Is Working Out With No Sleep a Do or a Don’t?

Working out on no sleep can up your odds of injury and lower your performance, recovery, and muscle growth. Take a rest day or do a low-intensity workout.
Updated
2023-09-29
22 MINS
Written by
Jeff Kahn, M.S., Rise Science Co-Founder
Reviewed by
Chester Wu, MD, Rise Science Medical Reviewer
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We bring sleep research out of the lab and into your life. Every post begins with peer-reviewed studies — not third-party sources — to make sure we only share advice that can be defended to a room full of sleep scientists.
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Working Out on No Sleep: When to Skip Your Workout

  • Working out on no sleep will diminish your exercise performance, undermine weight loss goals, increase your risk of injury, and limit gains from yesterday’s workout. 
  • If you do workout on no or little sleep, opt for short, low-risk, or low-intensity workouts like yoga, a gentle jog, or the stationary bike over a HIIT class, rock climbing, and strength training.
  • The RISE app can tell you how sleep deprived you are, so you know when it’s best to take it easy, and the app can guide you through daily sleep hygiene habits to help you get more sleep and have better workouts. 

You’ve pulled an all-nighter to hit work deadlines and now you’re wondering whether to hit that early morning gym class as planned. 

The short answer is: probably not. Working out on no sleep increases your risk of injuries, lowers your athletic performance, and impairs your recovery — that’s not even mentioning it probably won’t feel great. 

Below, we’ll dive into whether you should work out on no sleep (or little sleep) and if you do decide to exercise, how you can do it safely. Plus, we’ll share how you can use the RISE app to get more sleep to improve your workouts, weight loss, and overall health and well-being.

Ask a Sleep Doctor

We asked our Rise Science sleep advisor and medical reviewer, Dr. Chester Wu, for his thoughts on whether you should work out on no sleep. Here’s his advice.

“If you’ve pulled an all-nighter, working out is not the best idea as you’ll be putting yourself at risk of injury. If you do want to exercise, choose something gentle and easy, like an at-home yoga session or a slow jog around the block. In general, exercise can help you fall asleep at night, so you do want to make time for it in your week, but when you’re sleep deprived, consider using that time to catch up on sleep instead.”

Should I Workout on No Sleep? 

It’s not a great idea to work out if you’ve had no sleep. Exercising when sleep deprived can increase your risk of injury, you probably won’t perform well physically, and your recovery and muscle growth will be impaired. You’ll have less energy to perform a good quality workout and your body burns fewer calories when it’s sleep deprived.

On the flip side, exercise can help to improve your sleep, so if you’ve had some sleep and are just a little sleep deprived, working out may be a good thing. 

Exercise may also mitigate some negative effects of sleep deprivation in the short term, such as reductions in glucose tolerance and mitochondrial respiratory function (the cellular process of energy conversion); however, the long-term impacts remain unclear.

Depending on how sleep deprived you are, you might want to opt for low-intensity workouts, like gentle cardio over strength training.  

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How Does Sleep Affect Your Workout?

A lack of sleep can affect your workout. It can increase your risk of injury, lower your physical performance and motivation, impair your recovery and muscle growth, and in the long term, it can lead to weight gain and health conditions. 

Here’s more on how sleep can affect your workouts. 

Increased Risk of Injury 

When you’re sleep deprived, you might not be concentrating on the road while cycling and your form while doing heavy squats might get sloppy. This can lead to accidents and injuries. 

One study looked at how two groups reacted to 30 hours of no sleep. One group did no exercise during this time and the other group exercised on a stationary bike.

Sleep deprivation was linked to significant changes in energy, fatigue, and depression — as you might imagine. But those who exercised were more vulnerable to mood disturbances and reduced reaction times. 

The study concluded, “This could result in greater risk of accident due to a reduced capacity to respond quickly.” 

It’s not just the day after, either. If you regularly skip sleep for workouts, your risk of injury will be higher. One study found student athletes who slept on average less than eight hours a night were 1.7 times more likely to have had an injury compared with athletes who slept for eight hours or more. 

Our own data shows this, too. When athletes got an additional hour or more sleep with RISE, their injury rates dropped by 70%.

Heads-up: After a night of not getting enough sleep, your body produces more of the stress hormone cortisol. This hormone makes you feel more alert, which can trick you into thinking you’re feeling fine after no sleep. Even with this false sense of energy, your odds of injury could still be high, so take it easy. 

