What Would a Health Coach Do? – Sleep vs. Workout

running-573762_1280I bet I got your attention with that title, now didn’t I?  🙂 Sleep can be a very controversial topic; which I find ironic since it is a basic human need – but needless to say, there are varying opinions on the matter.  Some say they don’t need anymore than 3 hours to work effectively (I’d have to agree to disagree with this crew), some say they can’t operate without 8 and some (seemingly mostly teenagers) believe sleep is best enjoyed as a small coma, which needs to last 14 hours or so.  While the benefits of sleep will be better fitted to a different post, I do want to tackle a question that comes up quite often:

What’s better – to get the extra sleep or to get the workout in?  

So what would this Health Coach do?  Well, in order to answer this question today, I’m going to assume that the question is coming from a place of an off week or an off month – a shorter length of time that we are really stressed (think unpredictable life circumstances or out of town visitors, etc) or have a crazy work schedule or are traveling.  If this question is one that comes up for you on a daily basis, that should be a red flag that you may not be prioritizing or arranging your day in a way that is aligned with your current health goals or that maybe your health goals aren’t ranking as high on your priority list as you thought.  Good, quality sleep is something that is absolutely essential to living a healthy life and absolutely essential to being able to cultivate new healthy changes and habits.  A continuous lack of sleep is something that needs to be addressed and something that I’d be more than happy to help you out with!

So now we know where I’m answering this from, I’d say that it depends on a few things for me:

1.  How much sleep am I going to get if I wake up earlier to get a workout in? 

2.  Am I physically, emotionally and mentally exhausted?

3.  When was the last time I worked out?

4.  Am I getting up “early” to get the workout in as a ‘counter balance’ for something else in my life, or to be energized and filled up? 

Keeping in mind that I am a morning workout person, this will come from a waking up early vs. sleeping a little more point of view.  However, this also translates to PM workout folks as well, to squeeze the extra workout in or get to bed a little earlier.

So let’s take a closer look:

1.  How much sleep am I going to get if I wake up earlier to get a workout in?

This is listed first because for me, it is the most important question.  If by “getting up early” I am still going to get 6-6.5 hours of sleep, then my answer is to get the workout in.  If I’m going to get any less than 6 hours of sleep, I opt for the sleep.  Sleep is essential for your body.  It’s when your body repairs itself, it’s when fat loss occurs (yep!) and when your immune system increases its ability to fight viruses and infections.  It’s also the ‘breaking point’ for when you are going to be getting the full benefits of exercise.  Exercising on a serious lack of sleep can be counterproductive, or at least less effective because it causes your body to start operating in a state of stress.  So bottom line, if you won’t be getting that 6-6.5 hours of sleep – I say skip the workout and get the sleep!

2.  Am I physically, emotionally and mentally exhausted?  

This question usually trails the first, because if I am physically, emotionally and mentally exhausted and worried about getting up extra early to get a workout in, all I am really doing is causing additional stress to my body and increasing my risk of injuring myself.  All of which would be completely counterproductive to my health goals and general well-being.  Be honest with yourself, if you are super sore or emotionally drained – spend any extra time showing yourself some self-love.  Think relaxing things – massage, Epsom salt bath, meditation, journaling, etc.  Also, when we are super stressed, physically and/or mentally, our body tends to hold on to fat.  So taking the extra sleep or few extra minutes to alleviate that stress would serve you far better as far as health goals go.

3.  When was the last time I worked out?

Now if we are talking more than a few days here, this question becomes important.  If I’m going on a full week of no workouts, I may opt for a little less sleep and push myself through the workout.  Sometimes, even if I’m not feeling up to it, I know it’s best to push myself through some sort of movement. Exercise is fantastic for increasing your energy and getting all of those awesome endorphins pumping which may just be what we need to push through the rest of the week or few weeks of craziness.

4. Am I getting up “early” to get the workout in as a ‘counter balance’ for something else in my life, or to be energized and filled up? 

This is a fairly introspective question, but a very important one.  I find that when I’m super stressed or there is a lack of structure in my life, I tend to fall back into old habits of using exercise as a form of ‘punishment’ or a way to seek control for things or emotions that feel out of my control in that moment.  Now this can fall into two camps, ‘punishment’ for not being able to handle life circumstances or punishment for ‘allowing’ myself to eat foods that don’t align with my health goals because of the current situation I am in.  Either way, this is dangerous territory and one that we all must try to avoid at all costs.  If I ask myself this question and the answer is yes to using it as a counter balance, then my answer needs to be to choose the sleep and re-focus my mind.  If the answer is no, and I am seeking a zap of energy or to feel alive in my body – then the answer is to choose the workout!

So there you have it!  That’s a wrap for this post.  Let’s hear it, POST BELOW your thoughts on getting the workout in versus extra sleep.  Is this something you struggle with?  

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