Like most people, every now and then, I have periods in which I don't get much sleep. I'm going through one of those periods right now. I work at a high school during the school year, and school just started last week. Most high schools start classes ridiculously early in the morning, and my employer is no exception. It takes me a few weeks to get used to getting up at 6:00am. Even if I go to bed by 11:00 or so, I lay there unable to fall asleep until after midnight. I'm naturally a night person, and when left to my own devices, I go to bed around 3:00am and wake up around 10:00am.
Anyway, at first, I debated whether or not to continue exercising, or if I should take a break and resume once I've adjusted to the new schedule. The vast majority of fitness websites and bloggers will tell you, "Sleep is important! Take a break and get caught up on sleep!" Of course sleep is important. It's when the body is recharging and when most muscle growth and recovery takes place.
Unfortunately, the advice to "take a break and get caught up on sleep" is geared more toward people who have a bad night of sleep every once in awhile. It's useless to those who, like me, are trying to adapt to a new schedule. It's even more useless to those with insomnia and other chronic sleep issues, because getting caught up on sleep may not be as simple as these folks make it sound. There's also the fact that regular exercise can help people with sleep disorders eventually get more and/or better sleep.
I decided that I'm certainly not going to stop working out for these few weeks. Whenever I stop for that long, I have a heck of a time trying to get back into it. It's exactly why I'm in the shape I'm in now. I'm even still doing my TurboFire workouts. For those who aren't familiar with TurboFire, Chalene, the instructor, will say, "You're not tired!" once or twice during the workout. The first time I heard that after a night of only 4.5 hours of sleep, I thought, "Yes, I am tired!" I still got through the workout, but I had to do it with less intensity than normal.
When I get between 5 and 6 hours of sleep (which is most nights as of late), I can exercise at pretty close to my usual intensity. I do it when I get home from work, and I may feel like there's no way I'm going to get through it when I start, but I do get through it. It also energizes me so that I can get through the rest of the day. I don't think I'd be able to do any heavy strength training while sleep-deprived, but the resistance band workouts that come with TurboFire are fine.
I think the good old "listen to your body" advice is probably best when wondering whether or not to exercise when you haven't had enough sleep. For some people, exercising in a sleep-deprived state may be a bit too much. For others, it will give them an energy boost, and may even help them improve their sleep.