Here's Some Sleep Motivation: It Makes You Skinnier

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I've been meaning to write about this topic for a while, but haven't because it's kind of a yawner.


I know I need to get more sleep, but I hate doing it.

That's not really true. I hate going to sleep, but I also hate waking up from it.

My real problem is going to bed. If I could go to bed earlier, waking up early wouldn't be so painful.

But those hours after my kids are in bed are the hours when I'm off the clock as an employee and as a parent. It seems like a waste to, well, waste my off-the-clock hours by sleeping.

Nighttime is when I feel most awake and alive.

Science says this isn't entirely my fault. Humans really are wired to go to bed at different times. The length of a gene we all have that scientists call PER3 is what determines whether we function best in the mornings, afternoons or nights.

These genetic differences developed over time for pretty obvious reasons: We needed people who could excel at each of those times. In the days before artificial lighting, natural rhythms were more likely to determine the tasks individuals were assigned in a community.

In a more primitive community, I'd probably be assigned to take the first nightwatch, or maybe gather mushrooms by the light of the moon, and then I'd sleep in until 8 or 9 a.m. Someone whose PER3 made them an early riser would be absolved of night-watch duty and assigned to milking the cows before the sun came up or something.

But that's not the way our world works. At least not for parents. In our world, even the night watchman has to get his kid to the bus stop or incur the wrath of too-many-unexcused-absences.

Some of you may recall that my New Year's Resolution this year was to wake up a couple of hours earlier than the rest of my family in order to get some good, quiet, still of morning work done. I'm pleased to say that I will-powered through that, almost every day, for about six months.

I loved the still, predawn hours. The quiet was great for concentration. I loved getting my kids off to school knowing that my first two hours of work were already done. But I was getting only about five hours of sleep each night.

Then my oldest started a new school that starts a full hour earlier than the old one. Waking up really early for just one extra hour hardly seems worth it. It takes me at least 30 minutes to even get my mind awake enough to start working. By then, it's nearly time to wake up my son. Waking up even earlier seems like masochism. I can't do it.

To get up two hours before my son has to be up, I would need to go to bed around 9 p.m. Even if I managed to get the kids all settled in by 8, going to bed at 9 would mean that I'd get only one hour a day to be a relatively unburdened, fully off-the-clock, grown-up. I need more than one hour.

I had resigned myself to a life of quad-shot lattes in the afternoon when I came across these findings.

It's a long study so I'll summarize it for you: Not getting enough sleep is making me fat, or at least keeping me from getting skinny. In other words, not only am I yawning wide enough to fit a donut in my mouth, being sleepy is making my butt look like I've already scarfed down a half dozen.

And this is not just a we-make-poor-food-choices-when-we're-tired kind of fat. It's not even just a too-tired-to-go-to-the-gym kind of fat. Oh no, this is the your-body-burns-55-percent-less-fat-when-you-don't-sleep-enough kind of fat.

According to that study, our bodies don't function right when they haven't gotten enough sleep. Not functioning right means we're keeping all those donuts as thigh-shaped souvenirs of the series we stayed up to binge on Netflix.

This means I can go to sleep at 9 p.m. and wake up at 4:30 a.m. and get an hour and a half of solitude before my family is awake. Or I can stay up as late as I want and wake up as early as I want and hoard fat like a Southerner hoards bread and milk before a snowstorm. Or I can go to sleep sometime between 9 and 11 p.m., wake up sometime between 5 and 6 a.m. and burn even more fat than I would have if I'd gotten up at 4 a.m. to work out.

This choice is becoming pretty easy.

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