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7 Fitness Experts Share Tips on Balancing Exercise and Sleep for Better Health

05/30/2015 12:18 pm ET | Updated May 30, 2016

When people think about fitness and getting in shape, the most common focuses are usually exercise and diet. We know that burning calories and eating right contribute to a better body, but what about rest?

Mounting evidence shows that sleep is a vital component of fitness as well, important not only for energy, but also for keeping muscles healthy and hormones balanced.

Research from Stanford found improved athletic performance when their basketball team slept more, and a Northwestern University study also found that people exercised longer on days following good sleep. Several studies also associate too little sleep with higher body fat and greater risk of obesity.

But not only does sleep boost your workouts and possibly weight loss, getting regular exercise also benefits your sleep quality, creating a symbiotic and complementary relationship.

Several studies show that regular exercise contributes to better quality rest and more overall sleep. University of Georgia research recently associated lower cardiorespiratory fitness levels with higher risk of sleep problems, and over time, regular exercise has been shown to help alleviate insomnia.

In light of these ever-growing connections, we were curious to see how fitness trainers view sleep. We reached out to some of the top fitness experts and asked how they balance their exercise, health and sleep schedules both personally and for clients, and also asked them to clear up common misconceptions they see regarding rest in the fitness world. Read on to learn from some of the best in fitness.

Emily Schromm

Turn off the TV and stop checking emails at least 30-45 minutes before you start falling asleep for less stress and better recovery.

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On syncing exercise routines and sleep schedules:

Routine is known to keep you consistent, so if that means waking up early and making it happen, or going straight after a long day of work to the gym, STICK TO THAT! No matter your workout style, intensity, or preference, if you are consistent, change WILL happen.

Sometimes it's just a success to get to the gym at ANY time during the day, but if you can avoid sweating hard right before bedtime, do so. Winding down before bed is a real thing! Don't hype yourself up too much so that you can get as close to 8 hours of sleep as possible.

On overlooked or incorrect things regarding sleep and fitness:

We tend to "wind down" by catching up on the last episode of Game of Thrones (guilty) or by checking emails in bed. Technology and the artificial lights can greatly affect our sleep cycle and quality.

When we don't sleep well, we don't recover as well, and over time that will really stress our bodies. Stress can come in many forms, but usually fitness or weight loss plateaus are the most common! Turn off the TV and stop checking emails at least 30-45 minutes before you start falling asleep for less stress and better recovery.

Emily Schromm is a full-time online and in Denver personal trainer, CrossFit Coach, Women's Health Magazine's Next Fitness Star and soon to be Nutritional Therapist who has a love for lifting weights and eating real food. Follow her @EmFitMTV.

Jessie Pavelka

People tend to look at the day differently, in a more positive way, when they give themselves the gift of exercise first thing before the daily hustle starts.

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On syncing exercise routines and sleep schedules:

It depends on the individual and their schedules, but I'm a huge fan of wake-up workouts. Doing 15 minutes of intervals in the morning is an amazing way kick start the day. I also find that people tend to look at the day differently, in a more positive way, when they give themselves the gift of exercise first thing before the daily hustle starts.

The good thing about sleep patterns in relation to exercise is, the more you exercise the better/more rest you get. There must be a balance between working out hard and resting hard. Be sure to shut off the smartphones (blue lights) the TV, the late night eating and most of all the mind in order to get quality rest.

On overlooked or incorrect things regarding sleep and fitness:

I find many people don't allow balance to exist between sleep and exercise/fitness. True health isn't about constantly abusing your body through extreme gym sessions or hours of pounding the pavement, but rather by giving yourself a bit of love in the form of rest. The repair happens when your eyes shut and you shut it all off. Be mindful and create the balances.

Jessie Pavelka is an American fitness expert and television host, recently joining The Biggest Loser in Series 16 as a trainer and previously serving as a presenter on two UK television series. Follow him @JessiePavelka.

Dr. Layne Norton

Many people avoid eating before bed for fear of it making them fat. However, research does not support these fears.

