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Wellness | Aug 01, 2019

How Sleep Impacts Your Workout

WellnessAug 01, 2019

How Sleep Impacts Your Workout

The wellness world can be a lot. Sometimes it seems like you need your juice, meditation, cycling, yoga, foam rolling, acupuncture, and crystals if you want to be “well”. These are all fantastic if you can swing them in your schedule and budget. As it turns out, the most important factor in your health and fitness routine may also be the simplest: rest. Sleeping is imperative for our body to function at a baseline level; a night of bad sleep negatively impacts your diet and food cravings, your mood, your energy levels… the list goes on. Poor sleep habits in the long term can even lead to high blood pressure, diabetes, and diseases in the heart, and kidneys. No amount of crystals can make up for the impact. When it comes down to fitness goals, you could be sabotaging all your hard work in the gym when you press next episode on Netflix over going to bed an hour earlier.  Lack of sleep is detrimental to your ability to show up, get present, exercise safely, repair muscle fibers post workout and stay asleep in the first place.  

Exhaustion prevents you from exercising in the first place

When you are overtired, you are more likely to skip your workout for a few extra minutes in bed than when you wake up feeling refreshed and energized. Your body can’t benefit from the workouts you miss, so give yourself enough sleep so that you wake up ready to move, and no snoozing! Hitting the snooze button repeatedly just makes you groggier throughout the day and can make you feel disconnected from your body. That fatigue can also affect your motivation to stick to a regular practice, the longer you stick to a habit, the more ingrained it is. If you are consistently too tired to wake up for class, that becomes the habit that sticks. This has postural repercussions too: the less active you are, the more your body will suffer the consequences: pain, tightness, and continued low energy. 

Making the most out of your gym time

Being fully alert during your workout is imperative for results. From a biomechanical standpoint, sleep deprivation doesn’t affect your muscular response to exercise- a plank is a plank whether you are sleepy or not. However, you will burn out faster and be physically able to do less weight/repetitions/focus if you are tired. This means you spend more time taking breaks and yawning and less time progressing and actually enjoying moving your body. From a mindful movement standpoint, modalities such as Pilates and Yoga require presence of mind, and being overly tired makes you more likely to zone out and miss out on the meditative rewards that maintaining somatic awareness delivers. 

Image via @helenvphelan | ALIGN:LEFT

Avoiding injury

When you exercise tired, you are more likely to hurt yourself. Without full focus, you may not process your instructor's cues and corrections. This could put you at risk for doing a movement in an unsafe manner. When you have proper rest, your brain is able to receive your instructor’s directions and you are able to maintain proper form. This is especially important if you’re jumping or using heavy equipment.

Repairing muscles

Sleep is when recovery really occurs. During sleep your body produces a growth hormone that builds and heals muscles fibers you’ve torn up during your session. Without sleep, this production is affected and you aren’t able to fully recover and your body will go into a stress state that affects hunger cravings and mood swings. Not to mention you can’t change muscle if it’s too stressed to repair itself.

Movement wakes you up and helps you get restful sleep

Moving in the morning will help you start your day alert and focused. Even just a few minutes of light stretching gets your blood flowing and oxygenates your body, waking up your muscles and giving you an all natural energy boost. When you exercise enough, you have more energy throughout the day and your body fatigues enough to sleep harder.  If you’ve ever experienced a deep sleep after a particularly busy day, you know that the more energy expended, the more soundly you’ll sleep. This is because exercise creates a chemical called adenosine in the body, which makes you feel tired. Even exercising at night can help you get a restful sleep- reminding your body of your circadian rhythm, or sleep clock and reinforcing good sleep habits.  If you find that adding in a workout in the evening still keeps you up at night because of runner’s high or adrenaline, you may need to experiment with a more low impact method- or save your HIIT for an am session.

So when should you sleep in and when should you push yourself to exercise? It differs for everyone. If you got a full night’s sleep, your body is primed to execute that workout efficiently and your mind is present to keep you safe and motivated. If you’re fully exhausted, you won’t get the most out of your workout and could potentially set yourself backwards on your goals by pushing through it. Start to notice the difference between real fatigue and sheer reluctance to work up a sweat. Bottom line: prioritize self care and listen to what your body tells you it needs- it always knows best. 


Helen is a comprehensively certified pilates instructor, prenatal and postpartum corrective exercise specialist, integrative health coach and reiki 2 practitioner based in Brooklyn, NY. She has worked on corporate wellness with Mind Body Green, Cole Haan, Living Proof, Moody Month, the FeedFeed, Powher Moves and others and is featured in pieces from Well + Good, Dance Teacher Magazine, Gotham Magazine and Bustle and taught on the collegiate level at Elon University.

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