Picture this: It’s an early morning, and after tossing and turning all night, your alarm blares its intrusive reminder. You’ve had a night of poor sleep, and while you’re debating on hitting the snooze button for another 5 minutes, there’s another pressing question: Should you still hit the gym despite the lack of sleep?
Understanding Sleep Quality & Its Importance
Sleep deprivation is no joke. The National Sleep Foundation emphasises the crucial role of quality sleep in our overall well-being.
While we often hear about getting those ideal 7-9 hours of sleep for the average adult, it’s not just about the hours clocked in but also about the sleep quality.
Deep sleep stages are where the magic happens – it’s when our body repairs itself, releases growth hormone, and essentially primes us for the next day.
The Impact of a Bad Night’s Sleep on Athletic Performance
When you get little sleep or experience sleep loss, your athletic performance can take a significant hit. How?
- Physical Activity & Intensity: A lack of sleep can dampen your energy levels. Intense workout sessions or high-intensity exercises like cardio might feel way more challenging. If you’re aiming for strength training, those squats and bodyweight exercises could feel like you’re lifting mountains.
- Risk of Injury: Sleep deprivation can affect reaction times and reduce overall alertness. This increases the risk of injury, especially during exercises that require precise movements or balance.
- Heart Rate & Body Temperature: With inadequate sleep, your body’s circadian rhythm (think of it as your internal clock) gets disrupted. This can impact body temperature patterns and heart rate, affecting the time of day when you’re best primed for exercise.
- Cortisol Levels: A bad night’s sleep can spike cortisol, a stress hormone, levels. Elevated cortisol post-workout can hinder recovery and muscle building.
To Gym or Not to Gym: Making the Call
Here’s a good tester to determine whether you’re in the right state for an intense training session:
Should I Exercise When…
I’ve 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 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.
Should I Take a Rest Day? TLDR
If you’ve had a night where you got less sleep or even no sleep, you might want to consider taking a rest day. But don’t just take my word for it; consider the science and how your body feels.
Opting for a rest day after sleep deprivation allows your body to:
- Recover and reduce the risk of overtraining
- Reset your cortisol levels
- Prevent potential injuries due to reduced reaction times and lowered physical abilities
- Improves your ability to repair and build muscle
However, if you’re adamant about not missing a day, consider modifying your exercise routine. Swap out an intense workout for a lighter physical activity or perhaps some stretching.
Addressing Persistent Sleep Challenges: Time for an Upgrade?
If you’re noticing a pattern of consistently poor sleep quality, it’s essential to examine your sleep environment. Believe it or not, your mattress and pillow play pivotal roles in ensuring a restful night. Over time, mattresses can lose their support and pillows can flatten, leading to discomfort and disturbances throughout the night. An upgrade might be in order.
Consider investing in a mattress that aligns with your sleep style, whether you’re a side, back, or stomach sleeper. The right mattress can support your spine’s natural alignment, reducing the risk of waking up with aches and pains.
Likewise, a pillow tailored to your needs can prevent neck strains and promote better sleep. Additionally, think about the ambience of your bedroom. Factors like room temperature, lighting, and noise levels can also significantly impact sleep quality.
Remember, it’s not just about the quantity of sleep but also its quality. And sometimes, a comfortable and supportive mattress and pillow can make all the difference.
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.
Sleep & Rest Day FAQs
How much is “enough sleep” for optimal health and well-being?
Most adults require between 7-9 hours of sleep each night. However, individual needs can vary. It’s essential to listen to your body and ensure you’re getting adequate sleep to feel refreshed and energised.
Why is sleep crucial for weight loss?
Sleep plays a vital role in regulating hormones that control appetite and metabolism. Without adequate sleep, your body may produce more hunger-causing hormones, making weight loss more challenging. Additionally, a well-rested body can burn calories more efficiently.
If I’m struggling with getting adequate sleep, should I consult a professional?
Yes, if sleep challenges persist, it’s a good idea to consult with a sleep medicine specialist. They can provide insights into potential underlying issues and recommend effective solutions.