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A light workout while over-tired could be great for your health

By Christie Melhorn, November 15 2016 —

In my time as a student, I’ve woken up one too many times with the ache of exhaustion making me want to stay in my bed until my body has melted into it.

For most students, the thought of working out on a few hours of sleep is nauseating. However, for gym die-hards, sleepiness is no excuse to skip a sweat session. When you are exhausted, it is highly recommended to rest before exercising. However, if you feel it necessary to get your heart rate running before napping, there are certain ways to approach your workout that will prevent you from totally crashing.

First, if you were up all night cramming, skip the gym. According to the Society for Psychophysiological Research, sleep deprivation weakens auditory and visual capabilities, leading to a less satisfactory workout. In extreme cases, working out while fatigued may cause you to pass out. You don’t want to be that person who collapses on the stair-master and needs stitches in your head.

When exercising on just a few hours of sleep, it is better to rest before working out. If exercise is still beckoning you in your sleepy haze, Marc Megna, an NFL strength coach, recommends avoiding highly technical movements and intense activity. Such exercises demand extra spatial and bodily awareness that we struggle to achieve when we’re exhausted. Grinding out heavy weighted squats or snatches when you’re wiped is not only dangerous to yourself but to those around you.

Instead, Megna recommends working out lighter for a shorter time. Using a lower weight than normal for less reps will get your heart rate pumping without comprising your body’s ability to recover from lack of sleep. If you’re really into cardio, postpone sprint intervals for when you’re refreshed.

My go-to post-scary-assignment-and-sleep-deprived workout involves gentle cardio and body weight exercises to diffuse my restlessness while avoiding over-exertion.

  • 15–30 minutes of jogging
  • 20–25 crunches (three sets)
  • 20–25 bicycle crunches   (three sets)
  • 30–50 Russian twists (three sets)
  • 30–45 second planks (three sets)

The level of my fatigue determines how long and how many reps of each exercise I perform. The key thing is to listen to your body. Maybe you will surprise yourself and coast through a workout without much struggle.

But if peeling yourself off the mat feels like a workout in itself, let yourself go and get some rest. You can always carry on with a more effective and enjoyable workout after some much-needed sleep.

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