Sleep or Exercise? Is a Morning Workout Better Than a Lie In?

Hayley Dawes
6 July 2023

Early morning exercise can be a great way to boost your energy levels, but how do we know when it might be better to have an extra hour’s sleep?

No one needs to be reminded how important a good night’s sleep is for your overall health and wellbeing. Not only is it vital for your mood, digestion, stress levels and workout routine, but it also has huge benefits for your mental health, resulting in feeling more energised.

Sleep expert Dr Nerina Ramlakhan recognises that knowing what your body needs most can be challenging. However, the more we start to listen to our body, the more we will be able to understand the difference between feeling tired because we need to eat something or need to move, or if we need to sleep.

Sleep Patterns 

Understanding your sleep pattern is the key to figuring out what your body really needs. The sleep that you get from 5am onwards, from an energy perspective, is of limited value. We understand that a lie-in is lovely on the weekends, but you are definitely better off getting up early and getting in some form of exercise. 

There is intelligence built into the design of our sleep

  • We sleep in 90-minute cycles and each cycle seems to repair the body in a different way.
  • The sleep we get pre-midnight and between 2-4am are the most crucial hours for restoration.
  • Power naps can make for energy-boosting sleep. Science shows, form a chronobiology perspective, a 20-minute nap can significantly improve your mental and cognitive performance.

If you get 7-8 hours of sleep the night before, get up and exercise. However, if you’ve been clocking less than 6 hours most nights that week, you probably want to savour that extra hour of sleep. If you skip it, chances are you’ll do a subpar workout anyway.

The bottom line

If you’re not getting the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep per night, you need to rethink your schedule so you can make sure you do – and then you have to figure out how to fit in your regular workouts without sacrificing that sleep. You can’t have one without the other; both are absolutely essential to you being able to operate at 100% - not just in the gym, but in your everyday life, too.

Benefits Of a Morning Workout

New research published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that middle-aged people who exercised a lot could counteract the negative health impact of a bad night’s sleep with a workout.

Furthermore, regular exercise has been shown to increase energy by 20% while decreasing fatigue by as much as 65%, according to a study from the Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics Journal. This is mainly due to improvements in how the body carries oxygen and nutrients throughout the body.

This is more about exercise over time – not pushing yourself when you’re already tired. Focus on walking, moving around and shaking up your energy. You will notice that focusing on moving every day helps you start to feel better and sleep better.

If you have a hard time sticking to a routine, move your workout to the first part of the day. the following five benefits might just outweigh the earlier wake-up call: 

  1. Morning exercise helps you avoid distractions
  2. You’ll reap the mental benefits of exercise all day
  3. Morning exercise can help you make healthier choices
  4. You’ll boost your metabolism with morning exercise
  5. You’ll sleep better if you exercise in the morning

How Sleep Impacts Your Exercise 

It is key to remember that we need time and sleep for our muscle tissue to recover from tougher workouts. If you are starting to feel run down, struggling to recover from exercise, have joint or muscle pain, this can be a sign that your immune system is worn down and you shouldn’t be exercising.

Recent studies have also shown that a lack of sleep can impact the cognitive benefits of exercise, so exercising when you’ve had a rough night might not be as beneficial as when you’re feeling well-rested. Not getting enough sleep can lead to being less physically active during the day and reduced muscle strength during workouts.

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Our Circadian Rhythm

Working out also helps you maintain your circadian rhythm (that is your body’s internal clock). Exercise helps the body understand the schedule it’s on; and morning exercise primes your body to sleep better at night.

If you plan to sweat close to bedtime, you’re probably better off sticking to low-intensity workouts like yoga, pilates, or barre. Research found that high-intensity exercise has been shown to delay sleep onset, probably because of an increased heart rate post-gym time.

Tune In to Your Body

The most important factor is learning how to tune in to ourselves. The one thing we need to do is to start becoming more self-aware because there are so many people who are burnt out and don’t even realise it.

Your body is a very intelligent machine. It tells you when something is wrong via pain or other discomforts, and it lets you know when you need rest. Listening to your body can help you figure out what you need to do to reach your goals, achieve optimal health, and feel good.

We recommend bringing this level of mindfulness into your workout. If, for instance, your shoulder is feeling tight, you can warm that area up more thoroughly than usual and maybe even modify your workload. Doing so will help prevent injury and keep you moving towards your goals. If you’re not sure how to do this, try these quick tips: 

  • Notice when you feel stiff, tired, or more sore than usual
  • Notice your energy levels
  • Feel it out by trying gentle movements if you’re unsure
  • Try meditation to improve the mind-body connection
  • Keep track of what works and what doesn’t

So, while an early wake-up call and a nap might work for long-term energy levels, there’s also no shame in taking time to catch up on sleep after a restless weekend.



  • Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, PhD