Your alarm is going off, and the sound is more painful than usual because you got to bed late, then tossed and turned all night. You’ve dragged yourself through every moment of the day, but you know you still need to work out. Should you work out on little to no sleep? Or should you skip your workout?
Should I Work Out on No Sleep?
The short answer is no, it’s not a good idea. Lack of sleep can affect form, concentration, performance, and muscle growth. Save your Openfit workout for the next day! (Don’t have Openfit yet? Try it for free here!)
“The bottom line,” Dr. Rosenberg says, “is that you need to appreciate how important sleep is when you decide to exercise regularly.” So if you’re really tired, rather than working out on no sleep, you may want to consider rescheduling that workout for another day. Like, tomorrow.
To make sure you’re more rested and ready next time, Dr. Rosenberg recommends setting and sticking to a consistent sleep schedule, avoiding caffeine six to seven hours before bedtime, and turning off all devices that emit blue light an hour before bedtime. (If you can’t break your screen habit, these blue light blockers can help lessen their impact.)
If you’re still struggling, you can also try natural relaxation remedies such as meditation — or maybe it’s finally time to spring for products that might help, like blackout curtains and the right mattress.
And you can read more about proper sleep here — just make sure your bedtime is still at least an hour away.
How Can Lack of Sleep Affect Your Workout?
1. Poor Form and Concentration
When you’re working out on little to no sleep, your focus goes out the window. And if you’re not focused, you may not maintain proper form, and this increases your potential for injury — especially if you’ve got big compound exercises such as deadlifts and squats to perform.
Of course, you need to be focused for sportier kinds of workouts, too. “Lack of sleep causes a decrease in reaction time,” explains Dr. Robert S. Rosenberg, who is board-certified in sleep medicine and the author of The Doctor’s Guide to Sleep Solutions for Stress & Anxiety.
So if your workout involves, say, a trainer tossing a medicine ball at your face, you can see how reaction time might be important.
2. Subpar Performance
In a small study of the women’s tennis team at Stanford University, the players first maintained their usual sleep schedules for two to three weeks while performing sprinting and hitting drills.
Then, they were asked to prioritize getting 10-hour nights of sleep for five to six weeks. The results showed an association between those who got more sleep and those who showed improved performance in their drills. The study’s lead author, Cheri Mah, M.S., stated that several of the athletes who participated in the study realized for the first time that sleep was an important factor in their athletic performance.
3. Increased Pain Perception
Almost no one wants their workout to feel harder that they expect it to.
But, when you’re working out on little sleep, you’re not giving your body adequate downtime to recuperate, which may mean you’ll be wincing more than normal. Lack of sleep “decreases your pain threshold,” says Dr. Rosenberg, “so you are much more likely to feel pain during and after your workouts.”
me after workout session: ok that wasn’t so bad today
an hour later: ok i feel the burn developing
now, 4 hours later: EVERYTHING IS BURNING
— lilu. (@wiiiluuu) July 10, 2019
4. Impaired Growth and Recovery
Many people don’t realize the strong impact that sleep has on muscle building. “It is during sleep that we release most of our growth hormone,” says Dr. Rosenberg. “Lack of sleep could impair your body’s ability to recover from a workout and inhibit the growth of muscle.”
5. Decreased Motivation
Of course, to build that muscle, you need to be motivated to work out in the first place. “People who don’t get enough sleep tend to become more moody, anxious, and fatigued, leading to them becoming less motivated to exercise,” says Dr. Rosenberg.
If you slept plenty but still need some motivation, check out these 28 training quotes.
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How Do I Know If I’m Getting Enough Sleep?
So how much sleep is enough? The National Sleep Foundation recommends between seven to nine hours of sleep each night. But everyone is different — the key is to listen to your body. “If you wake up feeling refreshed and you don’t find yourself getting fatigued during the day, you are probably getting enough sleep,” says Dr. Rosenberg.
Of course, many people struggle to get the sleep they need. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in three adults doesn’t get the recommended seven hours of sleep each night.