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Exercises to do if you didn’t get enough sleep last night

30 Mar 2023 09:23AM by Virgin Active
Yoga Calm for sleep


Like many things (proper nutrition, hydration and rest days), sleep and exercise go hand in hand. Not only does exercise help you sleep better, as most of us know, but it’s recently been shown that sleep can affect our patterns of exercise. So when you’ve not had enough sleep, you may be asking yourself: should I still work out? Read on to find out…

Exercise and sleep affect each other

Think about it: when you’re tired, it’s so much easier to talk yourself out of your morning workout (or any workout for that matter). You’re not in the right mindset to move. But it could also be more than that. 

During sleep, our bodies get to work repairing themselves. That could be “[restoring our] nervous, immune, skeletal, and muscular systems”  or recovering. When we get a good amount of high quality sleep, our bodies produce growth hormones and goes through a process of protein synthesis. It’s crucial not only for building muscle mass but also strengthening our muscles to prevent injury.

On top of this, when you’re well-rested, you’ll have more energy and motivation which will help you to stick to those exercise plans. 


What happens if I don’t get enough sleep?

Interestingly, not getting enough sleep doesn’t actually affect your body’s ability to perform. You won’t notice any changes in your cardiovascular endurance, muscle strength or performance capacity. But, you will likely notice a change in how quickly you reach fatigue. 

Because you tire more easily, you’ll be less likely to achieve your full potential in that particular workout session. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing – if your body needs rest, it needs rest. 

While we all have fitness goals in mind, if you reach fatigue but keep pushing your body, you could be opening yourself up to injury. Perhaps your reactions won’t be quick enough or you’ll over-exert your body without listening. 

Should I exercise if I didn’t get enough sleep?

We’ll start by saying that it’s your choice whether you exercise or not when you’re feeling tired. You know what your body needs. 

If you’re a little stuck, it can help to think about why you feel the need to work out: 

• Are you working out because you feel like you ‘have to’? 
• Do you want to get active to help keep your mental wellbeing in check? 

• Are you planning to use your workout time to meet friends? 

There are also benefits to staying in bed a little longer rather than exercising if it means you’ll feel more able to get on with your day. If you feel more rested, you’ll have a better chance of working out the following day.

Ultimately, there is no right or wrong answer. Like we said before, as much as sleep affects your motivation to exercise, exercise also affects your sleep. Studies have shown that getting moderately active produces a hormone called ‘adenosine’ which makes you feel sleepy. That could help you get a better night’s sleep. So, it might actually be better to hold off on your workout in favour of a few more winks.

What exercise should I do?

If you do decide to get moving, there are a few things you can do to make it effective. 

Try something gentler that will help your body and mind, without becoming too taxing. This could be Yoga, Reformer Pilatesswimming or a 30 minute walk outside. You can feel proud that you’ve taken the time to do something for yourself safe in the knowledge that you’ve avoided injuring yourself. See all classes on offer at Virgin Active and find something for you.

It might also be a good idea to switch up the time that you’re working out. If that 6am alarm goes off and you’re not ready for your workout, there’s no harm in hitting snooze and scheduling your exercise at lunchtime or after work. Whether you're hitting the gym floor or joining a group exercise class, check out the opening times and the jam-packed timetable of your local Virgin Active club

The most important thing is that you look after yourself and remember, it’s just one day. If you take the time that you need to catch up on your sleep, you’ll feel better the next day and be able to get some movement in. 
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