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On how nutrition factors into sleep and fitness:

Nutrition before sleep is more important than most people think. Eating sufficient amounts of protein before bed ensures that your body can recover and keep rates of muscle protein synthesis elevated.

Many people avoid eating before bed for fear of it making them fat. However, research does not support these fears. In fact a recent study demonstrated slightly greater fat loss in people who ate the majority of their carbohydrate intake at night compared to people who ate them throughout the day.

Dr. Layne Norton is a natural pro bodybuilder, powerlifter and bodybuilding/physique coach. He holds a PhD in Nutritional Sciences and owns BioLayne LLC. Follow him @BioLayne.

Kelli Segars

Listening to your own body, and being aware of your energy levels and your sleep quality is the best way to gauge the best schedule for exercise and sleep.

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On syncing exercise routines and sleep schedules:

The most important thing to consider when trying to sync exercise and sleep routines is your own internal clock. While there are definitely some things that work best for the majority of people (for example, not doing a strenuous workout close to bedtime), something different works for each of us. There's really no such thing as one ideal, set plan to follow in terms of a schedule of sleep and workout timing.

Listening to your own body, and being aware of your energy levels and your sleep quality is the best way to gauge the best schedule for exercise and sleep. While this does require some trial and error, it's definitely worth it when it comes to feeling and looking your best.

On overlooked or incorrect things regarding sleep and fitness:

One of the most overlooked factors we see when it comes to sleep and fitness is probably not getting enough sleep and not allowing for proper rest in between tough workouts that require recovery periods that allow the muscles in the body to properly heal from strenuous training.

People get really excited about starting into a fitness routine and want to see results quickly, and often end up setting up patterns of exercise and rest that are not sustainable long term, making it highly likely that they don't stick to the new and healthy habits that they started out optimistic about.

Much of the repairing that the body does after an intense workout happens while you're sleeping, specifically during deep sleep. This makes it crucial to get enough rest each night. Developing a long-term health approach that includes regular exercise, good nutrition, and adequate rest and sleep, is the best way to go.

Kelli Segars is an online personal trainer and half of the husband-and-wife duo behind Fitness Blender, a popular online resource for home workout videos and fitness programs. Follow her @FitnessBlender.

Heather Frey

Your body produces the most growth hormone while you're asleep, so shoot for 7-8 hours under the covers.

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On syncing exercise routines and sleep schedules:

Truly, the best time of day to workout is the time you know you will consistently go, but this said, I always encourage people to get their workout done as early in the day as possible.

First, it leaves less time to talk yourself out of going, especially as the day wears on and you get tired; secondly, it gives you energy for the rest of your day; and thirdly it won't impede your sleep which is when all of the great changes in your body are taking place. For some people, working out too late in the day causes trouble falling asleep or staying asleep.

On overlooked or incorrect things regarding sleep and fitness:

People greatly underestimate how crucial sleep is to their fitness gains. They eat well, hit all their workouts, but don't get nearly enough sleep and then can't understand why their progress is stalled.

The truth is, your body does it's greatest transforming while it's sleeping. It takes all the good nutrition and physical activity you've done, and processes that with growth hormone which is crucial to repair, recovery, and body composition. Your body produces the most growth hormone while you're asleep, so shoot for 7-8 hours under the covers.

Heather Frey is the founder of SmashFit, Creator of The Change Challenge, Fitness Strategist, TV Fitness Expert, American Ninja Warrior contestant and former figure competitor. Follow her @SmashFit.

Lucas James

The number one reason I hear from my clients that have a poor workout is, "I didn't get much sleep last night.

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On syncing exercise routines and sleep schedules:

When it comes to sleep, I have my clients create a sleep schedule by setting a reminder on their phone one hour before their bedtime. I also recommend going to bed the same time every night (Sun-Thur) to create a consistent sleep cycle.

As for exercise, all of my clients are required to book their personal training sessions a week in advance and schedule their personal workout days prior to the week starting. Having my clients schedule and prioritize their sleep habits and workouts keeps them on track with their goals and improves their overall health.

