The struggle is real — in the morning, at least. Should you stay in bed and enjoy that extra-precious hour of sleep? Or, should you slip on a sports bra and head to the gym? When your days are packed from dawn to dusk, sometimes a painfully early training session is your only option. But, is skipping sleep to exercise the right choice?
There’s a reason why most fitness bands include sleep quality in the metrics they monitor; shut-eye is essential to your overall health. And, as performance coach and exercise physiologist Pete McCall explained to us last month, extreme fatigue is a legitimate reason for skipping your workout. “If you skimped on sleep a few nights in a row and feel like you’re dragging, go ahead and take the nap instead of forcing yourself to work out,” says McCall. “Exercising on top of exhaustion...will cause additional stress for your body.” That’s because sleep is when the body resets and repairs itself — and that includes your immune system. Chronic sleep loss can leave you more susceptible to catching a cold.
But, if the early a.m. is your only option for sneaking in a workout, are you screwed? Nah. Of course, the obvious answer is to go to sleep earlier the night before you want to work out — but that's often easier said than done. Still, remember that seven to nine hours of sleep per night is a blanket recommendation and may not be the "magic number" for everyone. You also don't need to exercise every single day (you want to aim for at least 150 minutes per week), so alternate days of sleeping in with mornings of getting up a bit earlier to train. “Working out first thing in the morning is a great way to kick-start your metabolism,” Mcall says. “Plus...you can knock [your workout] out before the hectic pace of the day unfolds and you’re pulled in a million different directions.”
Ultimately, like everything else, the tenuous relationship between sleep and exercise requires compromise and balance. As sleep scientist Hans Vans Dongen, PhD, tells Vox, “There are three things we need to take care of for our health: sleep, exercise, and good food. But, often it's a busy day...what should you cut? The benefits of the exercise for your health are undone by not getting enough sleep, so you may shoot yourself in the foot.”
So, the next time you're debating whether to trade shut-eye for squats, perhaps you should sleep on it.