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I am a dad and we just had a newborn so I am not getting much sleep these days. I want to avoid getting out of shape and gaining weight as it easy to be lazy and slack off on health (eating, exercise) when you are very tired.

Given that the lack of sleep probably won't change for a while, I wanted to see if there were any issues with going to the gym and doing either cardio or weights.

Its obviously not ideal to workout without a good night of rest, but given no other choice is there any real downside or concern I should have here?

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6 Answers 6

up vote 9 down vote accepted

Among other things, sleep deprevation will effect metabolism, glucose response, and hormone production.

If you have severely reduced sleep (less than 4 hours per night) your hormones will be insufficient to recover from stressful weight training and your stored glucose levels will be too low for significant endurance training (>60 minutes).

You can train under these conditions, but you will need to seriously restrict your activities to avoid doing more harm than good. Aim for maintenance rather than improvement in body composition and keep sessions short (30 minutes).

I work with first time fathers through the hospital and exercise is the third thing that drops off after baby comes (sex is first, night out with the guys is the second). I usually recommend that both parents find a social sport they can participate in once or twice a week (tennis, basketball, softball) as a way of retaining some balance.

I don't present on infant sleep or parenting technique so I'll keep my opinions to myself there.

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Please add references for your statements about hormones being too low and doing more harm than good. –  michael Sep 15 '11 at 0:20
    
-1 for no references –  michael Sep 21 '11 at 2:46
    
@michael Here's your reference. fitness.stackexchange.com/a/1251/501. –  Evan Plaice Mar 1 '13 at 0:18
    
In addition. The stress caused by lack of sleep may lead to compulsive eating habits. Fight the urge to load up on junk and force yourself to munch on healthy snacks until you develop an appetite for them. Vegetables like cucumbers and celery that are mostly water are good options for filling up without all the calories. –  Evan Plaice Mar 1 '13 at 0:46

Anecdotal answer: I am also a new father not getting much sleep. I made it a point to continue working out 3 times week to keep in good health and to get out of the house a little bit. I definitely notice that my performance is not as good on the days when I have not slept well. However, I also feel better, and sleep better (and go to sleep faster) on days I make it to the gym. I haven't noticed any downside.

They get bigger fast, so you need to train to lift that extra weight!

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I think the only downside from this is you're are not giving your body enough time to recover which significantly happens during sleep. However, if this positively affects your mood and other areas in your life, then by all means continue.

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Your recovery will suffer some in the short term. Most of your muscle strengthening and adaptations happen while you are asleep. However, babies do learn to sleep through the night fairly quickly. At most you are looking at a month of the kind of sleep patterns that would cause problems.

So the short answer is "yes" you can go to the gym, lift weights, etc. The longer answer is that you will have to keep an eye on your progress. If you can't get weight up you normally would (loss of performance due to overtraining, which in turn is due to insufficient rest), you'll probably need to deload a bit more often.

The best approach, if you can't muster enough rest to make any gains, is to maintain. Basically your workout sessions won't be going up in weight while your sleep is suffering, but you won't be going completely sedentary either.

Re-adding content:

Your child isn't going to keep you up at night forever. There are things you can do as a parent to help you get as much sleep as you can. In the first month, the baby won't be able to make it all night without waking up and crying. It's usually because of being hungry, needing to be changed, or they are uncomfortable. If you control the child's schedule instead of allowing the child to control yours, you can work the child's natural sleep pattern to mirror yours. Don't respond to simple cries for attention when it's time to sleep, but do respond to the big three issues (hungry/diaper change/hurt/sickness).

The bottom line is we do need sleep, so new parents need to learn the difference between something that requires attention and something that can slide. All too often, new parents jump at the slightest sound from the bassinet. The child hasn't even started crying yet and they are running to its side. The child's cries will be different, and you'll learn which ones need attention and which ones don't. Until then, when the baby cries, check all the important stuff, reassure the child without picking them up and go back to bed. Get some sleep. They will learn, and so will you.

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Working out is good, even with insufficient sleep. However, keep in mind that your reactions and situational awareness will be sub-par. This can be important if you're doing something a little dangerous, such as bike riding or rock climbing.

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Here is an inforgraphic that explains the relationship between sleep and exercise very well: enter image description here

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3  
It's a nice infographic, but can you summarize some of the points here? –  Matt Chan Sep 15 '11 at 3:57

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