This might come as a surprise to my readers, but people often choose fitness and nutrition over sleep. According to a 2018 poll by the National Sleep Foundation, 35% percent of people say they prioritize fitness and nutrition over everything else. Sleep (10%) narrowly beat out Social Life (9%) for the second-to-last place spot. Career (27%) and Hobbies (17%) came in second and third respectively.
Sleep just doesn’t get the love it deserves! Maybe that’s why about half of the U.S. population is sleep deprived.
It could be that the people who value fitness and nutrition rank it higher because it seems more important for maintaining a healthy lifestyle and a trim waistline. Popular media constantly promotes diet and exercise as the cornerstones of health. Shows like The Biggest Loser focus more on fitness and food and rarely on sleep.
Sure, feats of athleticism and healthy meals cooked by gourmet chefs are packed with flavor and drama, and sleep, by its very nature, doesn’t translate well to TV. But when it comes to a healthy lifestyle in real life, sleep is the unsung hero.
So if you’re someone who values fitness and nutrition, it’s time to make sure that you’re just as serious about sleep.
How Sleep Benefits Exercise and Vice Versa
How sleep benefits exercise:
- Quicker recovery time
- Increases aerobic endurance
- Improves speed, accuracy and reaction times
- Sleep is part of the most critical aspects of muscle contraction and protein building
- Allows for greater exertion during a workout
- Decreases inflammation and the production of stress hormones
- Keeps testosterone levels high
- Lowers risk of injury
Exercise benefits sleep by:
- Extending sleep time
- Increasing the time spent in deep sleep, the most physically restorative type of sleep
- Reducing stress, a common source of sleep problems
- Enhancing sleep quality
I’ve written extensively on this subject here.
Choosing Between Sleep and Exercise
As a sleep doctor, I’d love to tell you that sleep is hands down the most important thing, but the answer is really based on the individual. Assuming that you get a decent amount of sleep on a regular basis, it is generally better to fit exercise into your schedule even if you end up losing a little sleep because of it. However, there are a few exceptions to the rule.
- If you suffer from sleep problems, then interfering with your schedule may throw off your bedtime ritual and/or sleep schedule. If that sounds like you, then you should definitely prioritize sleep and try to rearrange your schedule in such a way that you can get regular exercise without disrupting your sleep routine.
- You should also prioritize sleep when you’re sleep deprived. If you’re making a lifestyle change (or if you’re a hardcore gym-goer), missing one day at the gym might feel like a real setback. It’s not. It’s perfectly acceptable (and healthier!) for you to skip the gym whenever your body requires sleep.
- When you’re feeling run down, keep in mind that walking is also exercise. If you feel exhausted even if you’ve slept well, there’s no need to engage in a hardcore, full-throttle workout. A walk, some relaxing yoga or meandering bike ride all provide the health benefits of exercise at a relaxing pace. Don’t be afraid to slow things down if you’re feeling worn out. Get rest when you need it and then return to your routine afterward.
- Vigorous exercise (defined as exercise so intense that you can’t speak while doing it) performed an hour before bedtime can disrupt sleep. Exercising before bedtime has been frowned upon in the past, but a recent study found that most people aren’t affected by pre-bedtime bouts of moderate exercise and that exercising at night is better than not exercising at all.
Best Time of Day to Workout Based on Chronotype
Chronotypes are a classification system for the 4 different types of sleepers based on their circadian rhythms. Each classification has an ideal sleep schedule as well as an ideal time to exercise. If you don’t know your chronotype, take my quiz.
Lions: The early-rising lions should consider exercising in the late afternoon to give them a boost of energy in the evening. I recommend either running at 5:30 p.m., strength training somewhere between 2:30-5 p.m. and yoga either at 8 a.m. or 5 p.m.
Dolphins: These light sleepers want to use exercise to help them improve their sleep. I recommend running in at 7:30 a.m. for longer and deeper sleep, strength training from 4-7 p.m. or some yoga for relaxation at 10 p.m.
Bears: This middle-of-the-road sleeper should run at 7:30 a.m. or noon to help burn fat and keep their appetites in check. They should do strength training in the evening somewhere between 4-7 p.m. and yoga either before lunch or dinner.
Wolves: The late-to-bed wolves should lean into their chronotype and run at 6 p.m. for peak performance and to keep their wolfish late-night appetites in check. They should do strength training in the evening, but a little later than the others from 6-7 p.m and yoga before dinner at 6 p.m. or to relax before bed at 10 p.m.
Although it can be a bit of a juggling act, getting the right amount of sleep is as important to your health as fitness and nutrition. Sleep even helps manage appetite and increases workout performance, so make it a priority!
Learn how sleep can help you lose weight and live healthier from my best-selling book The Sleep Doctor’s Diet Plan.
Dr. Michael Breus