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Sleep Cycles & Exercise

Posted Feb 03 2009 10:55pm

For the past four years, I woke most mornings at 5:15 to exercise … after getting 5-6 hours sleep the previous night.

Part of me loved/craved that feeling of virtuousity but the truth was, at the height of my exercise addiction, I feared if I didn’t exercise first thing … other things could pop up that would impede my workout because in my disordered mind, ‘I-need-to-burn-x-calories-today.’

It was pathetic.

I mean, I pride myself on my devotion to fitness and any time one can get it in is awesome … but I was crossing a line. I was going to bed at midnight and waking five hours later to repeat the same cycle over and over again.

In a way, it was easier back then — when my husband was my boyfriend living in another country … there wasn’t a warm body wrapped around me silently through body language (or verbally!) begging me to stay.

And when he’d visit, he’d gladly accompany me to the gym most mornings, so even then, I didn’t “default” on my exercise regimen (notice the lexical choice there — “regimen”).

When we got married and I moved to Michigan in 2006, life was so exciting yet chaotic — being in a new place, a new home, a new job, a new life together — everything was new. My workout regimen was one of the only things that could remain consistent from my life in DC to my life here, and I didn’t want to budge an inch.

And because I didn’t know where our evenings would take us, I just HAD to get my workouts out of the way first thing. So I’d diligently wake at 5:15. Over and over and over again, Monday through Friday (the gym opens later on the weekends).

Fortunately, my husband is also a fitness buff, and he — like me — is a happier person when he works out, so he understands the benefits of physical activity. But he definitely worried I was taking things too far and we had many, many conversations about this during our first year to year and a half of marriage.

As time went on, I came to realize that if I didn’t wake up and work out, the world wouldn’t end. I’d go later, or take a day off. It was sometimes just a relief to get in a full night’s sleep; I was seriously lacking –and I’m understanding now why it’s critical to good health/wellness.

Last spring, I wouldn’t say I “slacked off” on my gym routine (a term I might have used a year prior to describe this more laid back approach) … I just let go a little of my “absolute” vision of what constitutes a “good workout.”

I felt healthier and saner … more in tune with myself. I’d bike with my husband or a good friend, and that was plenty. By the time I began my blog, I was feeling ok with my approach, though I still woke up most mornings.

This past summer, when my mother-in-law visited but more particularly when my husband started his evening MBA in the fall, I started doing after-work workouts — with him not home anyway, so long as I didn’t have evening plans myself, I could work out at my leisure.

Working out after work means I can sleep in until about 7 most mornings … getting the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep each night — something that is a first for me!

Recently I’ve noticed something interesting has been happening. I’ve been waking up (not to eat!) at like 5 a.m. naturally for the past two weeks. I go right back to bed, but it’s as though my body has finally caught up, after four and a half years of forcing myself up at a certain time.

I’m waking now with zest. In spite of winter blues, I’m not tired at all — I have more energy to face the day and when the alarm goes off, I don’t hit it with desperation like I often did during those 5:15 a.m. workouts.

Now I realize when we have little ones someday, early morning workouts might be my only option to fit it in. But for right now, I’m enjoying the extra sleep.

And who knows, when it gets lighter earlier in the spring, maybe I’ll be bouncing out of bed at 5:15 again … just with a lot less anxiety.

How about you? How much sleep do you get each night? Does exercise play a role in how much/little sleep you get?

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