Is It More Important To Give Your Body Sleep Or Exercise?

Photographed by Winnie Au.
By Katie Golde

It’s the crack of dawn, and the alarm goes off. Time to get in that run (or yoga class or weight session) before the day begins. The only problem? You’re really freaking tired. Which poses the question: On super-sleepy mornings, is it better to crawl out of bed and get to the gym, or head back to dreamland?

The Case For Hitting Snooze
“If you want all-around rock-star health, then sleeping and working out are both important,” says Rob Sulaver, sports nutritionist and trainer at Bandana Training. Unfortunately, most Americans aren't getting enough of either one. According to the National Institutes of Health, adults should get seven to eight hours of shut-eye each night.

And for good reason: Sleep plays a major role in your overall physical and emotional health, helping your brain function, reducing your risk of chronic disease, promoting mental well-being, and boosting your immune system. Studies also show that sleep loss is associated with increased hunger and appetite, linking a lack of ZZZs with an increased risk of obesity.
Not surprisingly, feeling fatigued and sleep-deprived can also affect your exercise performance, says Jason Edmonds, a biologist and Greatist expert. (If you've ever worked out while exhasuted, you know how much more laborious and less productive it seems.) In fact, one study found that improving sleep habits (as in, clocking seven solid hours) might actually benefit your exercise regimen. So staying between the sheets in the early a.m. hours sounds like a good plan to be your healthiest self, right? Not so fast.

Making sure you fit in time for both good rest and exercise is important.

The Perks Of Early Workouts
First, there are common-sense benefits to early exercise sessions: You’re more likely to hit the treadmill, park, or classroom before other options come up (Wine Wednesday, anyone?), and you won’t have to trudge to the gym after a long day at the office. Plus, exercising increases the production of endorphins, those feel-good chemicals that help relieve stress. Another study found that in warmer climates, men who exercised in the mornings had higher levels of endurance and exercise capacity than those who exercised in the evening heat.

Related: Is It Healthier To Skip Breakfast Or Just Eat A Doughnut?

Finally, early-bird workouts can lead to more restful sleep, research shows. In one study, people who worked out at 7 a.m. slept longer and had deeper sleep cycles than those who exercised at 1 p.m. or 7 p.m.
Natalie Dautovich, PhD, a National Sleep Foundation environmental fellow, says that “If you find you feel fatigued during the day, [or] that it’s difficult to concentrate or hard to wake up, then you may need to reconsider your sleep schedule.”

One way to figure out if you’re an early bird or a night owl is to see how your body acts without time constraints. “If you’re on vacation and you’re able to go to bed and get up when you want, see what time your body naturally awakens,” Dr. Dautovich suggests. “This can be an indicator of your natural preference for the best period of time for your body to be asleep.”

Photographed by Winnie Au.
Your Action Plan
The decision whether to get up (or not) is based on personal preference and depends on several factors, including how much sleep you're already getting and your ability to tweak your schedule to get in a workout at some other point in the day. Sulaver suggests asking yourself these three questions to gauge whether or not you should suck it up or stay under the covers:

1. Am I actually going to shut off my alarm and sleep in?
2. Can I work out any other time during the day?
3. Can I make up the workout later in the week, possibly by doing a two-a-day?
If you answer ”no," get up and work out, Sulaver says. If you can move around your schedule and you feel like you could sleep forever, readjust your workout for another time of day.

The Takeaway
“If you’re constantly deciding between working out or getting enough sleep, you’re doing it wrong,” Sulaver says. Making sure you fit in time for both good rest and exercise is important. Try getting up 30 minutes earlier a couple times a week to work out (and going to sleep earlier, too) to slowly ease into the habit. When you're up and at 'em, start simply with a perfect morning workout, a quiet home workout, or any of our easy-to-practice bodyweight routines.

More from Fitness

Sometimes getting motivated to exercise can be harder than the workout itself. That’s why it helps to think of your gym time as a middle school dance: ...
The benefits of yoga are constantly touted by fitness gurus and scientific researchers alike: practicing yoga has been linked to reducing stress, boosting ...
Working out's a LOT more fun when you can do it on your own terms, in your own crib, with your own tunes, and your own friends
When it comes to rock climbing, an all-or-nothing approach is key
Ashley Graham is breaking barriers. She's the first plus-sized model to cover the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue and she's served as our workout ...
In a move so fitting that we can’t believe we haven’t seen it already, ASOS teamed up with running shoe company Saucony to create glitter running ...
If you ask us, no workout is complete without a killer playlist — and running is no exception. Whether you prefer the trails or the treadmill, the right ...
(Paid Content) Normally, we celebrate getting into a fitness groove. It means that we've committed — on a pretty regular basis — to laying out workout ...
We may not all be able to keep up a daily diet of personal training, SoulCycle, and hot yoga. But there's a lot more to learn from celebrities' workout ...
Update: This story was previously published on Nov 21, 2015. Are you sitting down? Okay, take a minute to assess: Are you slouching in your seat? Are your...
Ah, the plank. Some version of it is used in virtually every type of fitness program, from CrossFit to calisthenics to yoga to pilates, and for good reason...
A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association has found that fitness trackers aren't exactly the key to a super-healthy ...
Maybe you're someone who appreciates the sturdiness of genuine leather. Perhaps you can't stand the idea of going to an hour-long vinyasa class without ...
Hailey Langland is a 16-year-old snowboarding star who believes that if you're not having fun doing something, it's not worth doing. "What sets me ...