There are only 24 hours in a day, so it’s no wonder we feel the pressure to find time to fit in both ample sleep and rigorous exercise. For your overall health and happiness, you do need to be getting enough of both, but when you throw in life’s other responsibilities — family, friends, work, and an overwhelming number of others — sometime you can feel as though you have to choose. So on a busy day, which should it be, exercise or sleep?
Well, the answer isn’t so simple.
The case for getting more shut-eye
Dr. Charles Czeisler, a sleep expert at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston recently told The New York Times that sleep and exercise shouldn’t be pitted against each other.
Because people need around eight hours of sleep each night, getting up early to workout can interrupt your body’s circadian rhythm. So if you get up after only six and a half hours of sleep to hit the gym, “you’re essentially exercising during your biological night,” he said.
Sleep is also incredibly important for workouts, and reducing your number of of sleep hours, for any reason, weakens the immune system making you more susceptible to illness — which then leads to even more missed workouts. Lack of sleep has also been linked to weight gain and cardiovascular diseases among other problems.
THE CASE FOR GETTING your blood pumping
In 2013, a study of more than 2,000 people found that exchanging 30 minutes of sleep for 30 minutes of vigorous physical activity was linked to better cardiovascular health, a smaller waist, higher levels of “good” cholesterol, and lower levels of triglycerides (fat in the blood), sugar and insulin levels.
Desiree Ahrens, a certified health and wellness coach at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., told The New York Times that there are always ways to squeeze in exercise without having to fit in a formal class. Running up the stairs in your house, breaking workouts into small chunks throughout the day. “Be a little more creative with the workouts,” she suggests.
It’s a tie, but sleep might have the edge, for now
Not only are both necessary, but they play off of each other. They both offer unique benefits, so it’s hard to separate them. But mostly, Ahrens advises, use common sense when striking your balance. If you end up waking up three times in the night with kids, go back to sleep, she advises.
It’s also O.K. to acknowledge years with young children might not be the easiest to exercise, but don’t give up on the idea forever. Better balance in life will eventually come. The real danger only comes when you decide to near completely skip out on one — sleep or exercise — in favor of the other for lengthy periods of time.