Let’s say you laid out your workout clothes the night before. You put a protein bar on the kitchen counter for a quick breakfast. You found the perfect circuit routine to get your blood pumping. You are determined that nothing will come between you and the gym first thing in the morning.
Then postpartum insomnia strikes—and baby wakes up crying *right* when you finally doze off. When the alarm rings, you do the math in your hear and decide you maybe got six hours of sleep.
What’s a tired mama to do: stick to the plan and exercise or stay in bed a bit longer?
If you go with the latter, don’t feel guilty. According to some experts, that’s the best choice for your overall health. “Sleep provides our bodies with the fuel we need for the day,” certified sleep specialist Rachel Gorton tells Motherly. “If we continue to pull from our energy bank, but don’t replenish it properly, we will end up operating in a deficit, which leads to long lasting health problems.”
From sleep also stems a series of other good choices throughout the day. As sleep expert Dr. Guy Meadows tells Cosmopolitan UK, hormones that drive people to overeat are regulated during those nighttime zzzs.
“Research demonstrates that after a poor night of sleep Ghrelin levels increase and Leptin levels decrease,” Meadows says. “Meaning we [feel] more hungry and yet less full, hence why we tend to eat more.”
According to a 2016 meta-analysis of 11 studies published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, participants who were sleep-deprived had an average net gain of 385 more calories per day. (Accounting for the calories burned during those extra hours of wakefulness.)
What’s more, the tired test subjects were more likely to reach for foods that were high in fat and low in protein. “If long-term sleep deprivation continues to result in an increased calorie intake of this magnitude, it may contribute to weight gain,” the researchers concluded.
More research ties sleep loss to a rise in the levels of cortisol—a hormone that helps regulate metabolism and immune responses. Nutritionist Lily Soutter tells Cosmopolitan UK that the increase in cortisol may result in “fat to be [stored] around the middle.”
Besides, even if you wake up and work out, research shows a strong correlation between amounts of sleep and athletic performance—not to mention you’re more likely to injure yourself when sleep-deprived.
“It is also best to give yourself the opportunity to fully wake up before engaging in exercise. Often times early morning exercise can mean running out the door without breakfast and feeling half alert, which causes your body a lot of stress,” Gorton says. “Just like our bodies need time to wind down at night before bed, we also need time to adjust in the mornings.”
So go ahead and this the snooze button. You’re better off rescheduling that gym visit for later in the day.