Should I Exercise When I'm Exhausted?

Ah, the age-old question: Should you skip your workout to sleep, or should you power through your exhaustion and just get it over with? That depends on multiple factors, including how well you've been sleeping lately, whether you're sick or injured, or whether your exercise fatigue stems from a medical procedure or severe sleep deprivation.

If you're working out on no sleep, it may be best to skip the gym for the day. (Image: Kentaroo Tryman/Maskot/GettyImages)

Tip

If you're seriously sleep deprived, physically sore, sick or recovering from a medical procedure, it may be best to skip your workout.

There's a critical difference between feeling lazy and being profoundly mentally and physically exhausted or ill. Knowing the difference is key when it comes to deciding whether to go to the gym or get some much-needed shut-eye.

Know When to Skip a Workout

Sometimes, a challenging cardio routine or other intense sweat session can be detrimental to your health. If you're truly sleep deprived and on the tired train, it may not actually be safe for you to exercise. You could risk getting careless and doing real harm to yourself.

According to a study published by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, getting sufficient sleep helps improve athletic performance, alertness and mood. In other words, if you haven't been getting the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep per night and you're feeling legitimately exhausted, it's probably best to skip your workout and try to catch up on your zzz's.

In addition, if you're sick, physically sore, have serious jelly legs after exercise or you're recovering from a medical procedure, it's probably not wise to hit the gym. Kelly Glazer Baron, Ph.D., a sleep researcher at Northwestern University, told InStyle that, if you're feeling sore or sick, sleep is the best medicine. "Overtraining can cause a decrease in sleep quality and duration," Baron said.

When you're feeling physically unwell for any reason, it's crucial to allow your body to rest so that you don't derail your immune system or interfere with your body's ability to repair itself, which can lead to worsened sleep and worsened health. In addition, according to Harvard Health Publishing, if you're experiencing a prolonged bout of exhaustion or lack of energy, you should consult a doctor.

What to Do Instead

If you're too tired for an intense, cardio-heavy workout, it's OK to turn to a light, low-impact, safe exercise that can still provide an energy boost. Yoga is one of the best workouts for when you're sleepy, according to Yoga Journal; it's movement heavy yet low impact, and you can still reap some serious health benefits like lowered blood pressure, reduced stress levels and improved emotional and mental wellness.

Another great workout alternative is walking. A brisk 30-minute walk around your neighborhood has wonderful cardiovascular benefits. Harvard Health Publishing says that walking "improves cardiac risk factors such as cholesterol, blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, vascular stiffness and inflammation, and mental stress." Plus, breathing in the fresh air is a wonderful natural pick-me-up.

Benefits of Exercising When Tired

Keep in mind that if you're just feeling a tad sleepy and listless (and you're not sleep deprived or ill), exercise can work wonders on your energy levels. Physical activity helps your body produce more endorphins, gives you more energy throughout the day, and helps you focus and work more efficiently.

You know your body better than anyone: If you're not getting quality sleep or you're sick, consider skipping your next gym session. Otherwise, working out on no sleep can help you feel more energized and ready to take on the day.

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