When sleepiness hits, the last thing we think to do is lie down— under a barbell, that is. Yet it turns out exercise won’t necessarily make those eyelids droop any lower. Studies suggest working out can actually boost energy and help prep for a better night’s sleepPhysical activity and feelings of energy and fatigue: epidemiological evidence. Puetz, T.W. Department of Kinesiology, University of Georgia, Athens, GA. Sports Medicine. 2006;36(9):767-80.Effects of exercise on sleep. Youngstedt, S.D. Department of Exercise Science, Norman J. Arnold School of Public Health, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC. Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine 2005 Apr;24(2):355-65.. So the next time a wave of fatigue rolls in, consider ditching that 20-minute power nap or double espresso and try hitting the gym.

Photo by Marissa Angell

Running on Empty — The Need-to-Know

Ready for a sleepy statistic? About one in four people (excluding those with serious medical conditions) report feeling tired or fatigued well before bedtime hits. And while guzzling caffeine or fitting in a quick cat nap are common ways to battle tired eyes, the thought of working out may rarely cross our minds.

One series of studies— with a total of almost 5,000 participants over the course of 60 years— found an eye-opening connection between exercise and a reduced risk of low energy and exhaustionThe effect of cardiac rehabilitation exercise programs on feelings of energy and fatigue: a meta-analysis of research from 1945 to 2005. Puetz, T.W., Beasman, K.M., O’Connor, P.J. Department of Kinesiology, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia 2006 Dec;13(6):886-93.. Exercise encourages the heart and lungs to deliver oxygen and nutrients to tissue and facilitates the circulation of blood, possibly leading togreater energy levels. Working up a sweat also acts directly on the central nervous system, which regulates energy levels A role for central nervous system PPAR-γ in the regulation of energy balance. Ryan, K.K., Li, B., Grayson, B.E., et al. Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Endocrinology, University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, Cincinnati, Ohio. National Medicine. 2011 May;17(5):623-6..

We Can Work It Out — Your Action Plan

It’s important to remember that working out shouldn’t replace getting enough shut-eye. Sleep deprivation can lead to weight gain, while excessive exercise can also work against us by increasing the risk of stress fractures, cardiovascular complications, or simply feeling burned outShort sleep duration and weight gain: a systematic review. Patel, S.R., Hu, F.B. Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine, Department of Medicine, University Hospitals Case Medical Center and Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2008 Mar;16(3):643-5..

So don’t register for the Ironman just yet— while there’s a direct connection between physical activity and energy levels, research suggests intense exercise isn’t always the best way to feel more awake. So instead of going for the Olympic gold, hit the gym for a light aerobic workout. Take a leisurely bike ride or walk with a slight incline on the treadmill to feel that vigor in no time.

Have you found that hitting the gym can make you feel better? Tell your story in the comments below!