Sleep VS Exercise: Which Is More Important?

Woman sleeping and resting in bed.

“Which should I prioritize – do I cut my sleep off early to get up and exercise or do I be sure I get enough sleep and cut back on my exercise time?” 

This is a great question and one that many people struggle with. The quick and easy answer (when you are really in a bind), is to prioritize sleep.   

However, let’s take a 360 view, dive a little deeper and approach it from a wellness perspective. The Five Pillars of Health (Sleep, Diet, Exercise, Physical Presence and Mindfulness) are grounded in the foundation of Breath (1).  Therefore, both sleep and exercise are very important to our overall wellness.

Lack of Sleep

Let’s cover some background information. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that approximately 70 million Americans experience chronic sleep problems. Injuries, chronic diseases, mental illness, obesity, depression, poor quality of life and well-being, increased health care costs and lost work productivity are all associated with lack of sleep according to the CDC. (2)  

Sleep Requirements

Adults aged 18-64 need 7-9 hours of sleep per night and those over 65 need 7-8 hours. Teenagers (14-17 years of age) require 8-10 hours and children ages 6-13 need 9-11 hours. (3) However, 35.2 percent of all adults in the U.S. report sleeping on average less than 7 hours per night. (4) 

alarm clock as a symbol of sleep needs

Quality Sleep Benefits

On the flip side, quality sleep provides many benefits including boosting your immune system, preventing weight gain, improving heart health, enhancing mood and memory, increasing productivity and increasing exercise performance. (5)  

Sleep Hygiene

According to The Circadian Code a consistent sleep pattern (going to bed and waking up at the same time each dayweekdays and weekends included) is optimal for a good night’s sleep. (6) Other “sleep hygiene” gems include keeping your bedroom inviting, uncluttered, dark, quiet and comfortable, avoiding alcohol and large or spicy meals 2 hours before sleep, and no screens 1-2 hours before bedtime. Also, do not exercise right before bed as it will wake up your system and make falling asleep difficult.  

Exercise Benefits

There are numerous benefits to exercise including weight control, decreased risk of heart disease, management of blood sugar and insulin levels, improving mental health and mood as well as strengthening your muscles and bones. (7) Additionally, 75 minutes of high intensity exercise or 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week has been associated with reduced level of daytime sleepiness and better concentration, even when someone is tired. (8) 

So, Back to the Question: Which is More Important?

They are both important for your overall wellness, and the answer may come down to taking a long hard look at how you currently spend your time. Reprioritizing may become easier as you answer the following questions: 

The Bottom Line: Yes ... and Yes

For your best wellness, good sleep is paramount, as is regular exercise.  There is room for both in your day. With grace and determination, you will be able to prioritize a routine that is a win/win for your health and well-being. 

You’ve got this! Reach out to your local clinic if you need any support. Until then, sweet dreams and sweaty workouts! 


  2. A Good Night’s Sleep: PT’s Role in Patients’ Sleep Health; APTA Magazine, May 2021, pp21-28
  3. “How much sleep do we really need?” Sleep Foundation 
  4. Short Sleep Duration Among US Adults,” Data and Statistics – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 
  6. The Circadian Code 
  7. Loprinzi PD, Cardinal BJ “Association Between Objectively Measured Physical Activity and Sleep” NHANES 2005-2006, Ment Health Phys Act 4(2)2011

Our Breath is our Lifesource.

Many people do not breathe in an ideal way, which makes it harder to do any type of exercise and can affect our sleep. Breathing can be affected by joint stiffness, muscle tightness, poor posture or faulty mechanics. BreathWorks is a physical therapy program that restores optimal breathing.

Older couple walking outdoors laughing
Daughter on fathers shoulders in open field

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