In this article, we will go over the ins and outs of how sleep and exercise go together. Some say they go together like peanut butter and jelly; others say vinegar and water. We will look at both scenarios and see how they stack up against each other.
I will tell you now that the answer to this debate is all in the timing. Of course, there is your body’s individual physiology to consider, but for the most part, you will find that the timing is what it’s all about.
Join me as we go on a journey through how working out affects your sleep patterns. What could you be doing better and what could you add or take away from your workout routine to make healthier choices for your body and your mind?
How are Sleep and Exercise Related?
What happens to your body when you work out?
When you are feeling the burn, your body reacts in several ways. One of the most prominent side effects of working out is the increasing of your body’s blood pressure. It gets the blood flowing, which has a positive impact on your brain and nervous system. The rush you get from that work out signals your brain to release endorphins, which help elevate your mood as well as make you feel “alive”. That feeling is brought on by your nervous system.
Another thing that tends to happen when you exercise is that you get hot and start to sweat. This rise in body temperature causes your blood vessels to open more and helps to get even more blood flow through your limbs and torso.
How do these changes affect your sleep patterns?
Now, do these side effects sound like they would lead to a good night’s sleep? Rushing hormones, fast flowing blood, a heated body? It sounds as though these things would be the opposite of what you would do for a good night’s sleep.
This is where the timing comes into play. Some experts believe that you should work out early in the day, particularly first thing in the morning to get your body ready to move and give you that exercise rush to get you through your day. Though other experts are now saying that working out in the evening or right up until bedtime can help you sleep better than exercising in the morning.
Do you need more sleep when you are working out?
I came across this question several times while researching and thought that it would be a good subtopic for this article. Do you need more sleep on days you exercise? Well, that depends. Normally, a body needs 8-9 hours of sleep at night to wake up feeling refreshed, unless you are over 65 and then the recommendation changes to 7-8 hours.
If you are working out consistently, then you will likely need more sleep to accommodate your body’s need to heal itself. The beautiful thing is that studies have shown that your body tends to naturally crave more sleep the more active you are, thus your increasing need for sleep happens pretty much automatically.
How many hours of sleep do you need when working out?
There is no “magic number” when it comes to additional hours of sleep due to exercise. Only your body can give you that information. If you participate in a high energy workout that day and then wake up with less energy than normal, chances are you probably need more sleep to accommodate that workout. On the other hand, if you wake up in a better mood and have a ton of energy, you are most likely getting a good night’s rest.
Interestingly, strength training, when done as an average routine and not as an athletic sport, does not seem to have this same issue with sleep as a full cardio workout has. Though, there are other sleep needs that are important to the strength trainer, but we will get into that further a little later.
What Does the Timing of Your Workout Mean to Your Sleep?
Does exercise affect your sleep at all?
It does indeed. Studies by The National Sleep Foundation at Sleep.org has found that:
“Physical activity improves sleep quality and increases sleep duration.”
Why though? According to the article it has to do with your body’s natural circadian rhythm. As we learned in a previous article, How to Sleep with the Lights On, our circadian rhythm is our biological clock that tells us when it is time to sleep and when it is time to wake up.
Exercise comes into play by releasing hormones, also called endorphins that help alleviate stress. When you are less stressed, you can fall asleep easier and stay asleep longer. Also, a good workout just plain wears you out, allowing your body to fall asleep from pure exhaustion.
Do you sleep better if you work out in the morning?
So, here starts the controversy. For the longest time, experts in the field believed that working out early in the day was the only way to exercise, stating that you reap the most benefits from the morning workout.
Studies have shown that getting your blood flowing and increasing your endorphins first thing in the morning gives you a better start to your day. But does it really? Some exercise enthusiasts swear by their morning routine. Though, it is becoming clear that these same effects help you better if you work out before bedtime.
Do you sleep better if you exercise right before bed?
It is becoming more and more clear that what works well for one person doesn’t always work out as well for another. Human beings are walking contradictions because we are all different.
Some people feel more tired after an evening workout and are able to get to sleep easier and stay asleep longer. The reason for this is that the rise in body temperature you experience while working out and the process of cooling down afterwards might relax you more and allow you to fall into a deep sleep easier.
How do these differing schedules affect you?
Working out in the morning can stimulate you to have more energy and help you make it through the day easier. However, working out at night can help you relax more. So, how do you know which one to choose?
It’s simple. Try both methods and see how they work out for you. Work out in the morning and see how you feel come bedtime and the next morning and do the same for working out at night. Your body will automatically let you know which one it prefers.
Pros and Cons for Your Workout Timetable.
Pros to working out in the morning
- Improved mood throughout the day thanks to our good buddies, the endorphins.
- Lower blood pressure during the day.
- A feeling of accomplishment that tends to help your brain to make better choices all day, such as taking the stairs or choosing a salad for lunch.
- If you work out on an empty stomach in the morning, you can lessen your risk for diabetes and can burn more fat.
- You will have a free evening to enjoy the comforts of life with no workout to prepare for.
