How Sleep Affects Fitness


A good night’s sleep is key to the energy we need to get through the day, but over 30% of us don’t get the seven hours of sleep at night that we need just to stay healthy, according to the CDC.

Big problem, isn’t it? Well, if you’re interested in getting the most out of your workout (and life in general), your sleep is a big deal. When you skimp on sleep, your workout suffers (not to mention the benefits of exertion).

Exercise Is Essential to Your Health and Well-Being

Even small amounts of physical activity can improve mood and cognitive function, reduce anxiety, and reduce the risk of disease and other disorders. Studies have also found that physical activity helps people sleep better. Aside from how, how much and when you move, it affects your sleep at different ways.

In addition, a good night’s sleep is important for those who exercise regularly. Sleeping allows your body to recover from the day before. Getting enough rest after a workout strengthens your muscles and tissues, which can help you avoid exercise-related fatigue and injury. Conversely, poor sleep can lead to less physical activity during the day.

Does Physical Activity Help You Sleep Better?

Numerous studies have examined the link between exercise and sleep, with most concluding that certain types of physical activity improve sleep quality and duration. Interestingly, other forms of exercise can decrease sleep quality and prevent us from getting enough rest.

The best exercise to improve sleep depends largely on how old you are. For example, some studies have found that moderate exercise for several weeks can improve sleep quality and duration in adolescents, while vigorous exercise for the same period has been shown to decrease sleep duration in some teenagers.

Regular Exercise Can Be Healthy and Help Adults Sleep Better

Although acute physical activity may have little effect on sleep quality and duration, regular, moderate exercise can increase sleep duration, improve sleep quality, and decrease sleep onset or sleep duration. It takes time to fall asleep. For adults with insomnia, the kind of exercise to be done may be slightly different. One study found that moderate resistance training and stretching exercises are beneficial for people with insomnia. Similarly, subjects who participated in moderate aerobic sessions reported less sleep onset, fewer nocturnal wakefulness episodes, longer sleep duration, more sleep efficiency, and less general anxiety.

Other Health Benefits of Physical Activity

In addition to better sleep, regular exercise also provides the following benefits:

  • Improved Endurance: Certain aerobic activities can increase your heart rate and respiration, which is important for healthy cardiovascular, respiratory, and circulatory function. Resistance exercises include running or brisk walking, swimming, and biking.
  • Stronger Bones and Muscles: Weightlifting and other strengthening exercises can increase your muscle mass. In older adults, physical activity also keeps bones and joints in good shape. This can counteract the loss of bone density that naturally occurs with age and reduce the risk of hip fracture in a fall.
  • Increase Balance and Flexibility: Balance exercises like tai chi make it easier to walk on uneven surfaces and reduce the risk of falls and injuries. Yoga and other stretching exercises help your body stay limber.
  • Weight Control: Exercise burns the calories you eat and drink. The appropriate amount of exercise depends on your body type, as some people need more physical activity to burn calories. However, for most people, 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity five times a week is recommended.
  • Reduced Health Risks: Regular exercise can reduce the risk of a variety of diseases and ailments. These include cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes, and some types of cancer. Physical activity can also reduce the risk of mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety.
  • Longer Lifespans: People who exercise about 150 minutes a week are 33% more likely to survive than those who do don’t exercise. Remember, you don’t have to be overly active to be healthy. Even short bursts of moderate to vigorous physical activity can benefit your overall health.

The Relationship Between Diet, Exercise and Sleep

Diet, exercise, and sleep interact in myriad and complex ways. Learning how these activities influence each other is an important part of understanding. Research has shown that the more you improve these lifestyle habits, the better your well-being.


Nutrition affects virtually every aspect of our health. Eating a healthy, balanced diet has been shown to reduce the risk of a wide range of health problems, from heart disease and stroke to diabetes and obesity. Diet can also affect our mental health, with several studies suggesting that certain diets may reduce the risk of developing depression and anxiety.

Food can affect or interfere with a workout, and research shows that combining a healthy diet with adequate exercise offers more benefits than improving diet alone. The right mix of fluids, carbohydrates and protein at the right time can improve athletic performance and reduce fatigue. Poor eating habits, like eating right before a high-intensity cardio workout, can lead to increased nausea and make the workout more difficult.

What we eat also affects the quality and duration of sleep. Caffeine is known to make it difficult to fall asleep and eating too close to bedtime can disrupt sleep. Most health experts recommend avoiding caffeine before bed. Too many calories or fat in your diet can make it harder to get adequate sleep, as can a diet lacking in important nutrients like calcium, magnesium, and vitamins A, C, D, and E.


Exercise is a cornerstone of health and benefits almost every system in the body. Many of the benefits are immediately visible, such as: less anxiety, lower blood pressure and better sleep. Consistent exercise offers even more long-term benefits, including better weight control, stronger bones, and a reduced risk of more than 35 diseases.

High-intensity exercise reduces appetite, often for at least 30 to 60 minutes after completing a workout. Physical activity can also help you feel happier and fuller after a meal. Unfortunately, sedentary activities seem to have the opposite effect. Research has shown that people who spend more time in front of the television burn less calories and are more likely to be overweight.

