Sleep Vs Exercise — Which Is More Important?

Picture the scene: you have finally managed to fall asleep after a bad night’s sleep, when your 6am alarm goes off and you are wanted at the gym. What do you do now? Do you fall back to sleep, knowing that more sleep is what you need, or is a bit of exercise the best option? We have dived into the scientific literature to figure out whether exercise or sleep is what you really need.

The Numbers

12% – The increased risk of an early death if you usually get less than six hours’ sleep every night, reports the scientific journal Sleep.

40% – The decrease in all-cause deaths for people that get 150 minutes of cardio and complete two strength sessions each week, said BMJ.

Mutual Benefits


Increasing sleep from 6½ to 10 hours each night could enhance athletic performance, including faster sprint times.


Regular exercise improves your sleep quality and duration. Complete your session at least two hours prior to bedtime to avoid an increase in endorphins.

Light Sleeper


Starve your body of sleep and you are more likely to indulge in a late-night high-carb snack than eight-hour sleepers.


It is all about the timing. People who exercise before noon lose more weight than people who exercise after 3pm.

The Cost


The estimated cost of not getting enough sleep to the UK economy. WFH? A quick nap at lunchtime could improve cognitive function.


The estimated cost of not being physically active. After every meal, aim for a 10-minute brisk walk – it helps you rebalance your blood sugar.

Extra Energy


A study reveals that an hour of sleep debt could take up to four nights to undo. Flagging? Creatine has been shown to restart brain energy in the sleep deprived.


The University of Western Ontario discovered that 20 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, such as walking, increases cognition in the same way as a cup of coffee does.

The MH Verdict: Sleep Wins!

The two are entwined –exercise bestows good sleep and sleep bestows effective exercise.
But going into work exhausted after a sunrise kettlebell class can compromise immune health and mental energy. Hit less than 6½ hours’ kip? Press snooze – and then train tomorrow instead.

Author: Steven Sinclaire

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