Why Sleep is Even More Important For Fitness Than Exercise

Finding it hard to exercise at the moment? Worried about losing fitness? Looking for ways to keep your health up to scratch away from the gym?

Under normal circumstances, keeping up a regular routine of exercise is vital for both physical and mental health and that is still the case in whatever ways you can - running, cycling, walking or at-home workouts. But it may also be helpful to take this time to check-in with other important factors for a healthy lifestyle, such as sleep.

Sleep is essential for every single aspect of life. It allows cells to regenerate, the brain to restore and hormones to rebalance. The American Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have found that more than 35% of people could be classed as sleep deprived, meaning that approximately 1 in 3 aren’t getting enough sleep on a chronic basis. Cheri Mah, a sleep medicine researcher at Stanford University and University of California, San Francisco, suggests that sleep is in fact more important than exercise for a healthy lifestyle. 

Why is this?

It’s very common to resort to sacrificing an hour or two of morning snooze to cram a workout in, but sleep is actually crucial for exercise to have effective results. Your muscles are built when you sleep, because the microtears in the muscle get a chance to heal and re-nourish. In fact, not getting enough sleep can lead to weight gain, as it not only reduces time spent restoring the body but also throws off your hunger/appetite hormones. Lack of sleep puts your body under stress, raising cortisol levels which inhibits weight loss and drives up ghrelin, i.e. the hunger hormone. Combined with sluggishness and lack of energy, this encourages you to eat impulsively and reach for the more high-calorie convenience foods. 

Likewise, lack of sleep also changes fat cells because the proper use of insulin gets disrupted. Good use of insulin means that fat cells remove fatty acids and lipids from the bloodstream, but the University of Chicago found that insulin sensitivity dropped by over 30% in those who reported getting less sleep. Insulin helps regulate energy, and so this means that poor sleep can have a huge impact on your metabolism and lead to bigger problems like weight gain and diabetes.

As with all things, it’s about balance. Good sleep = good exercise and often vice versa, so we’ve offered more great tips for getting a good night’s sleep here. Rather than trading shut-eye, try to see your workout as an immovable part of your day, like an appointment with yourself that fits in around your sleep schedule. Prioritise your evenings and bring bedtime forwards if you prefer to exercise in the morning, or else find a way to make an evening workout compatible with your post-work routine. 

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