The way you wake up in the morning can impact your entire day. Some mornings you spring out of bed ready for the day, others you need to be dragged kicking and screaming from the bed. Some mornings you wake feeling refreshed, your brain firing on all cylinders, other mornings you wake feeling like you have barely slept, your brain slow and cloudy. Why? What is it that makes you feel so good and so bad in the mornings? And the related question is, how can you make sure you wake feeling good each morning?
Fortunately, says Michael Grandner, a psychiatry instructor at the University of Pennsylvania that specialises sleep, its health impacts and the varying factors that influence how we do it, sleep is “highly trainable, for good or for bad”. In other words, you can learn both good and bad habits. If you are not waking refreshed in the mornings, chances are you have bad sleep habits. But the good news is that you can unlearn these and you can train yourself up to for good sleep habits. So what are the bad habits and how can you overcome them? Read on to find out how to wake feeling bright eyed and bushy tailed every morning!
Mistake #1: Not enough light early in the morning
The old saying ‘rise and shine’ actually contains a vital sleep lesson. You really need the ‘shine’ when you ‘rise’. Why? A quick primer on your sleep wake cycle is needed. Your body clock, the internal mechanism that makes you sleepy at night and wakes you in the morning, is regulated by light. The more bright light you get in a day the more melatonin your body produces and melatonin makes you tired. Natalie Dautovich, the National Sleep Foundation's environmental scholar, explains that as soon as you get up you get as much light as possible. Open the curtains, have breakfast outside, turn on all the lights. Whatever you do, do it in as much light as you can as quickly as you can. It will wake you up because your body will stop producing the melatonin. She even recommends “Exercising outside [as it] could also be an exhilarating way to cue your brain that it's time to start the day.” Grandner explains that if you wake to a grey day then flick on all the lights in your room, he even suggests people have extra strong lights, like those used to treat seasonal affective disorder, in their rooms for overcast days. He also says that the earlier you get up the less light you will need, “You get more bang for your buck with the light the earlier it is.”
Mistake #2: You get stuck in the ‘sleep inertia’ trap
While you may call it the ‘snooze button’ Grandner refers to it as the ‘sleep inertia’ trap because whenever you hit it you are going to fall into its lure and it is not good. “When you first wake up, you have that sensation of wanting to fall back asleep and feeling very sluggish and cloudy and that's sleep inertia -- it's a normal process that helps protect your sleep” during the night, he explains. “The problem is, in the morning, it can be very, very difficult to overpower that and actually get out of bed when you want to.” As tempting as it is to hit the snooze you need to just get up and face the day, it will only make it worse for you. Dautovich explains that “Post-snooze sleep isn't high quality and leaves you feeling more tired -- not to mention, rushed,” she says. The worst thing you can do is intentionally set the alarm earlier than it needs to be so that you can hit snooze several times in the morning. If you do need to use an alarm then make sure that you get up when it goes off. Even better for you though, is to not use one at all. If you can train the body to wake up at the required time then you will feel so much better for it, though a big part of that is going to bed at the right time at night. Learn how much sleep you require and make sure you are in bed at the right time at night to get it. Whatever you do, lose the snooze!
Mistake #3: You need coffee to function in the morning
If you are someone who believes they simply cannot function without a cup of caffeine in the morning then you are probably overestimating the power of coffee and underestimating your own body’s ability to wake up. Grandner explains that “A lot of times people are drinking caffeine to wake up in the morning, but that's going to happen naturally,” as the influence of movement and light wake you over time. In fact, it turns out that those people who are having their coffee first thing in the morning are not getting the full effects of the stimulating drug. Grandner explains that coffee works by blocking the impact of a chemical called adenosine, that makes you feel sleepy during the day. Because there is not much adenosine in your body in the morning having a coffee first thing doesn’t actually do much to stimulate you, it is best to save the cup of coffee until later on when the adenosine has built up. That is when it will give you the most benefit. As Grandner says, rather than actually physically needing the coffee, people “start training themselves that they need the caffeine to wake up which isn't actually biologically true,” but really "It's really just a matter of sleep inertia fading away."
Mistake #4: You miss breakfast
So if having a coffee doesn’t really do anything for you first thing in the morning, is there anything that can help? Yes, breakfast. Dautovich explains that “After getting a good night's rest, you'll need to fuel your body properly to ensure productivity throughout the day.” She recommends that you have a breakfast that has plenty of protein and fibre, making something like peanut butter on toast or an egg the perfect breakka. However, she says that you should be wary of any breakfasts that are high in fat, magnesium and potassium as these can all make you feel more tired. As many sleep experts have noted, the best meal plan for sleep is to have breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper. This is the time when you need to be loading the body up with energy rich foods so that it can power through the day, so make sure you eat well in the morning.
Mistake #5: You don't let yourself relax at night
Before you go to bed at night, you need to make sure that you have unwound from your day. Going to bed without relaxing beforehand is not good for your sleep. Watching TV, cleaning, working, exercising or talking right up until you turn the lights out means that it is “your mind's first chance to wind down without any distractions,” Grandner explains. In turn, this can cause your brain to not calibrate the amount of sleep you are getting, meaning that you are more likely to wake up feeling cloudy in the morning. "You have to give yourself enough time in order to use your sleep to your maximum benefit," he says. He goes on to say that the bed should be for sleep and sleep alone as if you do things like work in bed you will train the brain to be awake in bed, which is a bad thing. The sleep experts recommend that you unwind before you go to sleep. The classic is reading in bed, but if you do not like reading you could listen to some relaxing music or even have a bath. Just give your brain a bit of time to unwind before you turn the lights out.
Mistake #6: You don't sleep long or well enough
This may seem like the most obvious mistake in the world but with recent surveys showing up to 40 per cent of the adult population not sleep enough, it is one that many of us are making. "People starve themselves of sleep all the time," Grandner says. Getting a good amount of quality sleep every night is vital if you want to wake up feeling refreshed and ready to go in the morning. One of the keys to this is making sure that you have a sleep schedule that you stick to at all times. As Dautovich explains, “That way, your body's internal clock will get accustomed to a regular bedtime, which will help you fall asleep better at night and wake up more easily each morning.” While there are no hard and fast rules about how much sleep you need each night, for most adults it is between six and a half and seven and a half hours each night. The key is to work out what is right for you and to aim to get it every night and to get it over the same hours, even in the weekend.
If you are making any or all of these mistakes then it is time to set them right. Your sleep health is essential to the overall enjoyment of your life. The better you sleep the better you will feel in the morning, the better you feel in the morning the better your day will be. It really is that simple. If after correcting all of these issues you are still struggling with sleep then you need to seek out professional help. There are sleep experts that can diagnose and treat you, so sleep well and live better.
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