Sleep or Exercise – What Should New Parents Choose?

Sleep or Exercise - What Should New Parents Choose?

As a busy and fatigued new mama, how do you choose between two important functions: sleep and exercise?

We need sleep to restore and function healthily, physically, emotionally and psychologically. While you sleep, your body and immune system performs important repair work. This is why you can get sick and feel depressed if you don’t get enough sleep.

On the other hand, regular exercise is also essential for our health and wellbeing. Without enough of it, quality of sleep may be affected. Without enough proper sleep, we can feel too fatigued to exercise. Yet ironically, exercising actually provides you with energy, because when your body is moving, the cells in your body wake up! Have you noticed that when you’re stationary, your body (and mind) gets sleepier?

So knowing what’s really best for you — and when — can be quite the dilemma.

It’s very important for new mamas to practice self-care. With limited free time and constantly fluctuating energy levels, it can be difficult to decide which aspects of self-care should be a priority.

So, when should you choose sleep and when should you choose exercise? Bearing in mind that exercise can be as simple as 30 minutes of gentle walking per day.

You Should Choose Sleep When:

You Are Less Than 4-6 Weeks Postnatal

If you are less than 4-6 weeks postnatal or if your provider has not cleared you for exercise, sleep is a better choice. It’s important to be sure you heal from pregnancy and birth. Resuming strenuous activity too quickly can prolong postnatal healing.

In the early weeks and months, you’re healing physically while dealing with sleep deprivation. Sleep is a necessary component for healing. In order to heal, choose sleep in the immediate postnatal period.

You’ve Spent Less Than 6-8 Hours In Bed In The Last 24 Hours

While many new mamas will not get 6-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep, they can find ways to get adequate rest. If circumstances have left you up and alert too much, choose sleep. A minimum of 6-8 hours in bed, even when broken up, can help you feel decently rested and able to exercise. Here are 6 things to do when you need more sleep.

You’re Sleep Deprivation Has Slowed Your Motor Responses

If you are feeling very groggy and having difficulty physically reacting to things, feeling extra clumsy, choose sleep. Severe sleep deprivation can greatly reduce motor function.

Sleep is the better choice in this case for two reasons. One, you are more prone to injury while exercising if you are feeling clumsy and slow to react. Two, your body is clearly telling you it needs more sleep.

You Are Feeling Mentally and Emotionally Stressed Due to Sleep Loss

Sleep is not only important for our physical health, it plays a big role in our mental wellness. If sleep deprivation is causing you to feel stressed, choose sleep.

Sleep deprivation can lead to elevated levels of cortisol, a stress hormone. In order to continue healing and feel mentally well it is good to keep stress hormones at bay. While exercise can help relieve stress, if lack of sleep is the cause, the best solution is rest.

You Should Choose Exercise If:

Baby Is Resting Well But You Are Not

Inactivity can lead to poor quality of sleep and fatugue. If your baby is resting well but you are finding you are not getting great rest, consider increasing your activity level. Moderate aerobic exercise improves sleep quality. It can also reduce daytime drowsiness. Up your energy levels to keep up with your busy little one!

You Are Mildly Fatigued But Getting Decent Rest

Most new mamas are mildly fatigued but able to function well throughout the day. Sometimes choosing exercise during free time instead of napping can help improve your quality of sleep at night. You might even find a reduction in your fatigue when you begin exercising regularly.

You Are Feeling Stressed Despite Sleeping Well

If you are feeling stressed, down or emotionally unwell despite adequate rest, exercise can help. Exercise can be a great way to release stress and focus on self-care, two things that are great for mental wellness.

Even light exercise can be a great mood lifter. If you are sleeping well but stressed, get moving and start feeling better!

Functioning with sleep deprivation is a common dilemma for mamas. Listen to your body, when trying to decide which choice will help you feel your best. Even at your most tired, there are ways to incorporate some light exercise into your normal routines.

Here are 4 light forms of exercise you can easily incorporate as you begin finding balance between rest and exercise:

#1: Going For A Walk

Going for a walk is a simple way to incorporate light exercise. Putting baby in a stroller or wearing baby can allow you to get some exercise while entertaining your little one. In this way you are finding a time to exercise when it doesn’t mean giving up much needed rest.

Going for a walk outside also exposes you to vitamin D and can help you regulate melatonin. Both can help with daytime energy and better rest at night. Lack of vitamin D can also be a contributing factor to depression and low mood. So go enjoy that sunshine, and bring a friend if you can! Vitamin D is also important for babies.

#2: Yoga

Yoga can be a low impact exercise that doesn’t require equipment. You do not need to begin by setting aside large chunks of time and giving up sleep. Find 5-10 minutes throughout your day to practice a little yoga. As you begin getting more sleep you can increase the time you devote to exercise. or, you might like to join a mother and baby yoga class, which is a great way to involve your baby and make new friends. Connecting with others (especially when you’re a mother) plays a big role in our emotional wellbeing.

#3: Pilates

Similar to yoga, Pilates can be low impact and doesn’t require equipment. You can begin with 5-10 minutes here and there and increase your time as you find more rest. It can be easy to think there’s little point to exercise for short times, but some activity is better than no activity!

#4: Mother and Baby Exercise Classes

There are many mama and baby exercise programs and classes. Doing a mother and baby exercise class or program can eliminate the dilemma of choosing sleep or exercise. This exercise is done with baby at a time you wouldn’t be able to sleep anyway. Baby is entertained, you get exercise and you aren’t giving up sleep for it.

It can be difficult to navigate sleep deprivation as a new mama. As you begin finding your new routine, you will find a balance of sleep and exercise. Remember, both are important to your self-care.

Read more about the importance of sleep as a new mama here: 14 Reasons Why We Need To Help New Mothers Get More Sleep.

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Maria Silver Pyanov is a mama of four energetic boys and one unique little girl. She is also a doula and childbirth educator. She's an advocate for birth options, and adequate prenatal care and support. She believes in the importance of rebuilding the village so no parent feels unsupported.

One comment

  1. Hello Maria! Thanks for writing this post!
    I now have an 8 month old who still doesn’t sleep well. I am constantly feeling groggy and clumsy and really like all of the things you listed under “choose sleep”. There have really been only a handful of days where I feel like I’ve gotten enough sleep to get some exercise in the last 8 months: it’s starting to really become an issue. We’ve tried sleep training and nothing seems to work for our stubborn little frequent waker. Wondering what you suggest when this sleepiness is overwhelming for more than just a small amount of time?

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