The Effects of Sleep on Exercise and Recovery

Obtaining adequate sleep has long been understood to be an important cornerstone to overall physical, mental and emotional health(1);  however, increasing attention is being given to the pervasive cultural rise of sleep deprivation in America. In fact, 1 in 3 American adults aren’t achieving the recommended 7 hours of sleep per night.(2)

As physical therapists, we must consider how lack of sleep affects exercise and recovery. Whether you’re recovering from an injury, training for an event or just trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle, regular exercise is key. Regular exercise is also easier said than done, as it requires dedication to achieve and maintain. Therefore, it is important to mitigate threats to exercise in our everyday lives, and one of the easiest ways to do this is to obtain adequate sleep. Read below for some helpful tips on how to achieve adequate sleep and the latest research on the effects of sleep on exercise and recovery.

The good news first: A recent study by Lang et al. found that increased physical activity results in better overall quality of sleep.(3) So if you want better sleep, start with some exercise! Try going for a short (5-10 min) walk before or after work several days per week, then build from there.

Negative effects of sleep deprivation on exercise:

  • Impaired performance and increased errors(1)
  • Longer reaction time(4)
  • Increased Rate of Perceived Exertion (exercise feels harder)(4)
  • Increased post-exercise blood pressure(4)
  • Increased possibility of fatigue(5)
  • Increased level of stress hormones, including cortisol(4)

How much sleep should I get?

National Sleep Foundation’s recommendations per age group(6):

  • Preschoolers (3-5 years) = 10-13 hrs
  • School-age Children (6-13 years) = 9-11 hrs
  • Teenagers (14-17 years) = 8-10 hrs
  • Younger Adults (18-25 years) = 7-9 hrs
  • Adults (25-64 years) = 7-9 hrs
  • Older Adults (65+ years) = 7-8 hrs

Signs of sleep deprivation:

In a recent article published in Medical News Today, daytime sleepiness is the major symptom of sleep deprivation,(7) but other symptoms include:

  • Yawning
  • Moodiness
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Depressed mood
  • Difficulty learning new concepts
  • Forgetfulness
  • Inability to concentrate or a “fuzzy” head
  • Lack of motivation
  • Clumsiness
  • Increased appetite and carbohydrate cravings
  • Reduced sex drive

Tips for obtaining good sleep:

  • Engage in regular, daily exercise
  • Create a schedule with regular sleep–wake times
  • Prioritize sleep as a component of your exercise training
  • Sleep in a quiet and dark environment
  • Take a nap if drowsy
  • Avoid caffeine after lunch
  • Dim the lights 1-2 hours before bed
  • Avoid electronic devices 1 hr before bed, and put cell phone on silent or vibrate mode overnight(9,10,11,12)


  1. Watson, N. F., Badr, M. S., Belenky, G., Bliwise, D. L., Buxton, O. M., Buysse, D., . . . Tasali, E. (2015). Recommended Amount of Sleep for a Healthy Adult: A Joint Consensus Statement of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. doi:10.5664/jcsm.4758
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Effect of short sleep duration on daily activities – United States  2005-2008. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep, 2011, vol. 60 (pg. 239-52)
  3. Lang C., Kalak N., Brand S., Holsboer-Trachsler E., Pühse U., Gerber M. The relationship between physical activity and sleep from mid adolescence to early adulthood. A systematic review of methodological approaches and meta-analysis. Sleep Medicine Reviews. 2016;28:28–41. doi: 10.1016/j.smrv.2015.07.004.
  4. Patrick Y, Lee A, Raha O, et al. Effects of sleep deprivation on cognitive and physical performance in university students. Sleep Biol Rhythms. 2017;15(3):217–225. doi:10.1007/s41105-017-0099-5
  5. Sleep & Athletic Performance. National Sleep Foundation. Published 2019. Accessed July 16, 2019.
  6. Hirshkowitz M., Whiton K., Albert S. M., et al. National Sleep Foundation’s updated sleep duration recommendations: final report. Sleep Health. 2015;1(4):233–243. doi: 10.1016/j.sleh.2015.10.004.
  7. FNP KD. Sleep deprivation: Causes, symptoms, and treatment. Medical News Today. Published January 25, 2018. Accessed July 16, 2019.
  8. Stepanski EJ, Wyatt JK. Use of sleep hygiene in the treatment of insomnia. Sleep Med Rev. 2003;7(3):215–225.
  9. National Sleep Foundation . Sleep in America: Technology Use and Sleep. Arlington, VA: National Sleep Foundation; 2011. [Accessed July 16, 2019]. Available at:
  10. Thomée S, Eklöf M, Gustafsson E, Nilsson R, Hagberg M. Prevalence of perceived stress, symptoms of depression and sleep disturbances in relation to information and communication technology (ICT) use among young adults – an explorative prospective study. Comput Human Behav. 2007;23(3):1300–1321.
  11. Dworak M, Schierl T, Bruns T, Strüder HK. Impact of singular excessive computer game and television exposure on sleep patterns and memory performance of school-aged children. Pediatrics. 2007;120(5):978–985.
  12. Mathiak K, Weber R. Toward brain correlates of natural behavior: fMRI during violent video games. Hum Brain Mapp. 2006;27(12):948–956.

About the Author: Brandi Arndt, MPT, is a native of Owensville, MO where she grew up actively participating in sports like softball, basketball and running. Like many who become physical therapists, Brandi was a patient herself and underwent rehabilitation in order to continue playing sports. Her interest led her to receive a Masters in Physical Therapy from Maryville University in 2008. Since then, she has been practicing and working with children and athletes who’ve undergone complex orthopedic procedures. She continues to enjoy being active and spending time outdoors.