The alarm goes off and you hit “Snooze,” maybe even twice.
While brushing your teeth, you begin to check your work email.
There never seems to be enough caffeine in your coffee, so you end up having at least three cups before noon.
The sweets in the office vending machine look better than the banana you grabbed before running out the door to catch the train.
Does any part of this morning routine sound familiar?
Many people get stuck in their morning routine, and while it’s not always terrible to hit the snooze button for an extra five minutes of rest, or answer a work email before you step foot in the office, it doesn’t necessarily provide you with the energy you’ll need to feel awake and alert the rest of the day.
Two experts – Dr. Maria Reyes of Rush University Medical Center and Dr. Wendy Yoder, a neuroscientist – share their tips on how to jump-start a healthy morning, mentally and physically.
Water before coffee. Reyes and Yoder recommend drinking between 250 to 500 mL of water first thing in the morning. Yoder says water, which makes up about 80 per cent of your brain tissue, will help you “fully wake up and maximise cognitive capacity.” She also suggests adding fresh lemon, which improves gut health and positively impacts brain health.
Reyes adds that water also helps flush toxins from the body and could potentially increase your metabolism.
“Drinking water (opposed to coffee) upon waking will replenish what you’ve lost overnight,” she said.
Once you’ve had water, watch your coffee intake.
“The caffeine can help increase alertness and give you that energy boost you might need in the morning.” Reyes said. “There have been studies linking moderate coffee consumption (two to five cups per day) with decreased diabetes and heart disease/stroke risk, even cancer, due to its antioxidant properties. However, too much coffee (greater than six cups per day) can cause insomnia, tremors and contribute to heartburn.”
Adding a lot of sugar and milk to your coffee also can negate its possible health benefits.
Leave the work email for the office. “Although taking care of emails prior to getting into work seems like it would give you a head start on your day, it may actually delay and distract you and increase your stress levels,” Reyes says.
Instead, she and Yoder recommend replacing the time spent checking your email with “mindful exercises” like meditation, which can help you focus and relieve stress, or even writing in a journal or playing with a pet. It’s all about priming your brain for the day without using that energy toward something cognitively or emotionally draining.
Move your body. Even if you can’t get the recommended 45-minute workout into your morning routine, there are quick and simple alternatives.
“Do not lay in bed,” Yoder says. “Even if you lack the energy for exercise early in the morning, at least get out of bed and walk to another room. Movement wakes up the brain.”
Reyes suggests a seven-minute combination of “stretches, plank exercises and some jump-roping.”
Eat a breakfast full of healthy fats and protein. “Consider a breakfast bowl containing some brown rice or quinoa, spinach and an egg,” Reyes says. “An egg white omelet with some low-fat cheese can also provide you with some healthy nutrients to keep you energized.”
Yoder agrees, “Although we are constantly reminded that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, the crucial factor is to emphasize quality.”
She suggests adding full-fat cream or coconut oil to coffee, which she says enhances attention far better than a bowl of cereal. “Eating carbohydrate-heavy meals first thing in the morning will cause glucose levels to spike, resulting in sluggishness and mental fatigue a few hours later.”
Reyes also exercises caution toward juicing, which is often cited as a more time-efficient, healthier breakfast option.
“Don’t be fooled,” she said. “Sometimes you can inadvertently consume too much sugar if you mix a lot of fruit with your spinach/kale. It’s probably best to just eat a piece of fruit instead of juicing it.”
Turn on the light. Remember when you wanted to sleep in instead of getting ready for school when you were younger and your mom would come in, turn on the light or push back the drapes covering your window and completely ruin your day?
Well, your mum was doing you a favour all along.
“Our sleep cycles naturally attune to light,” Yoder said. “If natural light is possible, this will help promote alertness and stimulate the brain to wake up. Also, it will serve as a consistent daily cue.”