Sleep Cycles & Exercise

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?

10 thoughts on “Sleep Cycles & Exercise

  1. I’m getting ready to do my life-lution for February: Get More (and Better) Sleep. It’ll be a month of post on how sleep and weight loss/ health are related and will track me on a 30 day sleep better program.

    Right now I get about 5-6 hours of sleep a night. I usually take a 30 minute caffeine nap around 12-2 pm, which I find particularly helpful on days I have night classes.

    In an ideal world I’d get 7-8 hours (just as recommended by most doctors!).

  2. Good luck Kelly!!! I can’t nap … try as I might — I’m not wired for it. But when I hit the pillow, I’m OUT!

  3. Wow I feel like I could have written this post myself! First, I get INTENSE anxiety about waiting to do my workouts in the afternoons for that exact reasons. I could barely make my class schedule for fear that i would have a class that interferred with me getting a morning workout in. If I know that I’m getting up early for a workout, I will put myself in bed at an hour that gets me 8 hours of sleep-this sounds sane, but when it cuts back on social or studying time, it’s actually kind of crazy.

    But I, like you, have found that sometimes waiting until the afternoon/evening works out FINE and may actually be best sometimes. I’m still not comfortable doing that EVERYDAY, but I’m getting there. Thank you for this really relatable post!!

  4. I love my sleep. I could definitely stand to exercise more and sleep a bit less, but I’d fall into the same vicious cycle you did. One day, I’ll just have to suck it up and do it.

  5. I usually get 6-6 1/2 hours of sleep a night- less than I’d like. I’ve tried getting up early to exercise but I just can’t do it. It’s a great feeling to get the workout in before the day really starts, but I can’t get to bed at a time where I’d be well-rested enough to really push myself at the gym the next morning. Working out in the evening is great because I’ll shower at night, leaving more time for me in the morning, and I fall asleep easier. Although sometimes there are those days when you come home from work and are totally spent and unable to make it to the gym….but that’s allowed!

  6. Jenn, glad it was relatable πŸ™‚ In an ideal world, on work days I’d work out from 2-3:30 or 3-4:30 every day!!! Unfortunately, work gets in the way!
    When I took Spinning classes in El Sal (I taught English when I lived there) I had a lunch break from 11-2 so I’d go to class, shower, eat, prep for my next teaching lesson … sweet! But then I worked 7 am til 9 pm.

    Mara, it’s def. hard to break the habit. I used to be up by 6-630 on weekends, too. Now I can sleep til 8. πŸ™‚

    Kristen, I totally feel you!!! And when it’s 0 degrees, the thought of leaving my house to work out is just not cool. So in the warmer weather, I’ll probably be ok with a.m. workouts again some of the time but for now, p.m. are better! ESP since hubby isn’t home two nights a week or is studying after dinner anyway.

  7. Just_Kelly, pray tell, what’s a caffeine nap?

    oh man, I am so back and forth about AM workouts. When I was single, they were fine – painful upon waking to trek into the dark and cold and run those 4 miles or hit the gym, but SO great to get done and over with. I haven’t done that in a LONG time (except when I have to teach a spin class in the AM) and don’t miss it too much. Now that I have a bf I enjoy hitting the gym after work – it keeps me away from the kitchen noshing pre-dinner, it gives me energy for the evening, and it keeps my hunger at bay during the day (when I exercise in the AM I’m ravenous all day).

    but there is no parallel feeling to getting the workout done with in the AM. If I weren’t in my 20s and more apt to stay up past midnight, I would be pretty devoted to AM workouts. But I’m young and living in a city.

    I still haven’t figured out how to look refreshed in the AM though as I shower in the PM post-work. any advice?

  8. I know exactly what you mean. I am in my first year of pharmacy school and i have 8 oclock classes EVERY DAY. I used to get up and go run several miles before class and then go get ready ( before I had 8 AM classes every day) Then i would go and do my 2nd workout after I got done with my classes for the day.

    This semester, after a few weeks of getting up at 5AM to go run and what not, I decided that i deserve better. I’m trying to do well in school and THAT is what is most important right now, not if gain a few pounds. I’ve had to learn that my body needs sleep sometimes much more than it needs exercise at 5AM. it was very important for me to learn that the world would not end ( and I could even still be healthy) if i skipped in the morning. Although I do like to get it over with, it’s just not the best for my schedule right now. I’m still trying to be ok with missing workouts though. It’s hard to believe it’s ok to do that.

    thanks for this blog. I’ve been dealing with bulimia, anorexia, over-exercising and chew/spit for about 3 years now. I’m finally realizing I have the power to make choices. And I’d rather be healthy and successful and not let those things control my life. People will not look down on me if i’m not a size 6 (ok some might, but they’re not worth my time )

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