Some people wake naturally with the sun, full of energy and ready to face the day…and then there are the rest of us. If you’re not one of the lucky few for whom mornings are actually pleasant, we’ve got some tips to make them more bearable. With just a few tweaks or additions to your morning routine, you can start your day happier and healthier.
Here are a few simple things you can do to make mornings better…
1. Drink a Glass of Water
Water is essential to our bodies, and starting the day with a glass of water helps get us going in many ways. First of all, it’s a jump on the 8-cups or so you’re supposed to drink each day. Second, it moistens your mouth and helps clear out the bacteria that has been gathering overnight. Third, it kick-starts your body’s systems, particularly your metabolism and circulation, helping you be more alert faster.
For a gentle yet invigorating start to the day, try drinking a cup of hot or warm water with lemon. The warmth will be less of a shock to the system, and the lemon will prime your digestive system for food, making it easier to get the nutrients out of your (healthy) breakfast. If you find the lemon too tart, cut it with a little honey.
2. Wake With Your Circadian Rhythm
You might not bounce out of bed in the morning, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, but there’s a time when you’re less deeply asleep. Most people’s circadian rhythm creates a dip in the sleep drive sometime between 3 a.m. and 7 a.m., according to researchers at Harvard University. Timing your wakeup to coincide with this dip will make it less difficult to get up.
You’ll also have an easier time waking during non-REM sleep. Through the night, you cycle between light sleep and REM (dream) sleep. On average, a single cycle takes about 90-minutes. To start, then, try setting your alarm for an increment of 90-minutes that falls between 3-a.m. and 7-a.m. For example, if you go to bed at 11:00-p.m., set the alarm for 6:30-a.m.
One of the best things you can do for yourself and your body is stretch when you wake up. In fact, according to the American College of Sports Medicine, stretching is so important that any amount of stretching is better than none. Even just five minutes of simple stretches can have a huge impact on how you feel—both physically and emotionally—throughout the day.
While stretches can be beneficial anytime, and should be a key part of any exercise routine, stretching first thing in the morning is especially beneficial for two reasons. First, it loosens muscles and joints that might be stiff from lack of movement during sleep. Second, it helps stimulate blood flow and kick-start the circulation, which has the added bonus of helping you feel more alert faster.
4. Dry Brush Your Skin
Dry brushing—or Garshana, as it’s known in Ayurvedic practice—helps exfoliate the skin and stimulate blood flow. It is best done first thing in the morning because skin has sloughed during the night and circulation tends to be at its slowest. It is also a soothing way to ease yourself into alertness.
Use a brush or loofah that’s stiff but not so rough that it’s uncomfortable. Brush your legs, front and back, in long strokes from toes to hips (always brush towards the heart). Use smaller, circular strokes on your stomach, stopping under your breasts or sternum (do not brush your chest). Brush your arms from fingertips to shoulders, and use small, circular motions on your back. Do not brush your face, chest, neck, or bottom. Dry brush right before you shower.
5. Alternate Hot and Cold Water in the Shower
Experts at the Chopra Center, an Ayurvedic and alternative health institute, recommend following up Garshana (dry brushing) with a shower in which you alternate between hot and cold water. After your usual shower routine, turn the water as hot as you can stand it for 30-seconds to 1-minute, then as cold as you can stand it for 30-seconds to 1-minute, then back to hot, then back to cold again.
The temperature changes not only wake you up but also bring blood to the surface, giving your newly exfoliated body a healthy glow. Two cycles of hot-then-cold are generally enough, but you can add a couple more if you wish.
Like stretching, meditating even just a little first thing in the morning can have tremendous benefits throughout the day. Meditation is known to increase clarity and concentration, and to relieve stress. Starting your day in a positive, peaceful mindset will help you weather daily stress and stay on task more readily.
Even if you don’t have a regular meditation practice, you can add a quick morning meditation to your routine. Simply find a quiet place, close your eyes, take slow, deep breaths, and repeat a calming phrase. If you can, clear your mind of all thoughts and distractions. If you can’t do that, focus on your breathing or on the phrase you’re repeating. Even a minute or two of this will help. Do it in the shower if you can’t find any other time or place.
7. Smile for 30 Seconds
Research reported in Scientific American indicates that just the act of smiling can make us happier. Study participants were asked to smile, frown, or hold a neutral facial expression for 30-seconds, then rate their pain while receiving a mild shock. Those who smiled reported less pain than either of the other two groups. Those who frowned reported more pain.
While you may not encounter physical shocks in your day, starting with a smile can help you handle any metaphorical shocks that come your way. Smile at yourself in the mirror for 30-seconds, either sometime during your morning routine or right before you head out the door. And if you start to feel stressed or sad during the day, head to the bathroom for a top-up smile session.