Which is more important? Sleep or Exercise?

I get asked this question all the time from my PT, triathlete and holistic health clients – which is more important, sleep or exercise?

To begin to answer such a complex question, one needs to know about each of the two factors.

What is sleep?

Sleep is essential for restoration, recuperation and to generally aid our health and well-being. It is an active process that takes place every time our head hits the pillow to slumber. Our nightly sleep is made up of different cycles, each being composed of sleep stages such as non-REM and REM.

In recent decades, we have switched from believing that sleep was a ‘passive’ process to a present day view of it being ‘active. Our mental and physical activities are not put on hold whilst we sleep, far from it. We are actually in a ‘second state’ where we go through many complex activities, both physically and mentally. In saying this we still don’t know ‘why we sleep’ but have come to understand more about HOW we sleep. If you have had a good quality sleep in the different stages of sleep, you often feel awake during the day and can perform all your daily activities without problems. When you feel tired, sluggish and not at all rested then perhaps the amount of sleep was there, but not the quality. The average adult is thought to need around 7-8 hours of sleep a night to enable the ‘active’ recovery and healing to take place for your body. Researchers have proven that post-sleeping people tend to retain information and perform better on memory tasks. Which leads nicely onto discussing exercise.  We need the correct amount of sleep to perform at our best, to exercise effectively and to our maximum potential. A lack of sleep will considerably reduce the percentage output of your workout, and you might as well not be working out during periods of really bad sleep. Which leads nicely onto discussing exercise.

What is exercise?

Exercise is needed in our ever-decreasing daily physical activity. Technological advances have meant that we do not need to move as much to perform daily tasks. However, our bodies were built to move, be it walking, running, dancing, pushing, and until the last decade or so people had to engage in moderate to vigorous physical activity in order to complete their tasks. People sit longer to work at a desk, watch movies, to play consoles and do not MOVE enough! To move (exercise) is of great benefit and goes beyond simply weight management and fat loss. It can help to fight disease, give you increased confidence, improve health and motivate.

Basically, all I am trying to convey is that sleep is an essential physiological process needed by humans to survive and to succeed in this fast paced world. Sleep deprivation decreases our body’s ability to function effectively and when this happens, we tend to make silly mistakes, become irritable at those around us (loved ones and all) and for some a lack of sleep can be fatal. Sleep is equally as important as exercise in my humble opinion. If you think about it in simple terms, then when we feel ‘sleepy’ we are being reminded of the basic human need to sleep. Be sure not to burn the candle at both ends, and still exercise as hard. The end result will be a deficit in your goals and well-being. Exercise is also needed to remain both fit and healthy, as we tend to sit too much on a daily basis to perform tasks. Given that advances in technology have increased rapidly, and we move less, we must EXERCISE regularly and to be able to function effectively we must SLEEP the appropriate amount on a daily basis. I truly believe you cannot have one without the other. You need sleep to perform effectively at your workout (exercise) and any other tasks on a daily basis. Neither one in my humble opinion is more important than the other.

It would be good to know your thoughts? What, if anything, will you consider changing in your daily lifestyle?

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