More sleep vs. exercise: Which is better for your health?

More sleep vs. exercise: Which is better for your health?

What's the point of exercising to be healthy when we're not getting more sleep time as it is? Health experts weigh in.

Which would you choose? Wake up early and work out? Or stay in bed longer? Doubtless you’d probably choose sleep whenever you can (us parents have to pay off all that sleep debt, right?) and then feel bad that you didn’t work out. Like the rest of the human race, does more sleep time make you feel guilty when you are lucky enough to get it? 

The good news is you don’t have to feel guilty! Experts are discovering that there are more benefits to getting more sleep than working out. 

Sleep is just as important as exercise, we can all agree. But before you go back to bed, let us tell you how.

Less sleep, more fat

As adults, we often forego sleep to pack as much work in a day as we can. But in order to become healthy human beings, we should put as much care (even more) to sleep as we do to exercise.

Dr. Guy Meadows, who worked with Philips’ new Somneo Sleep and Wake-up Light, said that the lack of sleep is linked to higher body fat percentage.

“Sleeping less than seven to eight hours per night is linked to higher percent body fat. Research suggests that people who average six hours per night are 27% more likely to be overweight,” he said.

“Those who average five hours per night are 73% more likely to be overweight,” he added.

more sleep time

Lack of sleep is linked to higher body fat percentages. | Image source: File photo

Hormones and more sleep time

Sleep, or the lack of it, affects the regulation of two hormones in our bodies.

“Ghrelin regulates our appetite and so how hungry we feel, whereas Leptin regulates the feeling of fullness, the cue to stop eating,” Meadows explained.

“Research demonstrates that after a poor night of sleep, Ghrelin levels increase and Leptin levels decrease, meaning we feel more hungry and yet less full, hence why we tend to eat more.”

Less sleep makes you eat more!

According to their research, the lack of sleep gives people a stronger desire to eat. This heightened appetite is 45% greater than it is when we get enough sleep. This makes our food choices much worse the next day.

“Research suggests that poor sleep causes us to choose higher calorific food. Scientists from Uppsala University in Sweden demonstrated that sleep-deprived individuals select foods that are on average 9% higher in calories than when in a rested state,” Meadows said.

This is also due to a a reduction in willpower and/or an increase in impulsive decision-making.

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The lack of sleep gives people a stronger desire to eat. | Image source: File photo

Stress, belly fat, and more sleep time

Nutritionist Lily Soutter agreed with Meadows about the value of sleep. She cited a study that found that the lack of sleep can increase belly fat, which is hard to get rid of.

“Scientists have analysed levels of the stress hormone cortisol in sleep-deprived subjects. They found elevated levels of cortisol after a sleepless night, which was especially high between the hours of 4-9pm. High cortisol can signal for fat to be stored around the middle,” she said.

Ineffective workouts

Soutter emphasized that the lack of sleep causes any form of exercise or full body work out to become significantly less effective.

“During sleep, muscle tissue repairs and new cells are regenerated, therefore sleep deprivation is the enemy of building that all-important fat burning muscle mass,” Soutter said.

Meadows agreed, and explained that consistently short periods of sleep has the same negative impact on cognitive performance as not sleeping at all for two nights straight.

“This means that being focused and attentive, reaction time and your ability to assess risk are seriously impaired. Exercising [when] tired therefore increases your risk of having an accident and potentially injuring yourself,” Meadows said.

“If you are serious about staying healthy and keeping fit, you are much better off making sleep a priority in your life,” he added.

more sleep time

Lack of sleep causes any form of exercise to become significantly less effective. | Image source: File photo

Exercise and more sleep time

It’s important for us to remember that more sleep time and exercise are necessary to become healthy.

“I couldn’t choose between the two,” said Edward Laskowski, MD, a resident and professor of physical medicine at Mayo Clinic. “Sleep and exercise are like food and water.”

They aren’t just necessary, the loss of one affects the other.

“When you look at the research, regular physical activity is important for high-quality sleep, and high-quality sleep is important for physical performance,” said Cheri Mah, a sleep medicine researcher at Stanford University and the University of California, San Francisco.

Sleep as the foundation of health

When asked to choose which one is more important, Mah reluctantly chooses sleep since “Sleep is foundational,” she said. Although it’s true that different people have different needs, she said most scientific literature found that adults need a minimum of seven hours or more sleep time. Every night.

“Lots of individuals think they can operate on less, but when you test them, you find they’re not performing at their best,” Mah said. “They get used to feeling tired, and they think that’s the norm.”

She explained further that sleep is the foundation on which a healthy mind and body stand. It affects so many thing, like immune function, mood, energy, appetite, and other physiological processes. Now if that foundation is weak, everything else falls. And your health suffers as a result.

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Sleep is the foundation on which a healthy mind and body stand. | Image source: File photo

Circadian rhythm and more sleep time

Even if you are getting the minimum of seven hours of sleep every night, going off schedule just to accommodate exercise can negatively affect your body.

Dr. Phyllis Zee, director of the Center for Circadian and Sleep Medicine at Northwestern University, said regularity is important for restorative sleep. If you don’t keep a consistent sleeping and waking schedule, this will mess with your body’s circadian rhythm.

This will manifest in you feeling sleepy at odd hours. You will also struggle to fall asleep at night and your appetite and energy will fluctuate in an unhealthy fashion, Zee said.

Exceptions to the rule

You can vary your sleep time slightly, but stay within limits. For example, if you go to bed at 11 pm andwake up at 7 pm, Zee said, the midpoint of your night would be around 3 am. As long as you maintain the seven to eight hour sleeping average, the midpoint will always be between 2 am and 4 am.

If that’s the case, Zee said it’s okay to shave off 30 minutes from your sleep schedule a few days a week for a morning run or a visit to the gym. What’s not okay is to shave off two hours just to attend yoga class at some ungodly hour.

“Even on weekends, you want to keep that regularity of when you go to bed and when you get up,” Zee emphasized.

Your body doesn’t make any distinction about whether it’s the weekend or not. So, it doesn’t react well to having a consistent weekday schedule then changing it up on the weekends.

Fix your schedule for more sleep time

If you still need more sleep time because you’re not sleeping at least seven hours a night, Zee, Mah, and Laskowski agree on one thing: You have to fix your schedule to accommodate both adequate sleep and regular exercise.

Of course, this may be different for people with insomnia and other sleep-related problems. But that’s a different discussion altogether.

More often than not, you may feel like keeping a regular sleeping and exercising schedule is difficult. Perhaps, it’s time to cut out activities that aren’t important.

“Almost everyone could forgo 30 minutes a day of internet or TV time,” Mah said.

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More sleep time and regular exercise work together to make you healthy. | Image source: File photo

The bare minimum for more sleep time

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Heart Association agree on one thing in this regard. They recommend a minimum of 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise every week.

To summarize, the bare minimum you need to be healthy is a minimum of 2.5 hours of exercise a week and seven hours of sleep a night.

“There are so many unique benefits that each have, it’s hard to pull them apart,” Laskowski said. “The real danger is when you only make adequate time for one of them.”

Moms and dads, to be honest, finding time to sleep or exercise is tough for us. But with both being so important to your health, it’s equally crucial that you support each other so both of you get enough rest and work-out time. Tell us, how do you make time for sleep and/or exercise? We’d love to hear from you!


Republished with permission from: theAsianParent Singapore

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