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Exercise and Sleep: The Boosting Power of Recovery

Want to feel even better after a workout? It turns out you might just need a good night’s sleep (or two!), because exercise and sleep go hand-in-hand.

No matter what our age, being physically active is an essential ingredient in overall health. On the other hand, sleep is sometimes considered less important when it comes to physical and mental wellness.

Everyone loves sleeping in on weekends, but in general, the ability to get by on as little sleep as possible is seen as a praiseworthy accomplishment. Getting up at 5 am for a strength training session is regarded as admirable self-discipline. Yet going to bed early is often considered a luxury—something you can indulge in from time to time, but not strictly necessary.

Good health is achieved in part by a commitment to many different actions. Regular exercise (aerobic and anaerobic), a balanced diet, sufficient rest, sleep, and cultivating a positive mindset all play a part in physical and mental wellness. Neglecting any one of these areas can have a detrimental impact on overall health.

Benefits Of Exercise

strengthen your core

By now, we all know that exercise has health benefits. Regular physical activity plays a part in protecting you from heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, high blood pressure, and even some types of cancer.

Research has determined that adults should aim for at least 150 minutes per week of moderate aerobic exercise, such as walking, mowing the lawn, or gentle yoga.

If you prefer more strenuous activities like running or cycling, 75 minutes a week is the minimum to aim for. Strength training is also extremely beneficial for older women as it builds muscle tissue, which ultimately boosts metabolism and increases bone density.

The Relationship Between Sleep, Rest And Exercise

Some people have the misconception that exercising as hard as possible and never taking a day off is healthy. Surely the more exercise, the better, right?

Wrong.

Unfortunately, this is not the case. People only reap the benefits of physical activity if they combine it with enough rest. Making your body work hard by lifting weights, for example, causes minute tears in muscle tissue. When you rest (taking a rest day and getting some quality sleep), these tears are repaired, resulting in muscle growth.

If you skip out on rest days or skimp on sleep, your muscles never get the opportunity to repair and rebuild themselves properly. It’s not just a case of feeling tired during a workout: sleep deprivation has negative effects on almost all the body systems that you can’t just will away or medicate with multiple cups of coffee.

Growth hormone is produced when you sleep, and without it, muscles are unable to recover, let alone get stronger. The more you push through fatigue and fail to include downtime in your schedule, the harder it becomes to reap the benefits from exercise.

Mature Woman Lifting Weights in Gym Setting

How Much Rest Do You Need?

All bodies are different and, as such, require different amounts of things such as food, water, exercise, rest, and sleep. This is also determined by lifestyle.

If you go for a 30-minute walk every day, taking deliberate rest days isn’t as crucial as if you run at a fast pace for an hour, five times a week.

For people who work out regularly, scheduling a rest day every three to five days is necessary to allow your muscles to repair fully. Exercise uses glycogen, an energy source derived from glucose stored in your muscles. Glycogen can only replenish when you rest or sleep.

When you run out of glycogen, your body starts breaking down tissue, such as muscle, in a desperate attempt to function at the same level.

The Importance Of Sleep: Quality And Quantity

Woman Sleeping

Some people need more sleep than others, but there is no debating the fact that sleep is vital—both the quantity and quality. An individual’s sleep requirements are influenced by their age and genetic makeup.

While newborn babies need at least 14 hours of sleep per day, teenagers can get by with 8 to 10 hours. Adults, on the other hand, generally require between 7 to 9 hours. There is a vast difference, however, between 8 hours of good quality sleep and 8 hours spent tossing and turning.

Studies have shown a large percentage of people don’t get enough sleep. 51% of adults said in a global survey that they are sleep-deprived to some extent, with 80% reporting that they use weekends to “catch up” on the sleep they’ve missed during the week.

The amount of sleep you get is just one part of the equation; how well you sleep is just as important. Sleep quality is measured in a number of ways, including how long it takes you to fall asleep, how much you wake during the night, and whether or not you feel rested in the morning. Some sleep is better than none, but your body doesn’t recover as well if you’re consistently getting insufficient good quality sleep.

It should come as no surprise that a large percentage of people also get insufficient exercise. There is a close relationship between sleep and fitness, and people who neglect one often have issues with the other. Making a concerted effort to get enough sleep can play a big part in your ability and motivation to exercise.

There are many ways to improve the quality of your sleep, including:

1. Sticking To A Schedule

Research has shown that maintaining a schedule of when you go to bed and get up in the morning can help with getting enough sleep, as well as improving sleep quality.

2. Cutting Down On Napping

If you’re tired during the day, it can be very tempting to collapse onto the bed or sofa for a few hours.  Napping, however, can interfere with nighttime sleep, leading to a cycle of insomnia and exhaustion.

3. Exercising Wisely

The relationship between exercise and sleep is complex. Indulging in too much of either is detrimental. Exercising strenuously too late in the evening can interfere with your sleep; for example, while sleeping excessively can have the paradoxical effect of making you even more lethargic.

Rest Vs. Sleep In Maintaining Fitness

While rest in all forms is a fundamental part of staying fit, only taking rest days while skimping on sleep just won’t cut it. Humans need sleep for a reason. Without it, all of the body’s systems suffer as they have no opportunity to recharge before having to get you through another demanding day.

Studies prove that sleep and exercise have a bidirectional relationship—that is, the quality and quantity of one have an impact on the other.

For people suffering from insomnia, a prescription for exercise can sometimes be enough of a treatment that pharmaceutical intervention is unnecessary. On the flip side, people with a large sleep deficit find it harder to be physically active due to fatigue.

Why Losing Weight After 50 Is So Much Harder

Adults who experience insomnia are likely to have poorer cardiovascular fitness than those who get a good amount of sleep. This cyclical relationship between physical activity and sleep is a good example of how health relies on many different factors.

Professional athletes follow strict regimens of training, diet, and sleep and are very aware of the role that sleep plays in their performance. For people exercising to keep fit, lose weight, or have fun, sleep deprivation probably doesn’t seem as serious a problem. However, there is no question that insufficient sleep prevents you from functioning at your best and can negate all the health benefits of exercising.

Achieving The Right Balance

Trying to stay healthy in today’s frenetic lifestyle is a difficult task.

Busy woman juggling responsibilities

Many women work more than the standard 40 hours per week and also have to juggle family commitments, leaving little time for a social life, hobbies, and rest. While showing up at work is a non-negotiable, getting enough exercise, rest, and sleep should be regarded as essential rather than optional.

Having health issues like high blood pressure impacts your ability to work, and getting sufficient exercise and sleep is the simplest way of preventing such problems.

If you’re faced with a choice between fitting in a workout and getting much-needed sleep, it can often be more beneficial to opt for the latter. Physical activity, while essential for health, has little positive impact when combined with sleep deprivation.

Exercising at the expense of sleep and rest simply doesn’t allow you to reap the benefits of being active.

The Takeaway

By now, it should be obvious that getting enough quality sleep is fundamental in improving your health and staying in shape.

Whatever your exercise goals are, getting the sleep you need is a non-negotiable element in achieving fitness.

 Read Next:

The Best Sleeping Position for Neck Pain and Headaches

Menopause, Sleep, and Restless Leg Syndrome

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