Chronically high cortisol levels can lead to health issues like obesity, high blood pressure, and an increased risk of having a stroke or heart attack.

You can learn more about the link between cortisol and sleep here. 

Lowered Physical Performance 

You probably won’t be getting any PBs after a bad night’s sleep. 

Research suggests your reaction time can be slower and your blood pressure post-exercise can be higher when you exercise after an all-nighter compared to exercising after a normal night of sleep. The study concluded that “physical performance is significantly affected” by an all-nighter. 

An older study found an all-nighter might not affect your aerobic, anaerobic, or muscle strength performance, but time to exhaustion when exercising decreases when you’re sleep deprived. 

And a 2022 study found skill-based physical performance was more affected by sleep deprivation than endurance and strength. Or in real-world terms, you might not perform great at your weekly volleyball game, but your Sunday long run won’t suffer as much. 

The link can go both ways, too. If you get more sleep, you may perform better physically. 

One study found getting more sleep helped basketball players sprint faster, react quicker, and shoot more accurately. 

And another small study found athletes who aimed for 10 hours of sleep and reduced their sleep debt ran faster in sprinting drills and were more accurate in tennis serves. 

Heads-up: Sleep debt is the amount of sleep you owe your body. If you don’t meet your sleep need — the genetically determined amount of sleep you need — you’ll start building up sleep debt. 

Check RISE to find out how much sleep you need and how much sleep debt you have. We recommend keeping your sleep debt below five hours to feel and perform at your best.

RISE app screenshot showing how much sleep debt you have
The RISE app can work out how much sleep debt you have each day.

Beyond your actual physical abilities, high sleep debt can lead to brain fog, poor decision-making skills, and digestive issues — all of which can lead to a less-than-great performance during your workout. 

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click view their sleep need here and view their sleep debt here.

Lowered Motivation

You’ll likely feel low on motivation after a bad night’s sleep — whether that was a night of no sleep at all or just not enough sleep as you need.

You might procrastinate your workout and even when you muster up the motivation to get to the gym or lace up your trainers, you may find it harder to push through a tough strength session or stick to your marathon training plan that day.

You could end up doing a poor-quality workout and it’ll feel like a slog to get through. And this can lead to you skipping future workouts — not good for your overall health and well-being — or cramming in extra sessions to make up for the poor-quality ones — which can lead to overtraining injuries. 

Again, the link may go both ways. One small study on people with insomnia found regular exercise helped them get more sleep, and more sleep was linked to doing more exercise the next day. 

Workouts Can Feel Harder 

It’s not just low motivation that makes your workouts feel harder when sleep deprived. 

One study found after a night of total sleep deprivation participants doing a cycling test had slower reaction times, reached physical failure faster, and had a higher rate of perceived exertion, which is how hard you feel like you’re working during exercise. 

Translation: your usual workout can feel harder than it would have if you had gotten more sleep. 

And if you get more sleep, it can make your workouts feel easier. 

One small study found when participants got more sleep — almost 10 hours of sleep instead of about eight hours — their time to exhaustion increased. After a night of total sleep deprivation, the rate of perceived exertion was lower if participants had been getting 10 hours of sleep before this all-nighter compared to getting eight hours.

Sleep deprivation can also make us feel pain more acutely — making any exercise feel harder.

Impaired Recovery and Muscle Growth 

You can’t build muscle as well without sleep. 

When you lift weights or push yourself through the last mile, you essentially break down your muscle cells. Your body secretes human growth hormone (HGH) when you sleep. This hormone is crucial to post-workout recovery and helps your muscles build up stronger and bigger over time.

But when you pass up on snooze time, you deprive your body of the chance to rest and recuperate to build muscles and bulk up your body weight. Research from 2021 found that just one night of no sleep reduced muscle protein synthesis (the process of building new muscle) by a whopping 18%!

Increased Weight Gain 

If you’re working out to lose weight or keep your weight in check, regularly skipping sleep for the gym is not the way to do it. 

When you’re sleep deprived, levels of ghrelin (the hunger hormone) increase while levels of leptin (the satiety hormone) decrease. This can lead to you feeling hungrier and eating more. 

Your brain’s prefrontal cortex — which controls your impulse control — also takes a hit when sleep deprived. This makes it harder to resist junk food and cravings, even if you’ve got the discipline to get to the gym.

