Why You Should and Shouldn’t Skip Exercising When Tired

Life is a balancing act. Trying to eat right, get enough exercise and have a good night’s sleep can be tough! If you get into a rhythm, all three can help one another: eating a healthy diet can help you sleep, sleeping can help you exercise and exercising can help you make good food choices and dose off quickly at night. But, once one of those things is thrown off, the other two can collapse.

Many people wonder if it’s better to exercise or sleep if you’re tired. We know we need to work out to stay healthy. But is it better to get an early night if we’re exhausted?

The opinions of experts are mixed. They all agree on one thing. If you are too tired, then you shouldn’t do it. Sometimes you hit a wall, and you need to give up. You shouldn’t feel guilty, and you shouldn’t force yourself. Your body needs sleep. If you are sleepy, you can injure yourself. Personal trainer Cathe Friedrich said that exercising while sleep-deprived can derail your immune system defenses, impair your body’s ability to repair your muscles, and interfere with your cognitive abilities, meaning you are more likely to hurt yourself.

Experts stress the importance of learning to recognize the difference between physically and mentally tired. If you have had enough sleep and a physically easy day, you should push yourself to workout. Once you start, it will be easier. If you can’t face the gym or park, do some housework or exercise in your living room. Don’t give up on your day or sit still. Getting extra movement into your day will make you feel better.

One in three Americans is sleep deprived. One-third of us aren’t sleeping enough! Exercise can help that. So, working out safely when you are tired might be helpful for your long-term health.

It is definitely a bidirectional relationship, not one or the other,” said Dr. Phyllis Zee, director of the Center for Circadian and Sleep Medicine at Northwestern Univ. “First, there is clear data to show that regular exercise improves sleep quality — moderate exercise in the morning, afternoon or very early evening can improve deep sleep. Research also shows that if you sleep better, you’re more likely to be able to engage in exercise and your physical activity levels are going to be higher. So, I would say that even if you have had a bad night’s sleep, you should maintain your physical activity.” 

If you are chronically sleep deprived, it might be more beneficial to handle that before focusing on exercise. Exercising when exhausted can be unsafe, but you also need sleep to recover from a workout. A regular sleep schedule will help you get more out of your workout. “Without sleep, your muscles can’t recover from the stress you put them through during workouts. It doesn’t do you much good to keep breaking down your muscles without giving them time to recover and grow stronger,” said Dr. Raj Dasgupta, an associate professor of clinical medicine at the Univ. of Southern California.  

Banner image: Sander Sammy via Unsplash

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