Which Is Better: Sleep or Exercise?

Last Update: September 29, 2022

Daylight Savings Time feels like a gift from the heavens. An extra hour of sleep?! Incredible! People everywhere wake up with a little more spring in their step once the clocks roll back.  But mere weeks later, it’s suddenly harder to get out of bed in the morning. Thanks to the colder temperatures outside and the sun rising nearly 30 minutes later, staying in bed sounds much nicer than braving the world for a morning workout.

Most everyone who’s woken up earlier than usual to go work out has toyed with (and probably succumbed to) the idea of sleeping in instead. How many times have we begrudgingly pulled on sneakers to make it to that morning bootcamp class or hit the treadmill for a five-miler… And how many times have you heard the alarm go off and decided to snooze instead of sweat?

Should you actually feel guilty about ditching the gym for a few more hours of beauty sleep? Maybe not.

If you’re working out one to two times a week, don’t even think about hitting the snooze button. Studies show that getting your heart pumping will fight fatigue and even give you more energy throughout the day, so even though you may feel like a zombie on your way to the gym, once you get moving you’ll feel energized.

If you’re working out three to six times a week consistently, skipping a workout every few weeks because you’re tired is probably okay, especially if you’re not getting your usual six to eight hours of shut-eye a night. In fact, better sleep could mean better workouts: Researchers from Northwestern University concluded that exercisers who sleep at least seven hours a night are able to complete more efficient and longer workouts. So if you’ve been struggling to fall asleep or find yourself constantly going to bed too late to get seven hours in before your 6 a.m. wake-up call, take a day off to get sufficient rest.

For athletes or those who are putting in extra-long training hours—over an hour a day, six to seven days a week—more shut-eye might be necessary. Athletes’ bodies need time to restore and recover, and the best time for muscles to repair themselves is when you’re sleeping. That’s when your human growth hormone count is highest, and when your body will create the most change. So all those burpees you did yesterday? They won’t be worth anything if you don’t get some rest. Listen to your body and take a morning to sleep in if you need to; you can always rearrange your schedule to do two shorter workouts in the morning and evening, or just add a bit more time to your sweat sessions for the rest of the week.

So the final answer to the question of sleep versus sweat? It depends! But if you do ignore the early morning alarm, stay flexible with your schedule so you can still fit in a workout—no excuses.
Illustration by Karley Koenig

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Michelle Pellizzon

Certified health coach and endorphin enthusiast, Michelle is an expert in healthy living and eating. When she's not writing you can find her running trails, reading about nutrition, and eating lots of guacamole.

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