You wake up to the sudden sound of your alarm. You feel groggy, sleepy and lazy as you make sure there hasn’t been any horrible mistake and confirm that it is actually, in fact, morning. After making sure, you hit ‘snooze’ and hope that the extra 10-15 minutes will actually be just enough sleep for you to be able to feel ready enough to wake up. In what seems like mere seconds, you are alarmingly brought to the realization you must get up now or you never will. That thought alone is what makes you rise out of the comfort and warmth of your bed.
You go straight to the kitchen to turn your coffee maker on. “Coffee will help. It always does”, you think. You complete all of your morning tasks like getting dressed, preparing your breakfast, washing your face, applying makeup, doing your hair, and brushing your teeth with such minimum commitment and in such a way that would make zombies proud.
While this can be the case for so many people in the world, have we ever wondered what we are doing to be so unprepared for the mornings? Even for those who are actually sleeping the recommended eight hours, they can still wake up feeling tired and sluggish.
There will always be things in life that we can not avoid – late nights, work assignments, Skype calls from different time-zones, etc. But since these tend to be only once in a while, there must be ways to improve our mornings by reflecting on habits we have the day before that are adversely affecting them. These can be related to anything from the food we consume, the times in which we eat, stubborn habits, electronics, workout schedules, and of course much more.
The goal is to always look at situations like this with long-term solutions, by identifying and addressing the root causes, rather than simply focusing on short-term solutions, such as drinking even more coffee throughout the day.
Replacing lifelong habits can be tough and will of course take some time. However, when you begin to see the improvements in the sense of feeling refreshed, energized and genuinely prepared in the mornings, you will then already have your motivation to keep your changes up, especially after seeing how productive mornings can, and actually should, be.
So what are some of the habits in terms of food and lifestyle that could affect how we feel the next day, and how can we begin to replace them?
1. What You Eat: What we eat is extremely important. This may seem like common sense, but when you actually take into account all of the food you eat throughout the day, you can be surprised at how much processed food you actually may be consuming.
For people who work in office environments, this can be a difficult one as you may have company lunches, co-workers may offer you delicious snacks, you may have had a particularly stressful day where you weren’t able to pack your own lunch and have to order out, or there may be a birthday almost every other day depending on how large your office is, and lunch may therefore consist of pizza and cake.
When consuming so much sugar and processed foods, our blood sugar levels are basically on a roller-coaster ride and fluctuate constantly, contributing to headaches, cravings, and feelings of fatigue. The better you eat throughout the day, the better you will feel not only in the present, but also the next day.
A tip you can try is to literally document a few days of your diet – writing every food or liquid you consume and seeing what your ratio is in terms of processed foods to whole foods. You may be surprised at the results, but this is key in combating morning-fatigue.
Based on the results, you can make sure to bring home-made lunches to work, with many snack options that are healthy as well as filling so you are not as easily tempted by office-treats!
2. When You Eat: The times that you eat are also extremely important. The activity peak for our livers is generally during the time of lunch, and yet most people have light lunches and eat heavy dinners. The goal should be to eat the heaviest, or protein-rich foods throughout the day, and during the late evenings or dinner hours, focusing on lighter meals like salads, soups, steamed vegetables, and so on.
The later you eat, the more work you are putting on your digestive system throughout the night – essentially keeping it working on overtime! This is a big factor in terms of waking up tired and sluggish.
The earlier you eat, the more refreshed you will feel when you wake up and your body will be thanking you. This can also reduce or eliminate bloating, gas, acid reflux, indigestion, and many other digestive difficulties.
3. What You Drink: Just as what we eat is important, so is what we drink. You may drink a juice, soda, or a caffeinated beverage without thinking much of it, but both can be packed with processed ingredients, most notably sugar. It is important to make sure that the liquid you consume most often is pure water, and that other beverages consist mostly of herbal teas.
Caffeinated beverages should also be avoided, especially in the later hours, as they will keep you awake and not rested enough to enjoy a deep sleep. A better alternative – especially during the evenings, is to opt for relaxing herbal teas, one example being chamomile tea, but you can enjoy your tea with any other calming herb, or herb mix that you prefer.
4. Using Gadgets: One of the most obvious lifestyle habits we should avoid doing is using laptops, smartphones, or any electronic device late into the night. They keep our brains stimulated and will interfere with our quest for a deep sleep as well as a rested feeling in the morning.
