Should You Sleep In or Wake Up Early to Workout?
Photo by Laura Chouette on Unsplash
Living a well-balanced life is just one of the many secrets to living a “successful” life. While “success” is both measured and defined differently for everyone, it is true we could all profit from some parity in our lives. Unfortunately, it seems as if there aren’t enough hours in the day to balance it all, and the first thing to go when our lives are seemingly in shambles is our beloved sleep.
When it comes to prioritizing our workouts on top of working full-time, managing social lives, kids, appointments galore, running errands, and ensuring a solid night's sleep, it all seems impossible. If you’re sacrificing your sleep to squeeze in a workout, know that you aren’t alone, but while morning fitness routines are an amazing habit, they shouldn’t necessarily come at the expense of your beauty rest. So what’s the deal? Should you be exploiting the snooze button every morning or lacing up your sneakers? Should you sleep in the extra couple of hours, or wake up early to workout?
1. Is sleep or exercise more important?
2. Pros and cons of an early workout
- If you aren’t achieving a minimum of seven or eight hours of sleep each night because you wake up early to workout, the exercise may be doing you more harm than good.
- Studies show that the best times to workout to emphasize your alertness throughout the day are at 7 a.m. and between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m, but there is no “one-size-fits-all” schedule.
- Broadening your definition of “exercise” to include low-intensity workouts or even workouts that are shorter in duration can help you to achieve more balance in life.
Is sleep or exercise more important?
Long story short: if you aren’t achieving at least seven to eight hours of sleep each night, waking up early to exercise may be doing you more harm than good. Let’s dig a little bit deeper into exactly why it is critical to prioritize your rest just as much as movement.
As previously mentioned, a morning fitness routine is a spectacular habit to develop. Aside from boosting your energy and improving your mood for the rest of the day, exercising in the morning checks your workout off your to-do list first thing, decreasing the chance that you’ll push it off or skip it later on. An added bonus? It is a general trend that those who start the day with healthy choices (i.e. those who wake up early to work out) are more likely to continue making healthy choices throughout the day (i.e. eating nutritious foods and moving more).
If you aren’t familiar with the term “circadian rhythm,” it refers to our body’s 24-hour cycles that run our internal clock. It essentially runs in the background of our day-to-day lives and carries out essential processes and functions. Some of the functions include releasing hormones, controlling the sleep-wake cycle, and regulating calorie burning or moods. The sleep-wake cycle allows us to feel well-rested and alert throughout the day by influencing when our bodies go to sleep and when they should wake up every morning.
When we sleep, the body undergoes a plethora of processes. It regulates your metabolism, repairs cells, and reduces stress, upon a number of other procedures. That being said, if you wake up early to workout before your body is fully recharged, you’re disrupting your circadian rhythm and ultimately obstructing your body’s ability to complete these processes.
Another cycle regulates muscle repair after a tough workout. The muscle cells repair themselves and continue to perform when we nourish our bodies and exercise. Because of this, there is greater research that shows that exercise has more of an impact on our circadian rhythms than what was once believed. There is a lot that goes on behind the scenes, but just because we can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there!
Overall, neglecting our ZZZs in order to squeeze in that early morning workout neglects essential body processes as a result. Although some of these repercussions are only short-term, such as a weakened immune system, there are additional potential long-term consequences such as heart disease or diabetes: some of the things we are working to stave off by working out.
Pros and cons of an early workout
Before we decipher exactly how to ensure we all get the best of both worlds each day (as in a full night of rest in addition to a successful 6 a.m. workout), it is important to note that studies have shown there is no “one-size-fits-all” time of day to exercise. It is completely up to your body, schedule, and needs.
Aside from this, there is research that has been done that concludes the best time to exercise for your body’s internal clock is at 7 a.m. or between the hours of 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. Preserving a daily routine that includes working out at any of these times adjusts your biological clock and ultimately ensures that you are more alert earlier in the day and throughout the day.
Another pro of an early/earlier morning workout includes an increase in endorphin levels, and thus, your mood. Not only are you taking care of yourself (BTW, self-care is never selfish), but you are starting the day off on the right foot by starting with a great mindset. Additionally, if you wake up early to workout, you ensure that you squeeze in your workout before spontaneous plans arise during the day. Hey, we all know that life happens.
If you’re a night owl and prefer to hit the gym on your way home from work or during a lunch break, there are some pros to this as well. Aside from the fact that you get a couple of extra hours of beauty sleep in the morning, evening workouts can provide tremendous stress relief from a busy workday. Also, since the day is more or less “over,” many people find that their late night workouts are filled with fewer distractions than the anticipation of a full day ahead. Additionally, it is normal for evening exercisers to feel that their strength or endurance is at its highest at the end of the day after a long day of “warming up.”
Cons of the P.M. workouts? Yup, you guessed it. Exercising too late in the day increases your energy levels and alertness, in turn making it difficult to fall asleep. This highlights the importance of establishing a routine to effectively plan your workouts around your sleeping habits. If you’re a night owl and have the ability to sleep in, this doesn’t need to be a con.
Overall, getting enough sleep plays a vital role in caring for a happy and healthy mind and body. Failing to sleep for an adequate amount of time can make it challenging to lose weight and can even cause weight gain. Depriving your body of sleep also has a direct impact on eating habits, as a lack of sleep (and energy) instigates those sugary food cravings to help us survive the day. If you wake up early to workout, you might end up hindering any progress throughout the rest of theday.
On top of this, chronic stress is a real thing! We all have busy lives, but becoming overly stressed places an emphasis on elevated cortisol levels, which are correlated with weight gain, or plateaued weight loss. Not to mention that stress makes it difficult to take a deep breath and relax at night, especially when trying to fall asleep. Resting and recharging reduce our cortisol levels, thus, another reason we need that deep, uninterrupted REM sleep. Before you ask, yes, exercise does help to stave off stress. But when your body is worn down from stress, forcing yourself to wake up early to workout won't do your body any favors.
Instead, take advantage of that tempting snooze button. Find time throughout the day to prioritize movement that doesn’t tamper with your critical slumber. Try to make time for a gentle form of movement, such as yoga, walking, and stretching, all of which help calm your mind and wind you down before bed. Even more, try expanding your definition of a “workout.” Every workout that you do likely won’t, and honestly shouldn’t be the most intense cardio session.
Different ways to move throughout the day include a five to ten minute session when you get home from work or during a lunch break; even something as simple as stretching or yoga counts. Ask your coworkers to take a walk around the block with you during your lunch break. Park your car further away from the entrance to Target (or do another lap around the store!), or take the stairs instead of the elevator. Each of these small movement patterns adds up during the course of the day, allowing you to savor your sleep and still take care of your body.
While getting more exercise in 2022 is a healthy and amazing goal, finally taking a load off and enjoying some restful sleep is, too. Taking care of your body doesn’t have to look like an intense workout session.
Written by Morgan Taylor
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