Fighting Words is a column in which writers rub you the wrong way with their unpopular but well-argued opinions on fitness, health, nutrition, what have you. Got something to get off your chest? Send your pitch to email@example.com.
If you're like us, you're just learning that National Sleep Awareness Week is an actual thing. It happens all this week, from April 23rd to the 27th, and was created by the National Sleep Foundation (another real thing!) to "improve health and well-being through sleep education and advocacy," according to their press release.
How are they advocating and educating the public about sleep? We're not sure. We asked them that exact question, and they replied by sending us a media kit with vague promises that the week-long sleep holiday "will inspire Americans to consider how sleep affects their daily lives." We're not sure how the National Sleep Foundation intends to do this, but I have a suggestion. What if, for one entire week, people who enjoy getting up early and then being loudly self-satisfied about that behavior—morning people, I believe they're called—agreed to shut the fuck up about their lifestyle choices for once and let the rest of us get some goddamn sleep?
We have nothing personal against morning people. They seem to enjoy being awake at 6 am, or whatever insane hour you've decided to spring out of bed like a cokehead jack-in-the-box. It clearly works for them, probably because they're the kind of people who go to bed at a reasonable hour, or right around the time the rest of us are thinking about dinner. But hey, that's cool, we're not judging. If that's your thing, let your freak flag fly. You be you.
The problems start when you make a unilateral decision that everybody would feel better if they just followed in your body clock footsteps. You wake up feeling refreshed and rejuvenated, so obviously this batshit crazy sleep schedule should work for all living organisms, right? You become convinced that you've stumbled onto the cure for human happiness and perfect health. You're like a vegan, but for REM sleep. You're right for you, but so very, very wrong for us. (Isn't that just a metaphor for life in general?) We're thrilled you get so much energy from dry falafel and Fakin' Bacon, but that crap is giving the rest of us diarrhea.
Here are five reasons why morning people should consider hitting the snooze button on their opinions about what's best for the rest of us—at least, for one week.
You're killing us. (Kind of.)
That sounds like hyperbole, but stay with me. Waking somebody up before they've had at least six hours of sleep increases their chances of having a heart attack by 48 percent, and a stroke by 15 percent. That's according to findings published by the European Heart Journal, in which the sleep patterns of 470,000 participants were followed between seven and 25 years. Seems like a good reason not to guilt the sleep-deprived among us for hitting snooze, right?
Because even if we manage to escape the heart disease, we still have to worry about viruses. Being out of bed at such a stupid hour puts a big target on our backs for any number of infectious diseases. A mouse study from the University of Cambridge found that some infections were substantially more successful when making contact with their new hosts in the morning versus the evening.
Akhilesh Reddy, one of the study's authors and a neuroscientist from Cambridge, says some viruses prefer mornings because "the substances it needs to replicate itself in cells, and therefore flourish, are more readily available at one time [of day] than another. Also, our immune system's ability to combat viruses varies through the day, so that also it is also less able to fight off viruses at one time versus another."
The Cambridge study only focused on mice, but "this may also be the case in humans," Reddy says. Or maybe not—the point is, we don't know yet, so stop running the risk of giving us the flu by waking us up so early.
You Might Be Responsible For Donald Trump
I would never call morning people stupid. I might point out a 2009 study by Satoshi Kanazawa, an evolutionary psychologist from the London School of Economics, who hypothesized that "more intelligent individuals are more likely to be nocturnal, getting up later in the morning and going to bed later in the evening, than less intelligent individuals." But that's him. I never said that. There's no need to resort to name-calling. Let's just say morning people are less . . . overtly cerebral?
But by denying us sleep, you're tricking us into joining your cult of non-critical thinking. "Sleep deprivation kills brain cells," says James Maas, a retired Cornell University psychology professor and author of Sleep for Success!. "That's going to destroy accuracy in terms of brain function. We used to think, well, you can catch up on the weekend. That's wrong." So if we ask for 15 minutes to snooze before work, we probably need it.
You also don't need us to draw a straight line between decreased cognitive functioning and thinking it's a swell idea to share "news" stories on Facebook about how the FBI spies on our memories. But the problem isn't just fried brain cells. A 2014 study found a connection between sleep deprivation and false memories.
Psychologists at the University of California, Irvine, showed a group of students photos of a crime being committed, and then gave them obviously false information about what was happening in those photos. The students who got less than five hours of sleep woke up believing the bogus narratives, or at least being pretty convinced that's what they saw in the photos aligned with the fictional explanations. The students who weren't rudely pulled out of bed at an ungodly hour, however, had more active BS detectors. Stop fake news! Sleep in!