Keeping these devices away from your bed is also key in the sense you are less likely to be tempted to constantly check for updates. Even in the case that you use your smartphone as an alarm, set it and keep it away from your bed so you actually have to rise out of bed to turn it off, which makes you less likely to hit ‘snooze’ and try to fall back asleep.
Reading books before bed is one of the best ways to stay entertained, especially if you are not feeling particularly tired or sleepy, while not stimulating yourself enough to actually prevent yourself from falling asleep.
5. Feeling Stressed: We all have worries and fears, and they tend to creep on us when we are alone and/or when everything else is seemingly quiet. While we, of course, must learn to cope with, or face these problems in the long-term, stressing about them at 11pm is not only an unproductive short-sighted way of dealing with these issues, but will actually cause a more stressed out sleep, which means we will then wake up stressed.
You can instead try writing your worries down in a journal before sleeping as a way of reflection, and/or creating to-do lists. Both will provide you with a sense of ease and comfort that can actually promote a good night’s calm sleep.
Meditation and deep-breathing techniques are also other fantastic methods to calm worries down and ensure a sound sleep. There are many different ways to mediate and do breathing exercises, so just choose the ones that work best for you!
6. When You Work Out: While everyone has different schedules and will ideally choose to incorporate workouts to fit best with that, high-intensity exercise in the evenings can again stimulate us, making it more difficult to fall asleep at night. Instead, aim to have the more active workouts predominately in the mornings or afternoons, with calming exercises, such as long walks or yoga, in the evenings.
7. How Active You Are: Just as the times that you workout are important, so is the actual general everyday movement and exercise you do. The more you are stuck at a desk, or sitting in a subway or bus, the less likely you will feel tired enough to actually want or have the desire to fall asleep.
It is key to remain as active as possible throughout the day, and while it can be more difficult to do this during a working day, you could try walking some or all of the way to or from work, go for walks during a lunch break, or attend fitness classes. The more physically active we are, the more likely our bodies will feel they “deserve” rest.
8. Where You Spend Your Day: Your actual bed (not necessarily your entire bedroom) should be what your brain associates with sleep. However, many people work from their beds, eat in their beds, and log on to countless social media websites, again, while tucked into their beds. Training your brain to view being in your bed as the time you should be going to sleep is another key change we all need to make. Not only important for proper rest, this is also essential to maintaining good posture.
9. Nutrients: While there are many nutrients associated with lowering anxiety levels and keeping us calm, magnesium is known as the “anti-stress” mineral, and for good reason. Magnesium relaxes, can reduce or eliminate pain and tension, and aids in helping you have a good night’s sleep.
Deficiencies in this important mineral can arise as absorption can decrease when a diet is too high in fat, alcohol, caffeine and sugar. One of key deficiency symptoms of magnesium? Insomnia. It is used as a natural sleep-aid, and does not make you drowsy the way that most other sleeping aids tend to do.
It is also found in many sources—such as dark green vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, legumes… and even cacao! However, the cacao should be dark or raw chocolate as alternatives will usually be processed – stripped of the magnesium, or filled with milk and sugar, which decrease the mineral’s actual absorption. Magnesium is also one of the few nutrients that essentially hold no toxicity symptoms.
You can make it a goal to consume it from fresh sources as listed above on a daily basis, or on the days you are feeling particularly stressed or anxious, you can take it as a supplement that can be packaged as a pill or a powder, which you can take an or hour or two before bed. Just make sure there are no added sugar-based ingredients!
10. How You Spend Your Mornings: Although we have focused predominately on what to do the day before in order to feel energized in the mornings, there are still ways to feel more awake when you actually wake up, again without the use of coffee! As soon as you need to wake up, make sure to wash your face. This can be seen as your commitment to yourself that you are actually going to start your day.
Next, do some light stretches to ease your body into the day, especially if you plan on having a morning workout. Another way to feel more awake in the morning is skin brushing, which is one of the important beauty tips for having great skin.
The basic idea is to awaken your entire body by massaging it with a dry brush, which can take anywhere between seven to 15 minutes, and in the process remove dead skin cells, promote circulation and stimulate your lymph nodes, with the added bonus that your skin will be softer and healthier! You can also enjoy some more stimulating herbal teas in the morning, such as ginseng or ginger tea, while keeping the calming ones reserved for the evening.
So instead of simply trying to block feelings of exhaustion in the mornings with cup after cup of coffee, why not opt for long-term solutions, from eating healthier to making necessary lifestyle changes, that not only have a plethora of health benefits in of themselves, but will also be key in providing you with deeper sleep and energetic mornings?
Photo courtesy of Kayture