A variety of research has shown that regular exercise can improve sleep. Both aerobic exercise (like cardio and running) and resistance exercise (like weightlifting) can improve sleep quality. Getting plenty of exercise can improve sleep, although younger people generally need more exercise than older people to see the same benefits.

Exercise in the afternoon or early evening usually helps you fall asleep. Exercising right before bed increases stress hormones, which can make sleep problems worse. Certain exercises can also increase the risk of sleep problems like insomnia, obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), and restless legs syndrome (RLS). Several studies have shown that exercise can reduce bedtime anxiety and improve sleep quality in people with insomnia. One study found that 12 weeks of aerobic and resistance training resulted in a 25% reduction in OSA severity while improving sleep quality and reducing daytime sleepiness. A similar study of people diagnosed with RLS found that a 12-week exercise program reduced the severity of this condition by 39%.


Sleep gives the body and brain time to rest and recover, which affects almost every tissue in the body. According to the National Sleep Foundation, most adults need at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep, yet nearly a third of Americans get fewer than 6 hours of sleep a night. Sleep deprivation increases the risk of health problems like diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. Prolonged lack of sleep can also impair concentration and other cognitive functions.

Without adequate sleep, people tend to overeat and choose unhealthy foods. Lack of sleep affects the body’s release of ghrelin and leptin, two neurotransmitters that tell our brain when to burn calories. People who are sleep deprived are more attracted to high-calorie foods. Chronic lack of sleep has been linked to a larger waist size and an increased risk of obesity.

Sleep allows muscle tissue to recover between workouts. Getting enough sleep is also important to give you the energy you need to exercise. Insufficient sleep can lead to less physical activity during the day and decreased muscle strength during exercise. Sleep deprivation may also impact exercise safety, with an increase in reported sports injuries among those who did not sleep well.

Which Is More Important: Diet, Exercise, or Sleep?

When you’re trying to manage a busy and hectic life, it’s understandable that you want to prioritize the activities that bring great benefits. Unfortunately, diet, exercise, and sleep are so closely intertwined that it’s not possible to say which is more important than the others.

For people short on time or unable to, all the three – diet, exercise, and sleep address this. Most importantly, you can talk to a doctor for personalized recommendations. A doctor can help prioritize lifestyle changes with insights into a person’s unique health history.

Physicians may also refer their patients to specialists such as nutritionists, physical therapists, and sleep specialists for more personalized advice.

Improving Sleep Through Diet and Exercise

As most people know while diet and exercise are two important ways to improve your health, sleep is often overlooked. Sleep hygiene, which includes recommendations that promote a good night’s sleep, is a good place to start if you’re looking to improve your sleep. Here are some tips for improving sleep hygiene through diet and exercise:

  • Don’t Eat Too Late: Make sure you give your body time to digest after eating large meals. Try to have dinner earlier in the evening.
  • Avoid Caffeine: Beware of stimulants like coffee, energy drinks, and sodas. If you consume them, try to limit them to the early hours of the day. If you find yourself drinking a lot of caffeine throughout the day, ask yourself if you’re making up for excessive daytime sleepiness.
  • Get Your Body Moving: Schedule regular exercise to improve your sleep. While any exercise during the day is good, getting regular, moderate exercise a few days, a week is even better. Avoid exercising too close to bedtime by giving your body a few hours after exercise to relax before bed.

Do Something Light: try Exercise outside as exposure to natural light during the day can help sync your body to its natural sleep cycle.

When Should You Exercise?

A good rule of thumb is to avoid strenuous exercise within three hours of bedtime. Late day exercise can increase your body temperature, which in turn can affect the process of falling asleep and the quality of your sleep. Some studies have even concluded that high-intensity exercise within an hour of bedtime can negatively impact sleep time and sleep efficiency.

Yoga and other stretching exercises may be more appropriate at night as they promote feelings of relaxation and can improve sleep quality. Alternatively, you can relieve physical tension before bed with progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, and other relaxation techniques.

Is It Better to Exercise Early in the Morning or to Sleep an Extra Hour?

Getting enough sleep and regular exercise are important, so how do you decide what comes first? You really shouldn’t put yourself in this position because you absolutely need both. It’s not possible to find the perfect balance every time. Sleep is always the priority unless your sleep is almost always healthy in quality and quantity.

Hence, if you slept seven to eight hours last night, get up and hit the gym! If you’ve clocked in less than six hours most nights this week, you probably want to enjoy that extra hour of sleep. If you skip it, you’ll probably log a mediocre workout anyway. If you were up all-night last night, choose to sleep. After a full night (or just a few hours of sleep), your body needs rest more than ever.

The Bottom Line

If you’re not getting the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep a night, you need to rethink your schedule to make sure you’re getting it, and then you need to figure out how. to fit into your regular workout without giving up that dream. You cannot have one without the other; both are essential to be 100 percent efficient not only in the gym but also in everyday life.


Saravavan Nadarajan (Vanan)

Vanan, fitness expert and leader at EzFit Singapore, specializes in holistic training—home-based, boot camps, and corporate fitness—with over a decade of industry experience.

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