You're Just Jealous Because You're Not Getting Laid As Much
Early risers are so proud of their morning wood. They think waking up with a perky, vivacious erection is proof that daytime is the right time for makin' love. Well guess what, morning people? That's not how the song goes. You're totally mangling Ray Charles' lyrics. Just because "day" is mentioned in the song doesn't mean he's endorsing daytime as an appropriate time for love-making. It's nighttime, okay? Night time. Jesus.
It's not just classic R&B that supports this argument. Science has proven that people who make preposterous claims like "The early bird gets the worm" and "I get so much accomplished in the morning" are probably so prolific and perky because they're clearly not exhausted from humping. You know who does pilates at 7 am? Somebody whose junk isn't still numb because of all the salami-hiding we were doing at 3 am.
Christoph Randler, a professor of biology at the University of Tubingen in Germany, investigated the differences between morning and night people when it comes to bumping uglies. To the surprise of nobody, people who stayed up late and defined "morning" as "when I damn well feel like it" had more sex partners and experiences than people who were like "Oh, I know this cute breakfast place that opens at dawn."
"We probably speculate that it might be an evolutionary fact, because in the human societies, the 'marketplace for love' is the evening," Randler says. Which has to be true, if only because "Marketplace for Love" sounds like a name for the best Marvin Gaye love song he didn't live long enough to record.
People who stay up late and don't set their alarms probably also have more testosterone. (Well, the ones with penises do anyway. Maybe some others too, I'm not judging.) "We assume that this hormone may make people more evening oriented and also more sexually active," Randler says. ("Evening Oriented" would also have been a great Marvin Gaye song, but not as awesome as "Marketplace for Love.")
You're Part of the Reason the Work—and School—Day Sucks
I'm not one to agree with Donald Trump, but here's one thing he absolutely gets right. The system is rigged. Maybe not for him, but definitely for people who believe the workday should begin at noon. And, for that matter, the school day—since some of the strongest research was done on haggard high school kids.
A 2013 University of Madrid study measured the intelligence of 1,000 teenagers based on their circadian rhythms, and found that night owls have better inductive reasoning—they're capable of making broad generalizations from very specific observations—but morning people generally get better grades.
"The system works against the evening people," Randler says. "It's an important issue when discussing diversity and discrimination." In his studies of 9th graders, he found that students always performed better on tests during the afternoon, when their brains had a moment to wake the fuck up.
"In the best world, evening people should just get up later and work later to better live in agreement with their own biological rhythm," he says. "This seems the best solution, but we are still far away from that [being] possible."
A Boston high school put this harebrained scheme to the test, bumping up their traditional start time by an hour, to 8:35 am. Student tardiness fell by 35 percent, and flunking grades dropped by half. It's almost as if one teeny extra hour of sleep made teenagers decide they didn't hate school and learning quite so much.
You're Super Old and Don't Even Realize It
Before you crack open that bedroom door and chirp at us, "Time to wake up, sleepy head," take a minute and look in the mirror. Is your face slightly more weathered and wrinkled than you anticipated? Do you look some somebody who gets the senior discount at a movie theater without asking? Oh crap, did you get super-old when you weren't paying attention?
Old people don't start waking up earlier just because they're adapting to cultural stereotypes. They do it because of disruptions in their circadian physiology. A 2011 study by researchers at the University of Zurich found that a gene called PER2 changes its "peak expression" as people grow older. "It can shift a body clock so people wake up earlier," says Steven Brown, the study's author.
Don't freak out just yet. Waking up early doesn't necessarily mean you're in the running for a community theater production of Neil Simon's The Sunshine Boys. (Having to Google that play further proves that you're probably just a young person with early-release old fart genes.) It happens, Brown says, although the culprit might also be the fact that you have too many damn lightbulbs in your house or apartment.
"Admittedly, this study was done in mice"—again with the mice—"so it is not yet clear whether the same principles operate in humans," he explains. "However, changes in lighting environment could change gene expression stably in the 'master clock' cells in young mouse brain."
The lesson here is pretty simple: Turn off the damn lights. We get it. You like mornings. But are you trying to be old now? You can stop the aging process. Just shhhh. Stop. Turn those lights out. Let yourself relax. We'll be the big spoon. We've gotcha. Stop with the "There's so much to do." No there isn't. It's okay. No more words. You can do it later. Just shhhh.
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