PUMPING IRONY: Sleep or Sweat?

Lately, I’ve been debating the value of sleep versus exercise — and exercise is losing.

More than 40 years ago, I spent the longest six weeks of my life at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. Lackland was the place where the U.S.A.F. prepared young airmen for military life. There was much about basic training that the years have mercifully obscured from my memory, but I still recall vividly being jarred from sweet slumber at 4:30 a.m. each of those 42 mornings by our drill sergeant flipping on the blinding overhead lights and screaming at us to drag our worthless butts out of bed.

Ah, those were the days . . .

I’m only partially kidding, because I could really use a little jolt to get started in the morning these days. A purring cat making a nest on my worthless butt just doesn’t do the trick.

This happens every fall, as the sun climbs out of the east a little later each morning and I stay under the covers a little bit longer. My brain is, for some reason that I don’t fully understand, hardwired to wake me when the first light peeks through the bedroom window. As a result, I now have less time to run through my morning workout and still get to work on time. Most mornings lately, I’ve been skipping my routine altogether.

This is not good, of course, because I really need that kick in the rear to launch me out the door with some momentum. At the same time, though, I really need to get enough sleep to bolster my immune system and keep me from succumbing to the various maladies that tend to derail those of us who reside in Geezerland: colds, flu, cardiac arrest, creeping senility, various forms of cancer, and the rest. Plus, a good night’s sleep can actually improve your appearance.

So I’m left to confront upon each sunrise a choice: sleep until I feel completely rested or roust my languishing bulk for a half hour of zazen followed by 15 sweat-soaked minutes with my kettlebell. Both have a certain appeal — the former in the warmth and comfort of the swaddled moment, accompanied by some drowsy guilt; the latter only after I step, exhausted and exhilarated, into the shower. But I have to choose one or the other. I can’t do both without blowing a good chunk of the morning, crawling into the office late and spending the rest of the day churning a few gallons of cortisol trying in vain to catch up, working past the dinner hour, and arriving home to greet My Lovely Wife with all the charm of a Lackland drill sergeant.

As much as I hate to admit it, the answer to my dilemma is the same as it is every year: I have to get ample sleep and work out every morning during that window of opportunity (yes, that’s the word) between 7 and 8 a.m. And all that’s standing in the way of that occurring on a regular basis is a moderate dose of self-discipline, which I seem to be lacking these days — hence the vague yearning for a sunrise visit from a growling lifer in starched fatigues.

MLW would not approve of that solution, so I’ll have to consider other alternatives, like maybe hitting the sack a half hour earlier than usual. Sleep experts also suggest staying away from computer and TV screens in the hour or so prior to bedtime (it will help you conk out more quickly) and take it easy on the alcohol front (you might seem sleepy, but too much of the sauce tends to make for a fitful sleep).

And then there’s that furry alarm clock that bounds up onto our bed every morning around 7, wondering when breakfast is going to be served. I guess there are worse ways to greet the day.

, an Experience Life deputy editor, explores the joys and challenges of aging well.

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