Saturday, April 20, 2024
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Commentary: Hit the snooze button – it’s good for you

LONDON: When the alarm goes off at 6am and I reach blearily for the dubious health supplements I was suckered into buying on Instagram, it doesn’t feel like a formula for winning at life. It feels, in fact, very bad.

Imagine my delight, then, to learn that a new study suggests there are real health benefits to be gained from sleeping in until 7am (at least). Rising when it’s actually light, exercising in a morning window that suits you – it all sounds too reasonable to be true. And yet, according to research just published in the journal Obesity, exercise between 7am and 9am – in my case clocking up 9,000-odd steps on the way to and from outdoor swimming sessions – is apparently the key to staying trim.

I hope this perfect morning exercise window will, finally, dent the dominance of the extremists, the “early risers” club of CEOs and other try-hards who rise in the actual night to move, meditate, manifest and generally pretend that they aren’t mortal. I realise my own alarm is still early, and if it weren’t for the day job I’d stay in bed and swim later, but almost-dawn looks positively normcore against the superhumans’ exercise regime.

A bunch of these C-suite executives, bio-hackers and “thought leaders” get up at 4am or thereabouts. The club includes Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan, Tim Cook of Apple and Michelle Obama of a Keynote Near You.

Reassuringly, the man I’d judge to be king of the health optimisers, the podcast host and Stanford University professor Andrew Huberman, wakes up at a reasonable time for a health influencer: Between 5.30am and 6.30am. And sometimes, if he doesn’t feel well-rested, he even stays in bed later to perform some yoga nidra – although “perform” is a strong word for this mellow form of yoga which can easily be confused with sleep.


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So far so good, but there’s even more welcome news for later risers: It turns out that getting up too early makes you immoral. I have paraphrased slightly but 2014 research summarised in the Harvard Business Review is published under the startling headline: Morning People Are Less Ethical at Night. It shows that these “larks” – the people naturally (or possibly unnaturally?) up with the dawn get more unethical in their decision-making as the day goes on. So, my question is: Why risk it?

Because of the benefits of exercising later, early risers may now feel obliged to delay their run. The parents among them could instead use the pre-dawn hours to help with the kids, who tend to wake up as early as any TikTok influencer with a “5-9” pre-work schedule.

Adhering to a rigid morning regime has always had sexism and privilege baked into it: It suggests you have someone else, whether that’s a spouse or paid help, doing the caring shift at home. (I’ll never stop marvelling at the fantastically selfish morning routines of the self-proclaimed successful men – and they are nearly always men – on LinkedIn.)

In the interests of maximising sleep, all I want for Christmas is a backyard ice bath (essentially an expensive inflatable barrel) so I can enjoy some cold water immersion only metres from my bedroom. Only after 7am, of course. So if my family is reading this, take note: It’s not just a bougie luxury, it’s essential for my health.

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