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The Balancing Act: Sleep and Exercise

Written by Eulisia Er and Masturah Shafaq

Exercise has long been associated with better sleep. Research shows that exercise is a form of therapy for adults with poor or disordered sleep. Not only does it promote better sleep, it reduces daytime sleepiness and depressive symptoms. However, a person’s attributes such as gender and BMI as well as types and intensity of the workout affects the type of exercise.

There has also been an increasing number of research that demonstrates that improved sleep leads to increased physical activities. With better sleep, it increases daytime activity levels that could facilitate a healthier and active lifestyle.

Gaining a better understanding of your sleep patterns and building an exercise plan suitable to your lifestyle are the first steps you can take to improve your health through sleep and exercise.


Understanding your sleep chronotype

Your sleeping behaviours and patterns vary accordingly to your age, activity level and sleeping conditions. According to psychologist and board-certified clinical sleep specialist Michael Breus, Ph.D., in his book The Power of When: Discover Your Chronotype — and the Best Time to Eat Lunch, Ask for a Raise, Have Sex, Write a Novel, Take Your Meds, and More, these patterns are classified as chronotypes, which are specific circadian rhythms that characterize specific levels of activity throughout the day. There are four chronotypes: the lion, the dolphin, the wolf, and the bear. Each of these animals corresponds with a certain type of person and their activity levels.

The Lion 🦁

Lion chronotypes like to rise early and are most productive in the morning until noon. They usually start winding down in the evening and sleep early (9-10pm).

The Dolphin 🐬

Dolphin chronotypes have difficulties following a sleep schedule. They are usually sensitive to factors such as noise and light. Their productivity window is usually from 10am to 2pm.

The Wolf 🐺

Wolf chronotypes have difficulties waking up in the morning and are more energetic when they wake up at noon. Their peak productivity starts at noon and late-afternoon. They usually get a boost again around 6pm and are able to get work done when everyone else is done for the day.

The Bear 🐻

Most people fall in the bear chronotype- their sleep cycles are based on the sun. People in this chronotype usually do not have issues falling asleep and waking up. Productivity is best before noon and tends to dip after lunch.

Every chronotype has its advantages and disadvantages. Knowing when you’re going to be most productive will also help you complete more tasks and understand when the best time is for you to take a break and recharge.

You can find out which chronotype you are here:

Cultivating a healthy sleeping environment

Apart from understanding your sleeping patterns, there are also ways to improve your sleeping environment for better quality sleep.

1. Using a good mattress and pillow.

The quality of one’s mattress and pillow is often overlooked. Having a high performance mattress and pillow ensures that you’re comfortable enough to relax and may help with your sleeping posture. This ensures that your spine gets proper support, minimising body aches.

2. Minimise light disruption

This can be done through using block out curtains or using a sleep mask.

3. Ensuring a comfortable temperature

The ideal temperature for rest varies across individuals. However, research generally recommends a temperature of 18 degrees celsius.


Regular physical activity can reduce premature death by 20-50% and decrease the risk of chronic diseases such as coronary heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure. It is recommended a person has 150 minutes of moderate aerobic intensity exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise in a week. These can be spreaded out across the whole week. Strength exercises are also recommended to increase bone and muscle strength.

Setting goals

Before exercising, it may be helpful to understand your goal of exercising. This can help to motivate you when you feel tired or lazy to get active. Goals may include wanting to lose weight, build muscles or even be simple as wanting to keep healthy. An effective way to create goals is using SMARTER:








Getting started with walking

Walking is a good way to start exercising before transitioning into other activities such as running or swimming.

First, ensure you have a good pair of shoes and suitable clothing for your walk. Next, choose a safe location to do your walk based on the level of difficulty you are comfortable with. If you are a beginner, you can walk along an exercise track or a treadmill. However, if you’re up for a challenge, you can also choose hiking trails or an elevated treadmill at the gym. Remember to do a warm-up and cool-down before you end your session.

While walking, it is important to ensure a brisk and steady pace. However, if you find yourself breathless and unable to hold a conversation, it is alright to slow down. It is important to ensure a good posture and technique as well- stand tall,keep your shoulders down and land on your heels.

Eventually, when you’re more comfortable, you can increase the duration and intensity, or opt for other activities such as running or swimming.

Getting started with strength exercises

Strength exercises should ideally target different muscle groups- the legs, hips, arms, chest and abdomen (core). These can be done at home with an exercise mat and sports shoes. Strength exercises often use equipment such as weights and resistance bands. You can easily search up videos on strength exercises on YouTube that suit your beginner level and pace.

Remember that strength training or other vigorous exercises can cause tiny tears in our muscles. As such, it is important to allow 1-2 days of rest between sessions for our muscles to recover and become stronger.

So is exercise and sleep crucial?

The answer is a resounding yes! Since exercise and sleep intertwined, both are equally important. Sleep allows your muscle tissues to recover, improves concentration and productivity, and decreases risk of heart disease and stroke etc. Similarly, exercise also improves health and reduces risks of developing diseases.

Should I sleep an hour more or head out to the gym? Doctors suggest that you have that extra sleep if you had less than recommended sleeping hours or pulled an all-nighter. If you have a full eight hours of sleep, put your exercise gear together- it’s time to be active!

Partnering with peers for accountability

Now that you have understood your sleep chronotype and the effects of sleep and exercise, what’s next? Find an Accountability Partner. Accountability Partners are great people that you can approach to “pressure” you into completing a list of tasks that you have problems focusing on! These partners hold you accountable to what you would like to achieve. For example, imagine if you had a teacher who was expecting to see a complete homework assignment by Friday, with all the excuses that you may usually tell yourself, you would still have to get it done and account for your complete task with your partner. So how does this work? You and your partner will hold each other accountable and check in on a regular basis on what each individual needs to complete. Accountability partners are indeed the final touch to balancing your sleep and exercise. We look forward to a new and healthier version of yourself today!


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