Exercise and Sleep – Getting the Best of Both Worlds

You’ve put in the hard work with your workout and now it’s time to reward yourself, with some sleep?

Even though sleep may seem like the ultimate expression of inactivity, your body is hard at work recovering, repairing, and completing important work across all of your internal systems. How much you sleep and the quality of your sleep has an impact on your daily activities, including exercise.

We’ll explore the relationship between exercise and sleep, what time is best to exercise, and how much sleep you need to perform at your best.

Woman in bed hitting alarm clock

The Impact Of Sleep On Exercise

Sleep has a huge impact on exercise and can affect your exercise performance, muscle recovery, and cognitive function during a workout.

The most notable impact of sleep on exercise is its effect on exercise performance. Sleep loss is associated with decreases in physical strength, endurance, reduced fine motor skills, and increases in perceived effort to exercise. In other words, everything feels harder and you’re at a greater risk of injury.

Physical activity not only requires physical skill, but it involves mental concentration as well. According to research, sleep supports cognitive functions such as concentration, attention, and memory during exercise.

Sleeping impacts how well your muscles recover after a workout. During sleep, your body releases hormones that stimulate muscle repair and growth. Sleep also helps reduce muscle inflammation caused by the wear and tear of exercise. Not getting enough sleep can impair these necessary recovery processes, slowing down your ability to successfully recover from post-workout soreness.

Sleep deprivation, or extreme sleep loss, may even decrease the amount of exercise that you are able to do daily, as you’ll probably find yourself more winded.

Woman struggling or looking tired in workout

How Does Exercise Affect Sleep?

Just as sleep can affect exercise, research notes a relationship between exercising and sleep quality. Now let’s look at the other side of the equation.

Most research finds that exercise in general can help improve sleep quality and sleep duration. Exercise can help ‘wear us out’ and not only prime our bodies to fall asleep faster but to help us reach deeper sleep phases in our sleeping cycles.

High levels of stress can also be a risk factor for poor sleep quality. Regular exercise can improve sleep quality by reducing stress levels and reducing the symptoms associated with being stressed out.

Woman sleeping peacefully

Are Morning Workouts Best?

Traditionally, science thought that morning workouts were better for sleep quality and our health, but it turns out that the answer is not that simple. Workouts at different times of the day can provide different benefits for our bodies.

A small, 12-week study examined the benefits of morning and evening exercise in men and women. In women, morning exercise helped reduce abdominal fat and blood pressure, while evening exercise enhanced muscular performance. 

Researchers found that men had improvements in their systolic blood pressure, level of fatigue, and had increased fat burning when they exercised in the evening.

The best time to work out is generally what works for your body and your schedule. If you’re a morning person, it may be best for you to exercise in the mornings as you’ll have more energy, and vice versa. For people who work out in the evening, try to avoid doing vigorous exercises less than one hour before bedtime.

dad and two kids smiling in the kitchen

Exercise Or Sleep: Which Should You Choose?

In choosing a level of priority it’s best to focus on your sleep routine first then complement with your exercise routine. Outside of your exercise function, sleep impacts your brain health, metabolism, immune function, and risk for chronic illnesses. However, the goal is to create a lifestyle that allows you to balance both sleep and regular exercise. Think of it as part of your weekly workout, but you actively get to relax.

The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults between the ages of 18 to 64 should get 7 to 9 hours of sleep nightly for optimal health and performance. Highly athletic people may even require additional sleep, and for this reason, it could be beneficial to add in afternoon naps if possible.

If you’re trying to improve your sleep quality, try incorporating these habits into your evening routine:

  • Have a consistent bedtime and wake-up time to train your body
  • Reduce screen time an hour before going to bed
  • Avoid high-caffeine drinks later in the day
  • Create a comfortable sleeping environment, paying attention to sound levels, room temperature, and even the comfort of your bedding

Current exercise recommendations for healthy adults state that in order to gain substantial health benefits, adults should engage in at least 150 minutes to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week – and this isn’t just gym time. Walking around the neighborhood and playing with your kids adds up as well.

To make exercise easier to fit into your busy schedule, find small periods of time throughout your day to exercise. That could look like taking a walk during a break or after you’ve gotten home, doing a 15-minute HIIT workout, or practicing yoga before bed. Find inspiration in the exercises that you like and schedule them during a time you feel your best.

Woman meditating on her bed

Key Takeaways

Both exercise and sleep are essential to meeting your health and fitness goals. Find a sleep routine that works best for you, and support it with an engaging exercise program throughout the week. Sacrificing sleep time and quality is only going to lead to poor performance and delayed recovery, making it harder to achieve your desired results.

Prioritize getting in 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night, and only schedule that early morning workout if you are going to bed early enough the night before. In this way, you’ll get in your beauty rest and crush your workouts at the same time.  

Follow Nutriology on Instagram and check out the Nutriology blog for workouts, recipes, and healthy lifestyle tips that you can incorporate into your into your life.

Markita Lewis, MS, RD

Written by Markita Lewis, MS, RD

Markita has an interest in the biological, social, and cultural aspects of eating.  She enjoys writing about nutrition and wellness, food justice and policy, cultural foodways, and the psychology of nutrition. You can find her at: www.wellnessandchill.com


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