Cons to working out in the morning
- Working out in the morning, for a lot of people, means setting that alarm clock earlier to get that sweat session in, thus losing you precious minutes to hours of sleep in the morning, thus meaning that the habit will be harder to stick with.
- Your body tends to crash earlier in the day due to the absence of glycogen first thing in the morning, so you will begin to feel fatigue faster.
- You are less likely to add muscle if you work out in the morning. Your body needs glucose to build muscle and if you work out first thing, especially before eating, you are generally not going to be building muscle.
- Increased risk of injury if you work out too close to the time of waking up. You will likely still be groggy with sleep and accidents tend to happen when we are not as alert as we should be.
- Your body needs fuel, and that comes in the form of food. When you first wake up, you are coming from a period of fasting. Now, granted, working out on an empty stomach can help you lose more fat, but you risk becoming ill if you try to do too much with no sustenance.
Pros to working out before bedtime
- Getting rid of the stress of the day. Your good friends, the endorphins, will help take away the tension and stress of the day allowing you to be more calm at night, and frankly, more pleasant to be around.
- You will have had all of your meals for the day so you shouldn’t be feeling deprived or fatigued from lack of food. This helps you to burn more calories because you can work out a little harder.
- Less anxiety in that you don’t have to be in a rush. You can take your time and really get a good grind going.
- Your body is better able to heal itself at night. Our body’s secrete growth hormone at night which helps to restore and build muscle while also tackling fat.
- An evening workout allows you to be more social. Going to the gym at night can be fun as there are fewer people and more choice of equipment and a nice chat over the treadmill. Don’t go to the gym? Even if you walk outside, more people are out and about, walking their dogs or just enjoying the outdoors. These all give you the power to be more social and have a little fun with your workout.
Cons to working out before bedtime
- You have a better chance of backing out on your commitment because kicking back in your comfy recliner and watching television could be more alluring than getting that workout in.
- There could be some safety issues to exercising outdoors, especially in winter if you live in a place that gets snow and ice.
- In correlation with the pro scenario of going to the gym at night being helpful and less crowded, if you go directly after work until about 8:00pm or so, the gym could be really crowded with the work out directly after work folks. For the best results, hit the gym around 9:00pm or later.
- If you are a sufferer of insomnia, you may want to keep your exercise routine in the morning. There are studies that show folks with insomnia can face more sleep loss when working out at night than when working out in the morning. There are more benefits to the insomniac to skip the nighttime sweat session.
- You could be at risk of developing depression or other emotional difficulties due to the loss of being social when not working. Your social life is just as important as working out, so, make sure you live life as well as working out. Even better, find a few workout buddies and you can socialize while exercising.
Common Questions Regarding Lack of Sleep and Exercise
What happens if I work out and I haven’t slept, or haven’t slept well, the night before?
Sleep is the end all, be all of our daily performance. If you haven’t slept or haven’t slept well the night before, chances are you are not going to have the most productive day you could have the next day.
It is the same with exercise. If you are lacking sleep your workout performance will probably suffer. Not only will you not get the best results from your workout, but you could risk serious injury or the inability for your body to heal itself, as it does when you are sleeping. It makes no difference what time of day you work out either. You run this risk whether you work out in the morning or at night.
Should you work out if you are tired?
This is another one of those it depends questions. Some people say that working through being tired re-energizes them and wakes them up and gives them a better head start to the day. However, if you are tired to the point of exhaustion you won’t get as much out of your workout than you would if you were bright eyed, and bushy tailed.
So, as you can see friends, the only answer to almost any question regarding working out is to experiment and see what works for you. If you work out at night, you are less likely to be as tired as you are when you first wake up, but you may be exhausted from a long day at work. What do you do? Skip it? Only you and your body know the answer to that.
Can you build muscle with little sleep?
Let’s go back to an earlier part of the article. Remember when I talked about how your muscles repair themselves while you sleep? The reason it happens is because your body takes in glucose from the food you eat during the day and turns it into glycogen, which is a sugar that helps to heal and repair muscles after a workout. This phenomenon takes place while you sleep.
What this means is that not only can you not grow any new muscle if you don’t get enough sleep, you actually lose muscle mass from lack of sleep because your muscles can’t use their stored glycogen molecules.
Is sleep more important than exercise?
This one is really a trick question because in order to maintain a healthy body, you need both. You need more sleep than you do workout time, but that doesn’t mean you should forego one to have more of the other.
You need sleep in order to make good decisions and perform your best. You need exercise to keep your immune system in check, which helps keep you in a healthier state. So, they go hand in hand. You need less exercise than you do sleep, just like you need less food than water to keep your body systems working at their optimal rate. But you can’t survive without some variation of both.
No one can agree on the best time of day to exercise. Experts disagree. Trainers and enthusiasts disagree. So, what can you do? The answer is to just do it. It doesn’t matter what time of day you choose to workout, just get moving!
There is more than enough solid evidence that proves exercising and working out is good for your body’s sleep cycle, regardless of when you do it. Change it up, let your body tell you what it likes. Experiment. Figure out your best workout time and stick with it. Consistency is the key to success. Keep it up and you are well on your way to a great night’s sleep.