In recent years, health bloggers and nutritionists have heavily emphasized maintaining a stable early morning routine. But what works for some people doesn’t help everybody. Fortunately, psychologists and researchers have been studying morning activities for years, and their research doesn’t just involve lemon water or waking up at 4 am.
Small changes, such as the news you watch and the music you play, can transform your morning routine. Who knew that drinking coffee at the right time could alter your entire day? Here are simple habits and practices to incorporate into your morning routine, according to scientific research.
Your Morning Routine Begins The Night Before
Several people want to wake up earlier, but don’t think to adjust their bedtime in a way that gives them optimum rest. When you plan your new morning routine, think realistically on how much sleep you should get. Set a strict bedtime. For instance, if you want to wake up at 6 am, you’ll want to be in bed by 10 pm to get a full eight hours of sleep.
You may want to create a night routine before envisioning your morning routine. Do everything you need to do to feel relaxed by your designated bedtime.
Stay Off Your Phone
In a study performed by the University of Columbia, researchers found that students and professors who check their email or social notifications daily feel more stressed and anxious. Checking your phone in the morning starts your day off on the wrong foot.
Tristan Harris, former Design Ethicist of Google and technology researcher for the past six years, advises against reaching for a phone in the morning. “When we wake up in the morning and turn our phone over to see a list of notifications,” Harris explains, “it frames the experience of ‘waking up in the morning’ around a menu of ‘all the things I’ve missed since yesterday.'”
Try Not To Hit The Snooze Button
According to sleep specialist Michael Breus, Ph.D., those extra minutes of sleep actually make you feel drowsier. Pressing snooze screws up your REM sleep, which occurs just before you wake. REM is crucial for remaining focused during the day.
Breus also emphasizes that hitting snooze too often will mess with your sleep cycle, which causes people to feel foggy all day. Get an alarm clock without a snooze setting if you can. Or, when your alarm goes off, count to three and get up. The counting will distract you enough not to second-guess getting out of bed.
Stretching In The Morning Feels Good For A Reason
Stretching and yawning in the morning has its own clinical name: pandiculation. According to the Clinical Somatic Education blog, pandiculation differs from stretching in that it actively engages the muscles and sends new motor information to the brain. In other words, it wakes people up by engaging both the muscles and mind simultaneously.
Because pandiculation alerts your brain, it feels more pleasurable. You focus on controlling your muscles, which engages and lengthens them more. Stretching (or more accurately, pandiculating) for a while in the morning will help wake you up.
Do The Same Thing Every Morning
In 2017, researchers from the American Psychology Association studied morning habits. Since cortisol levels majorly impact habit formation, they hypothesized that habits would be easier to form in the morning (when cortisol is high) than at night (when cortisol decreases). They found that their participants developed healthier, more stable habits in the morning than at night.
If you want to entrench a new habit, try incorporating it into your morning routine. After a month or two (according to the study), you’ll comfortably carry our your morning routine.
Wake Up At The Same Time Every Morning (Even On Weekends)
Several studies have stressed the importance of going to bed early. But in 2017, researchers from Harvard University found that feeling well-rested relies more on consistency than a specific bedtime hour. Of all the college student participants, those who went to bed and woke up at the same time every day received higher GPAs, and those with irregular sleep schedules developed symptoms similar to jetlag.
Even if irregular sleepers and regular sleepers hit the sheets at the same time, irregular sleepers suffered more. If you want to feel more rested, get up at the same time every morning for a month straight.
Hold Off On Coffee For A Few Hours
Our body produces cortisol, known as the “stress hormone” when we feel afraid or stressed. But this steroid hormone also wakes us up in the morning. Coffee interferes with the production of cortisol since the body learns to rely on caffeine instead.
2019 research in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism illustrated that the body releases cortisol between 6 am and 10 am, most commonly between 8 am and 9 am. If you hold off on drinking caffeine at that time, your body will produce more cortisol, which will naturally keep you awake.
If You Absorb The Daily News, Make It Positive News
Turning on the morning news has become a norm in many households, but Harvard researchers have discovered that the effects are “more significant and dramatic” than expected. In the study, 110 participants watched three minutes of either positive or negative news. Those who watched grim news not only felt worse but also developed a 27% higher likelihood of still feeling aggravated six to eight hours later.
The same rule applies to books, podcasts, radio, videos, and any other media that you like to absorb in the morning. Make sure your entertainment remains positive, and it’ll keep your day happy.
Let There Be Light
According to researchers from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, blue-enriched white light can help you wake up in the morning. The team found that university students who were exposed to an hour of light in the morning experienced lower melatonin, making them feel more awake.
Although blue-white light demonstrates better effectiveness than warm white light, any light exposure will force your body to wake up. Open your windows, turn on your lamps, or step outside for a while in the morning to feel less tired.
Take A Cold Shower–It’s More Pleasant Than It Sounds
Although cold showers don’t sound pleasant, scientists emphasize their health benefits. A 2016 trial in PLoS One analyzed over 3,000 participants in different shower temperature. Those who took cold showers experienced an energy boost similar to caffeine.
