Why it Might Be Better To Sleep instead of Going to the Gym

by | Jan 31, 2020 | Personal Training

There is a certain guilt when we don’t make it to the gym because for most of us, the habit of hauling ourselves into a space to move has been a long battle with our lazy side, with no certain winner. At the same time, the type-As among us have a different battle: rest is for the weak, more is better!

But hey now, studies have shown that when you sleep just three hours less instead of the recommended 8.5 hours per night, a lower proportion of the energy you burn comes from fat, while more comes from carbohydrate and protein. What this means is that this can predispose you to fat gain and muscle loss. Additionally, insufficient sleep or abnormal sleep cycles can lead to insulin insensitivity and metabolic syndrome, increasing your risk of diabetes and heart disease.

As humans, we live in a delicate balance of alertness and relaxation called the Circadian Rhythm, a 24 hour cycle present in all living things. It dictates when you’re hungry and sleepy among other things, so it goes by another name you might be more familiar with: your body clock.

Image credit: New Zealand Geographic

The circadian rhythm is endogenous, which is a fancy word for a process that originates from within; a process that struggles to contend with external influences. A good example to illustrate this in your body is the phenomenon of jet lag, where the body struggles against the sudden changes of time and the natural cycle of light. It also explains why you feel tired faster in the early darkness of winter compared to the long days in summer.

This Circadian Rhythm is also responsible for the secretion of hormones that keep your body functioning the way it should; extreme changes to this balance spell disaster in the long run. The main hormones that control this cycle are Melatonin, Cortisol, Leptin and Ghrelin. Four big words, but they’re crucial for the two things that drive us to go about life: Hunger and Sleep. Here’s a rhyme to help you remember.

Ghrelin makes us hungry,

Leptin keeps us full;

Cortisol’s for waking up

Melatonin makes dreams pull.

If you’re the sort of person who drinks coffee by the litre to stay awake, your Cortisol levels are probably out of whack. They’re probably that way because you’re not sleeping enough, or not going to sleep at a time that synchronizes well with the time your body’s secreting Melatonin to help you sleep. That might be causing you to eat at strange times, so your body’s also trying to decide when to release Ghrelin and Leptin to deal with the irregular food intake.

On top of this hot mess, we see the very same people trying to find stronger coffee for “productivity”, the newest diet to “lose weight and curb hunger pangs”, or worse, a “brutal metabolic conditioning workout to keep my body guessing”.


Your body is more confused than the ugly duckling, and what you need is a good night’s sleep in a dark room, food in a variety of colours when you feel hungry, and movement that is cerebral; a word here that means “think about what and why you’re moving”. I’m not saying people who pull all-nighters, eat junk and do HIIT are bad people, but if you fit into this category and are wondering why you feel terrible all the time, these are some suggestions to help you feel better.

Deep sleep restores your body by rebuilding torn tissues in the muscles. In essence, it facilitates the repair of cellular damage in general, but that’s not all! Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep helps to consolidate memories and re-calibrates emotional networks in the brain for emotional well-being.

So when should you skip the gym for sleep?
– You’ve had an average of less than 6 hours of sleep across 3 nights in a row.
– You’re feeling irritable, have a sense of ”deep fatigue” or/and need a coffee every 2 hours.
– You’re suddenly forgetting things you don’t normally forget.

It’s not a quick fix, but neither is it a complicated fix as well. Well-being is something that’s often thought as a trippy, zen-like thing but it’s not! It’s about listening to your body, because something you treat well will usually in turn, treat you well.

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