Researchers have found that restricting yourself to only five hours of sleep could cause you to consume up to 385 more calories the next day (this is taking into account the extra calories you might burn by being awake for longer). While that may not seem like a large amount, greater sleep loss over time can escalate the calorie count.

Besides that, sleep debt is scientifically proven to reduce your energy expenditure the next day. Not only do you burn fewer calories due to a reduced resting metabolic rate, but you also have less energy to tackle your training.

If you regularly skip sleep for exercise (or anything else), you’re more likely to regain any weight you’ve lost, too. A 2023 study found people with short sleep durations were more likely to regain weight in the year after weight loss compared to people who got enough sleep during this year.

Learn more about the connection between weight and sleep here.

The Caveat: Exercise is Good for Your Sleep (and Energy and Health) 

In general, exercise is good for your sleep. A 2023 systematic review found that regular exercise can lead to improved sleep quality and reduced sleep latency (taking less time to time to fall asleep). Regular moderate-intensity physical activities were found to be the most effective at improving sleep.

Research shows exercise can:

  • Help with sleep disorders like insomnia and sleep apnea 
  • Increase your adenosine (the natural chemical that makes you feel sleepy)
  • Reduce your stress and anxiety, which can help you relax and drift off 
  • Help you keep your weight in check (which can help you sleep)
  • Help to regulate your circadian rhythm (your body clock that dictates your sleep schedule) and help you spend more time in daylight, which will also help to regulate your circadian rhythm.  
  • May mitigate some negative effects of sleep deprivation in the short-term (however, the long-term impacts remain unclear)

So if you’re having trouble sleeping or suffer from a sleep disorder, you don’t want to keep skipping workouts. These workouts could help you get adequate sleep. And of course, you know exercise is good for your overall health. So you don’t want to stop exercising altogether. 

Exercise can also help you feel more energized, which is ideal after a bad night’s sleep. Regular exercise can lead to less fatigue and more energy during the day (which can make you more likely to work out to begin with). 

Research shows 10 minutes of low-to-moderate intensity exercise can give you more energy than 50 milligrams of caffeine and just 30 seconds of exercise can help you shake off sleep inertia in the morning. (Sleep inertia is the grogginess you feel right after waking up, and it’ll feel worse when you haven’t had enough sleep).

You can learn more about why exercise is good for your sleep here.

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When Should I Work out and When Should I Sleep? 

Ideally, you’d get enough sleep and exercise during the day. When that’s not possible, here’s our guide on when to choose sleep or a workout: 

  • If you’ve pulled an all-nighter, take a rest day and workout tomorrow instead. Pay back some sleep debt by taking a nap or getting to bed earlier than usual. 
  • If you missed out on a few hours of sleep, consider working out as usual, but listen to your body and go easier if you need to, or take a rest day and workout tomorrow instead. 
  • If you haven’t had much sleep this week, take it easy with workouts and focus on catching up on sleep over exercising. 
  • If you’ve got ongoing sleep problems, try exercising (take it easy if very sleep deprived) to up your odds of getting a good night’s sleep. 

Heads-up: More research needs to be done into working out on no sleep. There is not much research in which exercise and sleep deprivation are studied and compared together. The research we do have also varies a lot in its definition of “no” sleep — after all, this could mean an all-nighter, six hours of sleep when you need eight, or long-term sleep deprivation. 

How to Workout on No Sleep? 

If you’re going to work out on no sleep, here’s how to do it safely and without impacting your performance or next night of sleep too much: 

