Is a tired workout better than no workout at all, or are you putting yourself at risk by pushing through your fatigue?
Today, fitness is a big deal for many of us. Increasing numbers of people are seeing the importance of regular exercise, giving running a try, completing online workouts and preventing lockdown from hitting their waistline. In fact, the restrictions of 2020 have reminded us all that the freedom to get our heart rates up and improve our cardiovascular health is one that we shouldn’t take for granted.
Alongside food and sleep, exercise is one of the key pillars of our overall health, and making the time to exercise is a good way to look after yourself. But what about when you don’t have the time? Is it worth sacrificing a good night’s sleep to squeeze in a workout?
The short answer is no. Today’s ‘hustle culture’ has let to severe burnout both in the workforce and the fitness community. While working out comes with ample benefits, the pressure to exercise every day regardless of how energetic you’re feeling can be dangerous.
Trying to squeeze in a workout on top of all your other responsibilities — work, chores, errands and family to name a few — can be difficult, but your sleep shouldn’t suffer because of that.
The dangers of exercising on no sleep
While the occasional workout after a restless night’s sleep isn’t the worst thing in the world, making a habit of it will likely leave you feeling tired, achy, irritable and even ill. Sleep is the foundation for our wellbeing, and it is particularly crucial to the recovery phase after exertion. Over time, poor sleep will not only stop you from making progress in your exercise regime; it may actually reverse it.
Exercising six times a week on minimal sleep isn’t going to do more for your performance than three workouts and a consistent sleep schedule. In fact, it will probably do less good and could even cause you harm.
There is a clear link between sleep and exercise, established by research. One 2009 study found that inadequate sleep negatively affects athletic performance both on a long-term and short-term basis, while a 2015 study published in Sleep Medicine Reviews found that consistently good sleep significantly improves athletic performance.
Not only does a lack of sleep make working out feel harder due to low energy levels, but it can also impact your motivation. You will likely find yourself dreading every workout and hating every minute of exercise.
Without sleep, your muscles have no chance to recover from the stress you’re putting them through, meaning you won’t get the results you’re after from your fitness. It doesn’t do your body any good to consistently break down your muscles without giving them a chance to recover and grow stronger.
On top of all this, lack of sleep may also contribute to joint pain, stiffness, headaches and body aches, all of which can put a hurdle in the road to your fitness goals.
But however bad my workout, I’ll still be burning calories and keeping fat off, right?
Unfortunately, one of the other factors closely linked to sleep deprivation is heightened appetite and, in particular, an increase in cravings for calorie rich foods. As a result, increasing fatigue levels can actually cause many people to reach for foods that they might otherwise resist – such as chocolate, sweets and fast foods.
What should you do?
The first thing you should do if you find yourself in a fitness-sleeplessness rut is prioritise adequate rest. Sometimes you won’t have time for both a good night’s sleep and a workout, and when that happens you should choose sleep. This doesn’t mean you have to neglect exercise altogether, just make sure it isn’t coming at the cost of your body’s recovery.
If you are exercising on little sleep, then gentle movement is the way to go. Going for a 30-minute walk in the sunshine followed by a gentle stretching session is a great antidote to poor sleep, increasing your heart rate and giving you an endorphin rush without pushing your body to the limits.