Cold showers also improved the participants’ mood, so much so that 91% of the volunteers expressed the will to continue. If you can’t see yourself jumping into cold water, step into hot water first, and then gradually lower the temperature.
Blast Psychologists’ Favorite Morning Playlist
A Ph.D. candidate from the University of Cambridge, David Greenberg, teamed up with Spotify to create the perfect morning playlist in 2016. Greenberg emphasized that music ultimately impacts your mood, to the point where Spotify has also teamed up with gynecologists to create childbirth playlists.
Greenberg claims that morning music must: ascend from mellow to active to wake people up; be positive; and offer a driving beat to increase energy levels. Some songs that made the cut include Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida,” Avicii’s “Wake Me Up,” and John Newman’s “Come and Get It.”
Do One Thing Mindfully, And Focus On It
In 2016, scientists at Florida State University found that doing household chores, such as washing the dishes, can decrease anxiety. The effect came from mindfulness. The researchers asked half of their participants to wash dishes mindfully–focusing on the soap, temperature, and scrubbing–and those who did so reported lower nervousness by 27% and increased inspiration by 25%.
To relax your morning routine, choose one thing to focus on mindfully. Perhaps it’s brushing your teeth, or drinking a cup of tea. Even a couple minutes of concentrating on one thing can only help you feel calmer.
Meditate, Even If You Aren’t Traditionally Meditating
Gaëlle Desbordes, a neuroscientist at MGH’s Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging, has studied the effects of meditation on the brain for the past couple of years. Through fMRI imagine, she observed that those who meditate consistently have more stable brain activity even when they’re not meditating. In other words, they feel more calm and balanced.
Although meditation doesn’t work for everyone, productivity coach Ellen Goodwin suggests that other activities can provide a similar meditative state. She suggests journaling or coloring to help slow down your thoughts and direct your focus.
Drink Water First Thing In The Morning
After a full night’s sleep, our body becomes dehydrated, which water can alleviate. But according to nutritionist Rania Batayneh, MPH, drinking water in the morning makes people feel more alert and starts their metabolism.
“Because water aids in both body regulation and brain function,” Batayneh says, “it is also closely related to balancing out our mood.” Since the brain is 73% water, staying hydrated increases brain activity and higher energy levels.
Limit The Choices You Make
Psychologists understand that making too many decisions can wear out a person’s mind and cause them to act impulsively. Decision fatigue can ruin our morning routine or start the day on the wrong note. To avoid this, limit the number of choices you have to make in the morning.
Lay out your outfit the night before. Pack your gym bag. Set out everything you need for your morning routine, such as gym clothes or your notebook, before you go to bed. The fewer decisions you need to make, the better off you’ll feel.
Morning Workouts Are The Best, Science Concludes
Anthony Hackey, professor of sports science and exercise at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, claims that exercising in the morning on an empty stomach is the best time for weight loss. “In the early morning hours, you have a hormonal profile that would predispose you to better metabolism of fat,” he says.
A 2019 study in the Journal of Physiology reports that exercising at 7 am shifts a person’s body clock, making it easier to wake up early the next day. But Hackey says not to force morning workouts if you don’t feel it, because your exercise will end up sluggish and unhelpful
You Don’t Have To Wake Up At 4 AM
Nowadays, internet celebrities advertise waking up as early as 4 am or 5 am. While some people can manage that, many others find that that schedule hinders their routine. If you set the alarm too early, you’ll feel more tempted to let it snooze.
The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults receive seven to nine hours of sleep per night. When planning your morning routine, be honest with yourself. If you can’t wake up earlier than 7 am, don’t. You won’t commit to the routine if you don’t get enough sleep.
Complete Your Most Important Tasks First
Researchers from the National Institute of Education and the University of Nottingham reviewed 83 studies on self-control. They concluded that self-control depletes throughout the day due to higher fatigue and lower blood sugar levels. If you’re aiming for a more productive morning routine, tackle your most urgent task first.
The same rule applies if you want to carve out more artistic, spiritual, meditative, or relaxing activities during your day. You’ll be less likely to embrace those to-do’s when you come from from a long day of work or school.
Eat A Protein-Filled Breakfast
In 2013, scientists at the University of Missouri tracked overweight females and divided them into three groups: eating 350 calories of carbs (such as cereal), eating 350 calories of protein (such as eggs), and eating no breakfast at all. While the results demonstrated that eating any breakfast leads to less hunger and more energy, protein-filled breakfasts provide more benefits.
Eating protein in the morning lowers “cravings-related” brain activity, which encourages people to eat better and be more active. However, this meal adds an extra 120 calories overall, so be mindful if you’re trying to lose weight.
Keep Your Blinds Slightly Open
Humans work off a circadian rhythm, otherwise known as the body’s natural clock. The National Sleep Foundation explains that the circadian rhythm makes us sleep when it’s dark and wake up when it’s light. If you have trouble waking up, use your body’s rhythm in your favor.
Keep the blinds slightly open so that light enters your room when you wake. The sunlight tells your brain to stop producing melatonin and ramps up adrenaline, which signals the body to wake up.