On overlooked or incorrect things regarding sleep and fitness:

I find that sleep is drastically overlooked, especially when working with executives, entrepreneurs, and new mothers who sometimes get less than five hours. I believe that sleep dictates our productivity, energy, and focus. Without at least six hours of sleep some feel low energy, and struggle with their nutrition and exercise. The number one reason I hear from my clients that have a poor workout is, "I didn't get much sleep last night."

Lucas James is a nationally-known celebrity personal trainer, fitness model, and health and nutrition expert based in Scottsdale, Arizona. Follow him @LucasJamesCPT.

Jen Jewell

Be realistic about it and if you're not a morning person, then carve out time on your lunch break each day to hit the gym, or throw you gym bag in the car in the morning so you'll be sure to hit the weights on the way home from work.

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On syncing exercise routines and sleep schedules:

When it comes to sleep and earning top results with fitness, people often underestimate how crucial of a component sleep truly is to a health & fitness regimen. More often than not, people are overworked from a stressful day on the job, then trying to hit the gym each day after work, only to come home and watch TV in bed before passing out for a measly four to five hours of rest. This vicious cycle doesn't allow your body to recover from the day, the workouts and watching TV or using electronics right up until bedtime also isn't helpful for a good night's rest.

With sleep routines and fitness, it's all about consistency. Your body will thank you when you award it with a similar bedtime each night and wake-up call each morning. I always advise my clients (and follow this rule of thumb for myself as well) to make sure they schedule their workout for the time of day that feels most natural to them, or when they have the most energy.

For example, if you're not a morning person, don't set a goal to wake up each day at the crack of dawn to hit the gym before a day at the office. Going from one extreme to another- especially with sleep- is going to wreck havoc on your system and is essentially setting yourself up for failure from the outset.

Be realistic about it and if you're not a morning person, then carve out time on your lunch break each day to hit the gym, or throw you gym bag in the car in the morning so you'll be sure to hit the weights on the way home from work. Keep it consistent -- you're more likely to have the same amount of energy when you're working out at the same time each day.

On overlooked or incorrect things regarding sleep and fitness:

The most overlooked thing regarding sleep and fitness is pretty simple: most people that workout each day are not getting enough rest each night. A recent Gallup poll showed that in the U.S., about 40 percent of Americans aren't getting enough sleep.

Factor in a lack of sleep/rest with a busy work day and strenuous workout regimen as you're trying to shed those pounds before your Hawaiian vacation, and you have a recipe for an overworked disaster, leaving your body more stressed out than rejuvenated from your newfound healthy lifestyle.

Contrary to what some may think, a couple of days off from the gym each week will actually do a body good. No, this doesn't mean hit snooze each morning and skip the gym or lay around on the couch a few extra days a week, but instead noting that you don't need to overwork your body seven days a week in order to achieve results.

It's actually the time that we spend at rest (not during the actual workout...the workout itself is when we are breaking the muscles down as we lift weights) that our muscles are able to rebuild and recover, which earns us those results that we work so hard for.

Jen Jewell is a Los Angeles based fitness expert, fitness model, health & fitness writer and celebrity trainer. Follow her @FitnessJewell.

The Takeaways

Although many of the experts we interviewed come from diverse backgrounds, they largely share a consensus when it comes to sleep and fitness:

  • Make sure you're budgeting enough time for sleep in your routine, and give your body adequate time to rest.
  • Getting your workouts in early reduces likelihood of putting off the gym.
  • But, more important is listening to your body's rhythms and finding a time you can consistently stick with for long-term lifestyle changes.
  • Skipping sleep time for early or extended workout sessions may not be a smart move, as both rest and exercise are important, working together to deliver results.

Do you use any of the strategies recommended here? What's your ideal time of day to workout, or what habits do you find make it easier to fit both healthy sleep and good workouts into your day?

This article originally appeared on the Amerisleep blog.

Rosie Osmun is the Creative Content Manager at Amerisleep, a progressive memory foam mattress brand focused on eco-friendly sleep solutions. Rosie writes more posts on the Amerisleep blog about the science of sleep, eco-friendly living, leading a healthy lifestyle and more.