benefits to your health. Not to mention, build more muscle and burn more fat for that overall slim, toned body you want.
The thing is, though, if you want to build muscle and tone up, you need a good quality sleep every night! Why? Because sleep is crucial for recovery from exercise. And it’s during recovery that those muscle fibers repair and getting stronger.
More muscle means a faster metabolism, fewer issues with blood sugar (and cravings), and yes, less body fat.
If you’re struggling to see a more toned body after hours spend lifting heavy weights, it may be time to look at your sleep quality. Take a few extra days to recover and allow those muscles to rebuild. Maybe take a recovery supplement, like Branch-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) or Collagen powder.
Do you hit the gym for a 6 AM spin class after a late night out? This may actually backfire on you if your goals are weight loss, muscle building, or improved endurance.
An ACSM study showed that sleep deprived participants had a slower response time and fatigued much quicker than when they were well rested. And, to be honest, I can totally attest to this. After a particularly bad sleep, I struggle to lift the same amount of weights as normal, run as quickly, or even just think creatively when the equipment I want is busy. Sleep deprivation sucks when it comes to working out!
Plus, I am way more likely to just give up and leave the gym when I’m exhausted, too. And then I feel guilty for not getting in the workout I planned, which often sets me up for a bad day ahead! Exercise and sleep are so connected – I am now starting to put sleep first so that I can enjoy a good workout at least 3 times a week.
You don’t need to totally forego the gym on days when you’re super tired, though. It actually makes me feel better to simply walk on the treadmill for 30-40 minutes on those mornings, rather than sleep in and skip the gym altogether. I find that even a little bit of movement in the morning helps wake me up and get my body ready for the day ahead.
Other options for those groggy mornings are yoga, lifting light weights (do lots of reps), or riding the incumbent bike. Save the hard-core runs, HIIT classes or other intense workouts for days you’re feeling super pumped!
What About Weight Loss?
When it comes to weight management, both exercise and sleep are important. However, if you’re struggling with weight or fat loss, it’s actually way better to focus on sleep for a while and ditch the insane workouts.
One study compared weight loss efforts of sleep deprived adults versus those who were fully rested. The sleep deprived group rested for only 5.5 hours while the fully rested group got a full 8.5 hours of shut-eye.
The results? Those with limited sleep lost less body fat and more lean muscle mass.
You still need activity. But if you’re sleep deprived, your activity should match your energy levels. This is when it’s super important to listen to your body (aka your energy) and exercise according to that. Because when you exercise too hard when you’re tired, you actually spike your stress hormone – cortisol – which in turn messes up your blood sugar and signals extra fat to be stored. Especially around the belly area.
This means, if you’re tired but still doing those spin classes, you could gain more fat, making your jeans even tighter! Not what you want, right?
Both exercise and sleep have tremendous health benefits. And you need both for optimal health. However, if you’re skimping on sleep, for whatever reason, reign in your exercise to more moderate or easy levels until your energy and sleep improve.
Boost Your Sleep Quality
If you’re struggling to fall asleep or stay asleep (or both), you have options.
Practice stress management or self-care every day. Ideally, before bed each night, ditch the electronics and find a quiet activity that relaxes you. Do this for 15-60 minutes before you want to fall asleep. Your activities can range from reading to a hot bath to simply stretching. Reduce cortisol to help boost melatonin and improve sleep quality.
Drink some tart cherry juice in the evening. Tart cherry juice helps boost melatonin naturally. It’s actually been found that foods that naturally contain melatonin work way better than supplements!
And remember – exercise and sleep are both crucial to your health goals. So don’t skimp on either!