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How to Sleep for Exercise & How to Exercise for Sleep

How to Sleep for Exercise & How to Exercise for Sleep

If there’s one thing that we know, it’s that enough good quality sleep is a superpower. It improves our overall health and wellness in so many ways, from regulating appetite to improving brain health to preventing chronic disease.

One more aspect of life that is vastly improved with sleep: the quality and impact of our workouts! We are stronger, recover better and get leaner when we get enough sleep. The best part? The right exercise at the right time will, in return, result in better sleep! An absolute win-win!

Sleep for Better Exercise

Let’s start off by looking at why good (and enough) sleep is so important for our exercise performance. Here are a few statistics to consider:

  • With proper sleep, tennis players see a 42% increase in hitting accuracy.
  • A maximum bench press drops almost 10kg after four days of restricted sleep.
  • Losing sleep can cause an 11% reduction in time to exhaustion in any sport.
  • Perceived exhaustion increases 17-19% after sleep deprivation: that means that you experience feeling tired sooner, and you feel less able to perform well.

Actual performance indicators also decline: cardio-respiratory capacity and maximum strength levels decline. You recover much slower after exercise, which results in depression, fatigue and less vigour. Catabolic hormones, such as cortisol, are increased at rest and anabolic hormones, such as growth hormone and testosterone, reduce. This is all results in a worse athletic outcome, whether you’re a casual exerciser or a hardcore athlete.

Let’s face it: people tend to prioritise exercise and nutrition over sleep. A 2018 poll by the National Sleep Foundation showed that 35% of people prioritise their fitness and nutrition over everything else. Then came career (27%) and hobbies (17%) and finally sleep at 10%, narrowly beating out social life (9%).

We can understand why: we view exercise and the food we eat as the key elements of health and a trim waistline. When last did you see a weight loss ad or program promote more sleep? Here’s what sleep should be advertising when it comes to exercise:

  • Quicker recovery times.
  • Improved aerobic endurance.
  • Improved speed, strength, accuracy and reaction time.
  • Protein building and muscle contraction cannot happen in the absence of sleep.
  • Inflammation and the production of stress hormones decreases from sleep, which is critical to athletic performance.
  • Lower risk of injury.

Because the body repairs itself during sleep, a lack of sleep (i.e. inflammation, hormone imbalances and blood sugar regulation) may be the reason why you feel buggered when working out the next day. During sleep, two crucial muscle building hormones in men and women (testosterone and growth hormone) increase, and affect your neural growth and mood. It is also the reason why your body doubles or triples the time it takes to recover if you’re not sleeping enough. Your immune system also takes a knock, which is why we eventually die if we are not allowed to sleep.

Finally: if your body doesn’t have the time to build lean muscle mass during the process of sleep, we gain fat. As simple as that. Not sleeping enough negates all the hard work that you put into exercising and eating right, so it may in fact be better for you to prioritise sleep over that 5am workout if you didn’t go to bed early enough!

Best products for OPTIMIZING your sleep: Given the importance of sleep for our physical performance, some of the best products to naturally and safely improve our sleep include Magnesium Glycinate, Prime Self’s Natural Sleep, Prime Self’s Magnesium Complex, NeuroActive’s Neuro Night and tools such as a grounding mat or blue light blocking glasses which promote quality sleep.

Exercise for Better Sleep

The great news is that if you sleep well in order to improve your workouts, you also reap the amazing benefit of that exercise improving your sleep in return!

Exercise benefits sleep by:

  • Extending your sleep time (you are able to sleep uninterrupted for longer: being active increases your energy expenditure and research shows that being consistently active boosts sleep duration).
  • Improving the amount of deep sleep you get (deep sleep is the most physically restorative sleep phase, which in turn boosts the immune function, your cardiac health and hormone health).
  • Directly reducing stress, which typically is a reason for sleep problems in the first place (such as regulating cortisol and blood pressure). Exercise is very beneficial for the mood and for reducing anxiety (even as little as 5 minutes of exercise), which may help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.
  • Improving the quality of your sleep (falling asleep faster, staying asleep).

When we exercise, we typically feel better during the day, but also have a better perception of sleep that night. People who suffer from insomnia also often report a significant improvement when they start incorporating exercise in the right way.

Best products for OPTIMIZING your physical performance: Creatine monohydrate is a wonderful supplement for men and women to not only improve resistance training results but also for improved brain health. A tool well-worth considering for physical exercise is the Airofit devices, which regulate your breathing during exercise to train your breathing muscles during exercise for improved overall well-being and physical performance.

How to Exercise and When to Exercise

Any form of exercise at any time of the day should give you some of the above benefits. But there are some important caveats:

  • Overtraining is actually one of the first causes of insomnia, so don’t overdo it because your sleep will suffer.
  • Training too close to bedtime is a bad idea: exercise raises body temperature for about four hours and a higher body temperature interferes with our ability to sleep. As we get ready for sleep, our core body temperature prepares to drop (and helps us to feel drowsy). Exercising in the 3-4 hours before bed will keep you awake. Stick to yoga, stretching or a short walk after dinner in the evening.
  • The latest research shows that resistance training (RT) (free weights and cables) may be better for getting quality sleep versus that of aerobic exercise. In fact, the post-workout fatigue and muscle recovery from RT trumped a combination of RT and cardio as well as purely cardio training in the study. RT resulted in a 40-minute increase in sleep over the course of the year compared to only 23 minutes in the aerobic exercise group. It is therefore a good idea to incorporate some RT in your workout schedule (especially given the impact on testosterone for both men and women).
  • Exercise has a remarkable impact on our circadian rhythms (sleep/wake cycle). Without getting into the science behind it too much, the gold standard is a light form of exercise before breakfast (20-45 minutes of light to moderate exercise like walking or an easy bike ride) in the sunshine (for maximum fat burning and evening sleep benefits). You would ideally not do a heavy cardio or weight training session early in the morning when your cortisol levels are naturally high. If this is the only time for a heavy session, try work a nap into your routine, which will minimise the negative effects.
  • Longer/harder exercise sessions significantly improve sleep if performed between 2-6pm. The most positive impacts are 4-8 hours before bedtime and improve sleep latency (time to fall asleep) as well as sleep efficiency and quality.
  • Physical performance peaks later in the day, so if you’re aiming for personal bests or maximum strength, the late afternoon is your best chance for achieving these.

Sleep for Exercise and Exercise for Sleep

It is time that doctors prescribe sleep for better health, and that the wellness and fitness industries advertise better sleep for better health and fitness and weight goal outcomes! Sleep and exercise go hand-in-hand to complement each other and the one cannot be optimized without optimizing the other.

It’s a fine line: we want to exercise appropriately for improved sleep, but we also don’t want to sacrifice sleep in order to exercise. It’s a juggling act but find a sleep and exercise routine that works within your daily schedule so that you can prioritise both to maximise your sleep and physical goals!

Thea Hiemstra Author
  • Thea is the founder of Neolaia – Biohacking SA and passionate about all things biohacking, functional medicine, holistic and ancestral wellness. She enjoys the occasional triathlon, is fanatic about yoga and the gym and loves n=1 biohacking experiments more than anything else! Learning about the latest in scientific research for health and wellness and applying this knowledge is what makes her happiest!
  • Instagram: biohack_sa


This information does not serve as medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is for informational purposes only and does not provide a comprehensive explanation of the different compounds. Always consult your doctor first when making any changes to medication or supplementation.

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