  • Choose low-risk workouts: Your reaction times and performance won’t be at their best, so go for workouts that don’t need your full attention. For example, skip the rock climbing gym and go for a gentle jog instead. And don’t drive to the gym as you risk falling asleep while driving.
  • Choose shorter or low-intensity workouts: Your risk of injury will be higher, so consider lifting lighter weights than you’re used to, shortening your workout, or sticking to low-intensity workouts like the stationary bike or yoga over strength training or HIIT. You could even skip the workout altogether and do something else for your health like meditation, yoga nidra, or even just a few simple stretches — all of which can help you relax and fall asleep more quickly.  
  • Take a nap before working out: If possible, take a short nap to get some sleep before working out. A 2023 study found taking a 20-to-90-minute nap can improve your athletic performance after a regular night of sleep and restore your performance after a night of sleep loss. 
  • Work out in the morning: Had some sleep and want the best performance? Schedule a morning workout. A 2022 meta-analysis found exercise performed in the afternoon is more likely to be affected by sleep loss the night before than exercise performed in the morning. It stated, “Individuals can anticipate a ~ 0.4% decline in performance for every hour spent awake following acute sleep loss.” A morning workout can also help you shake off sleep inertia. 
  • Workout during your afternoon dip in energy: If you can’t exercise in the morning, schedule a workout during your afternoon slump. Your circadian rhythm dictates when you have peaks and dips in energy throughout the day. These peaks and dips will feel lower when you’re sleep deprived. If you need to get through a day of work on little or no sleep, prioritize doing demanding tasks during your peaks in energy to make the most of what energy you do have. Then, slot your workout into your natural dip in energy in the afternoon. Check RISE for when these energy peaks and dips will be each day. This is one of the most popular RISE features among users. And remember, even a short burst of exercise can give you more energy, so you don’t need a full afternoon gym session to help you get through the rest of the day. 
  • Avoid intense workouts an hour before bed: If your day is packed and the only time to workout is before bed, think about skipping the workout altogether. Working out intensely within an hour of bedtime can keep you up and if you’re already sleep deprived, you want your next night of sleep to be a good one. If you do work out before bed, go for something gentle and keep the lights low. Gentle exercises like yoga or tai chi can even help you get better sleep. RISE can tell you when it’s too late in the day to work out. 
  • Avoid caffeine and pre-workout supplements: Just like with late exercise, you don’t want any caffeine disrupting your next night of sleep. Depending on what time of day you exercise, consider skipping the pre-gym coffee or pre-workout supplement. Caffeine can last in your system for 12 hours and 2023 research says you should take a pre-workout supplement at least 13 hours before bed.
  • Catch up on sleep when you can: Once you’ve done your workout, your next priority is catching up on sleep. You can do this by heading to bed a little earlier, taking an afternoon nap, sleeping in a little later, or improving your sleep hygiene (more on that soon). 

You can learn about the best time to work out here.

RISE app screenshot reminding you to workout
The RISE app can tell you when it’s too late in the day to exercise.

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can set up their avoid late workouts reminder here.

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Is Sleep More Important Than Exercise? 

Both sleep and exercise are important for your overall health. If you’ve had enough sleep, getting up and working out will be better for you than snoozing your alarm several times. If you haven’t had enough sleep, however, forcing yourself up after a night of poor sleep to hit the gym could do more harm than good. 

You’ll be more likely to get injured when you’ve had less sleep than you need, and you probably won’t do a good quality workout. 

And the reasons you’re working out in the first place — weight loss, muscle growth, getting better at a sport, feeling more energized, improving your mood — will be compromised if you’re sleep deprived. So you’re probably better off getting more sleep and scheduling your workout for later that day or the next day. 

When it comes to cognitive decline, both sleep and exercise can reduce your risk of dementia — but you need both. A 2023 paper states, “sufficient physical activity and good sleep are each essential for maintaining cognitive health as adults age.”

A lack of sleep can lead to low energy, trouble concentrating, and irritability in the short term, and high blood pressure, obesity, and a lowered immune system in the long run. So you don’t want to make a habit of choosing exercise over sleep. 

Of course, there are plenty of benefits of exercise, too. But it’s hard to say whether exercise or sleep is more beneficial for us. There aren’t many studies comparing the two and how they impact a range of health metrics. So, for now, we just know they’re both incredibly important. 

If you do skip out on sleep to exercise, make sure you’re getting more sleep to catch up on shut-eye when you can. The National Sleep Foundation now recommends trying to keep a regular sleep schedule, but catching up with weekend sleep when you miss out on sleep in the week. 

You can learn more about catching up on sleep here.

How Much Sleep Do I Need if I Workout? 

In general, you’ll need the same amount of sleep whether you work out or not. This amount is known as your sleep need. It’s determined by genetics and set from early adulthood. And it’s not simply eight hours! 

To demonstrate just how much sleep needs can vary, we looked at 1.95 million RISE users aged 24 and up. Their sleep needs ranged from a tiny five hours to a whopping 11 hours 30 minutes. 

The RISE app can tell you how much sleep you need each night
The RISE app can tell you how much sleep you need each night.

RISE uses a year’s worth of your phone use data and proprietary sleep-science-based models to work out your sleep need. Aim to get this amount of sleep on both your workout and rest days. You want to consistently meet your sleep need to make the most of your workouts and achieve your health goals. 

