Exercise and Sleep Deprivation

The main point:

Exercise may mitigate some of the detrimental effects of sleep deprivation! (cue the confetti!)


Findings from a new study published January 2021in Molecular Metabolism suggest that high-intensity exercise compensates for the harmful effects of sleep deprivation. This is music to my tired mama ears! Especially after “springing forward” last night into daylight savings time and losing yet another hour of precious sleep!

Sleep is critical for our mental and physical well-being. Sleep deprivation increases our risk of developing many chronic illnesses, including cardiovascular disease, kidney dysfunction, hypertension, diabetes, stroke, obesity, and depression. Many of these detrimental effects can be, in part, linked to the negative effects that sleep deprivation has on glucose tolerance (a person’s ability to keep blood sugar regulated) and mitochondrial function (mitochondria are known as the “power-houses” of our cells and are where our energy is produced). Team this with the fact that more than a third of all adults living in the United States report not getting enough sleep on the regular (defined as less than the 7 hours recommended by the CDC) and we have a metabolic nightmare (pun intended) on our hands.

The researchers of this study were especially interested in seeing if since it is known that exercise can improve glucose tolerance and mitochondrial function, could exercise be used as a means to help negate the negative effects that sleep deprivation has on these health factors.

The intervention study involved 24 healthy young men between the ages of 18 and 40 years. The study’s investigators placed the men into one of three groups:

1. Normal sleep group (eight hours of sleep per night, for five nights)

2. Sleep restriction group (four hours of sleep per night, for five nights);

3. Sleep restriction plus exercise group (four hours of sleep per night, for five nights plus three high-intensity interval exercise sessions on a cycle ergometer).

What did they find? The men who experienced sleep restriction had reduced glucose tolerance and mitochondrial function. They also exhibited reduced amplitude of diurnal rhythms (as measured by normal fluctuations in skin temperature and muscle cell protein synthesis that are expected with a normal circadian rhythm) compared to the group of men who got normal sleep. But the interesting thing is that the men who experienced sleep restriction but also engaged in high-intensity exercise did not exhibit any of these negative effects. These findings demonstrate that high-intensity exercise may counteract the harmful effects of sleep deprivation!

I love it when science gives us a “hack” to get around things we cannot control! While getting enough sleep is an absolute must for anyone wanting to improve their health, for some of us (parents of young children, shift workers, etc.) it just isn’t our reality at the moment. I like to say, “do what you can.” If you get the opportunity to get more sleep, then by all means TAKE IT! But on those days that you cannot, make sure you are getting in some exercise. Exercising might be the last thing on your mind when you are tired, but I will tell you from experience, it is a lifeline to having more energy. I suggest to all of my clients who experience poor sleep to at least try and engage in regular exercise as a means to improve their energy and metabolic health.

Do you exercise regularly? I would love to help you implement a regular exercise program into your routine! My Forever Fit Tribe membership offers monthly exercise plans complete with a demonstration! Fast and efficient workouts to get you the most benefit in a time efficient manor! All the planning and thinking are done for you, so you can get it in and get back to life with more energy and health!

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