Healthy Sleep

Should you exercise despite lack of sleep?

Have you been constantly smashing your exercise routine and now finding it hard to miss even one session? We get that (or not). It’s normal to be afraid you’ll lose the progress you took so long to build. But sometimes it becomes difficult to avoid sleep deprivation because you juggle amongst many responsibilities, so you end up in some sort of cognitive dissonance – should you exercise despite lack of sleep?

Find the balance

We know from elementary science that exercising does wonders to your body. It lowers the risk of type II diabetes, high blood pressure, and even a heart attack. Without a doubt, it also gives you a great state of mind – fresh, healthy, and always ready to seize the day.

So does sleep. Although it requires less physical effort than working out – it gives you a sound mind and body too. Well, sleep and exercise, it’s a powerful tag team these two.

Much like everything else in life, striking a balance is key. We even learned that doing any physical activity is better than none. So how you find your balance depends on your current level of exercise, and how much sleep you have on you.

I lack sleep, should I exercise when…

I pulled an all-nighter? When running on ZERO hours of sleep, it’s recommended to go home and get enough rest. Not only does this increase your risk of injury, but also impacts your body’s ability to recover and repair itself. Being sleep deprived also raises cortisol levels that make your immune system vulnerable to any viruses around. So, yes, just get the day off… from working out, that is.

I’m hungover? If you’re still feeling nauseous first thing in the morning, don’t do it. The most important thing you need to do when hungover is to rehydrate. Once all the hangover begins to settle down, breaking a sweat with a gentle exercise could do the trick. Try simple stretching exercises like yoga.

I feel jet lagged? Absolutely, but do listen to your body. Pause right away should the exercise start making your jet lag worse. Fortunately, some studies show that regular exercise AT THE SAME TIME can help achieve quicker recovery. So, if you exercise at 7AM in Melbourne, do it at 7AM wherever you go.

I slept under six hours (but still feel okay)? This is where you can do some compromising to balance sleep and exercise. If your sleep deprivation is not chronic and you feel that it hasn’t sucked the life out of you yet, it should be fine to exercise for a maximum of 30 minutes. DON’T do high-intensity, long-duration, or even heavy weight-lifting exercises. It’s best to just be on the move – stay on the treadmill, do some walking, incorporate light weights, or even just do a short yoga session.

I always work out? If you work out between four to all days of the week and feel exceptionally weak, it may be your body’s way of telling you to rest. Slow down for a bit. Rest days can significantly improve your muscle strength as it recovers because your growth hormone (GH) levels are highest during sleep. Overtraining and failing to rest will only get you to a plateau – unable to see any more improvements in muscle growth nor fat loss.

Related Article: Can We Work Out Before Sleep?

In ALL the mentioned cases, don’t succumb into the trap of pre-workout drinks or stimulants. You’re way better off taking a nap than relying on a temporary adrenaline rush.

Bottom line? Listen to your body.

Often your instincts will tell you when you can or cannot exercise. Listen to what it tells you because it all comes down to how you feel. And we don’t mean the lazy feeling – we mean the feeling of not being able to push your body any further. If you feel like forcing it, pack your bag and go. It will only do more harm than good.

Finding the balance between sleep and exercise ties well with listening to your body. Over time, you’ll get a good rhythm of your on/off days and it’ll be second nature to know just when to rest.