Learn more about how much sleep you need here. 

Do You Need More Sleep if You Exercise? 

In general, you don’t need more sleep if you exercise. Your sleep need stays the same from about early adulthood. 

The one caveat? You may need more sleep when you’ve done intense exercise. One study found athletes got more overall sleep and more deep sleep in the four nights after completing a 92-kilometer race. 

This suggests you may need more sleep after this intensity of workout. So your usual 30-minute spin class might not make a difference, but you might need more sleep after completing an Ironman.

You may also need more sleep when: 

  • You’re injured
  • You’re ill 
  • You’re recovering from sleep deprivation 

How to Get More Sleep? 

If exercising on little sleep is a regular occurrence for you, focus on your sleep hygiene to get more sleep. 

Sleep hygiene is the name for the daily habits that can help you fall and stay asleep.

Here’s what to do: 

  • Get at least 10 minutes of sunlight as soon as possible after waking up 
  • Spend as much time out in daylight during the day 
  • Avoid bright lights about 90 minutes before bed
  • Avoid caffeine, large meals, intense exercise, and alcohol too close to bedtime
  • Make sure your bedroom is cool, dark, and quiet 
  • Keep a regular sleep schedule, even on weekends 

RISE can guide you through 20+ sleep hygiene habits. The app will tell you when to do these habits each day to make them the most effective for you. 

RISE app screenshot showing you sleep hygiene habit reminders
The RISE app can tell you when to do daily sleep hygiene behaviors.

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can set up their 20+ in-app habit notifications here

Working Out With No Sleep? Think Twice 

The bottom line is working out with no sleep isn’t a great idea. It can up your odds of injury and when you don’t get enough sleep, your physical performance, recovery, and muscle gains will suffer. 

After an all-nighter, you’re probably better off taking a rest day. Working out can help you feel more energized and get more sleep the next night, however, so some exercise can be good for you, especially if you’ve had some sleep the night before. 

Depending on how sleep deprived you are, opt for a short, low-risk, low-intensity workout. 

The RISE app can tell you how much sleep you need and how much debt you have. RISE can also guide you through 20+ sleep hygiene habits to help you get more sleep.

Your workouts — and everything else in life — will thank you. And you can see the benefits fast: 80% of RISE users report better sleep within five days

Summary FAQs

Is it OK to work out with no sleep?

In general, you’re probably better off skipping your workout when you’ve had no sleep. Exercising after an all-nighter increases your odds of injury. You’ll also have lower physical performance, recovery, and muscle growth when you don’t get enough sleep. If you’ve had some sleep, exercise can help you get more energy, maintain your health, and improve your next night of sleep. Opt for gentle and low-intensity workouts, like yoga or jogging, over high-risk or high-intensity workouts, like strength training or rock climbing.

Can I work out on 5 hours of sleep?

You might not want to work out on 5 hours of sleep. Working out on 5 hours of sleep (or any amount of sleep that isn’t enough for you) will increase your risk of injury and lower your physical performance, recovery, and muscle growth. Exercise can help you get more energy and sleep better, however, so you might want to do some gentle easy exercise, like yoga or a slow jog, and catch up on sleep when you can.

Can you workout after pulling an all-nighter?

You probably shouldn’t work out after pulling an all-nighter. You’ll be upping your odds of injury and your physical performance, recovery, and muscle growth will be lower. If you do work out, choose a low-risk and low-intensity workout, like yoga over strength training, and catch up on sleep when you can.

Will one night of no sleep affect gains?

One night of no sleep can affect gains. Research from 2021 found that just one night of no sleep reduced muscle growth by 18%. A night of no sleep can also increase your risk of injury and lower your recovery and physical performance.

Is it better to sleep or exercise when tired?

In general, it’s best to sleep when tired if you haven’t been getting enough sleep recently. Working out when sleep deprived can increase your odds of injury and it probably won’t be a good quality workout anyway. However, if you’re feeling tired when you wake up or during the day, a short burst of exercise can help you get more energy.

Is sleep more important than exercise?

Both sleep and exercise are vital for your overall health. If you’re choosing between sleep and exercise, prioritize getting enough sleep and schedule your exercise for another time or day. Exercising when sleep deprived ups your odds of injury, and it probably won’t be a good quality workout. If you’ve had enough sleep, make sure to exercise. This is not only good for your overall health, it can help you sleep better at night.

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