Sleep is a wonderful thing. Indeed, as I’ve grown older and levels of a certain hormone have subsided, it is from time to time preferable even to that other word that begins with the letter “s” and describes an activity that often occurs in the bedroom.
I know what you’re thinking: How can you prefer sleep to sit-ups?
It’s actually more complicated than you may think. This winter I’ve been generally avoiding the after-work gym routine that I’d been practicing pretty religiously for the past four years. I won’t bore you with all the excuses. Let’s just say it lost its allure. Kind of like sit-ups. To compensate, I began incorporating a little kettlebell workout into my morning routine. Not too intense, just a nice way to get the blood pumping before breakfast. Trouble is, creating that window of opportunity before work requires that I arise at a certain hour.
I don’t know if this happens to you, but there are mornings when I climb out of bed knowing that I have no business being vertical. And, while it doesn’t usually take too long to shake out the cobwebs and get on with my routine, I almost always pay a price later in the day. So, lately, I’ve been paying more attention to my level of fatigue when I first open my eyes in the morning, and opting to snooze right through my workout time if my body’s telling me it’s not fully rested.
As a result, I’ve lately found myself skipping my morning workout for lack of time, but still feeling plenty of energy because I’m not scrimping on my sleep. It’s a reasonable trade-off, it seems to me, given that sleep is so important to our overall health. As Kermit Pattison notes in this EL piece, “sleep is vital for sustaining peak mental performance, stabilizing mood, bolstering immunity, coping with stress, repairing our tissues, rebalancing our biochemistry and maintaining healthy metabolism. Hundreds of biological processes occur while we snooze — all of which allow us to be more productive, alert and healthy during our waking hours.”
I’m particularly intrigued by how a good night’s sleep boosts my aging immune system. Pattison reports that sleep deprivation has been linked to an increased risk of colon and breast cancer, heart disease and diabetes.
Even a mild case of sleep deprivation can increase inflammation in your body, and that can cause real problems. Here’s how Alexandros N. Vgontzas, MD, director of the Sleep Research and Treatment Center at Penn State University in Hershey, puts it:
“You develop a condition of low-grade inflammation, and we know that low-grade inflammation is a pathway to cardiovascular problems and decreased longevity. Several studies show that when these markers are high, people are at higher risk for hypertension, heart attacks, strokes and decreased longevity.”
That rings true for me, because it’s almost guaranteed that I’ll catch a cold if I’m tossing and turning for a few nights in a row. Thankfully, that doesn’t happen too often these days. Even without my morning workout, I’m still walking a couple of miles a day and squeezing in an occasional evening workout with Mr. Parkour and My Lovely Wife, and we all know that nothing sparks a good night’s sleep more than a generous amount of exercise during the day. Which, at least in theory, would then allow me to awaken refreshed and ready for my morning workout.
All of which reminds me that it’s time for bed.