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Leimkuhler: Morning workouts not for everyone

A friend recently posted an article with the title: “What Happened When I Worked Out Every Morning.”

I clicked on the link, expecting the article to extol the usual early bird virtues of a morning routine, and the article did not disappoint. “One of the most common goals set by those hoping to improve the quality of their lives is to wake up earlier. So many people want their day to start off on a positive note, opening their eyes full of energy and motivation,” the article reported.

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However, there were a few key words missing from the article’s title in the preview link that was posted. When I drilled into the site, I was taken aback by the full title: “What Happened When I Worked Out Every Morning at 4:30 a.m.” — 4:30 a.m.!

A highlight reel of what would happen to me if I woke up every morning at 4:30 am began to play in my mind: slow death, destruction, fatigue, irritability, insanity and chronic sleep deprivation topped the list.

While many experts recommend that adults get at least seven or eight hours of sleep each night, I personally function best on nine hours, though this is a number that is often difficult to achieve. My ideal sleep and wake cycle is lights out at 12:30 a.m. and rise at 9:30.

But between work and school-aged kids, a 9:30 wake up time is little more than a pipe dream; something to aspire to, someday.

When left to my own devices, no matter what time I finally fall asleep, my body naturally wakes nine hours later and I feel rested and refreshed.

The other hurdle to my sleep requirement is that I need time to read before I can fall asleep. No exceptions. I could be bone tired or stressing out that it’s already late, with little left time to sleep before the alarm goes off, but if I try to shortcut my routine by not reading, I’m simply setting myself up for hours of tossing and turning or staring at the ceiling with the sandman nowhere in sight.

An article in myperfectfit.tempur.com explained that, “According to a study conducted in 2009 by researchers at the University of Sussex, opening a book before you go to bed can help you cope with insomnia. The study showed that six minutes of reading reduces stress by 68 percent, clearing the mind and preparing the body for sleep.

If only six minutes of reading was a sufficient amount of time for me; I typically need at least an hour of reading before my mind and body is capable of rest.

That said, in the unlikely event that I were ever to attempt a regular 4:30 a.m. wake up time, lights out would have to be at 7:30 p.m. which would mean being in bed by 6 or 6:30 to give me enough time to read before being able to fall quickly and soundly asleep.

This time frame is absurd and laughable given that — at least at this time of year — the sun is still shining, and I am still routinely carpooling kids and cooking dinner at this hour.

Surely the naysayers out there will be thinking that, after several days of waking up at 4:30, my body would adapt and my sleep cycles would adjust.

To that I say, au contraire.

Many years of work that mandated a more rigid time schedule proved that my internal night owl clock is not so easily reset. Rather than falling asleep earlier at night, my body tends to adapt by learning how to survive and function on fewer hours of sleep.

The US Department of Health and Human Services reports that inadequate sleep is associated with numerous health problems including an increased risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, anxiety, diabetes, depression, forgetfulness and weight gain.

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While I do enjoy checking exercise off my to-do list early in the day — especially as daylight hours and excessive heat rise as we move toward summer — sacrificing sleep to achieve this goal is counter-productive. Not to mention, many studies report that it may be more advantageous to work out in the afternoon or early evening when body temperature is at its highest and muscle strength, energy, endurance and testosterone levels peak.

But, the best time of day to exercise is a personal choice based on setting a realistic, consistent workout schedule that you are most likely to adhere to.

Active.com recommends treating workouts as unbreakable appointments. “Find a workout buddy and keep a gym bag in the car or office to minimize excuses,” the site adds.

And, to stay motivated, heart.org suggests choosing activities you enjoy, taking group fitness classes, exercising outdoors, and exploring a variety of activities to keep from getting bored or burned out.

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