“****! I need to get to work by eight. That means I need to be out of the house in a half hour. ****!”
While I was at my last job, this was my first thought upon waking on most work days. For all too many people, this is how they begin most of their mornings, day in and day out, for decades. This makes for a lot of unnecessary stress, not to mention wolfing down crappy breakfasts, half-assed showering, and driving like a maniac to get to work on time. In short, it’s no way to live.
In the last few months, I’ve been developing a morning routine that works for me: one that leaves me feeling happy, energetic, and confident. I wake up with time to spare, get ready without being in a huge hurry, then start working in a mental state that’s conducive to high productivity or lot’s of fun, depending on what I have scheduled for the day. Here are the rules I follow:
Wake up with time to spare.
I wake up with plenty of time before I need to start working. That’s easy for me because I’m self-employed and can set my own schedule. You can follow this rule by waking up earlier, starting work later, or some combination of the two. I can’t give you a clear rule about how early to wake up; it depends on how many things you need to do between getting out of bed and going to work. Just make it early enough that you don’t feel rushed.
Sleep at least 7 hours of sleep the night before.
According to research, 7-8 hours is the amount of sleep that most people need for optimal health, mental function, and subjective well-being. Anecdotally, exercise increases your need for sleep, so people who work out a lot- like me, and most readers of this site- sometimes need a little more sleep, on the order of 8-9 hours a night.
You probably don’t want to go over 9 hours a night though, as the same research indicates that getting too much sleep can be as bad as getting too little- though whether excessive sleep is a cause or merely an effect of illness is unclear. If you have trouble sleeping at night, you can use a small dose (less than 1 mg) of melatonin to help you sleep- read this article to learn about melatonin dosing and while most melatonin supplements are dosed 10x too high.
For many people, sleeping 7 hours a night is easier said than done. If sleep is a sticking point for you, I offer sleep coaching as part of my habit coaching program.
Be out of bed within a half hour.
Don’t waste a ton of time lying awake in bed. You want to be out of bed within a half hour of waking, and ideally within ten minutes. Many people, myself included, find this difficult. If getting out of bed is hard for you, keep a caffeine pill and a glass of water next to your bed, and take the caffeine pill as soon as you’re awake. I find a 50mg caffeine pill and some water are all I need to be out of bed within 20 minutes.
Make your bed as soon as you get out of bed.
You’ll be glad of this when you get home in the evening and don’t have a chore to stress over before you can relax for the evening. Or if you work from home like me, you’ll enjoy the benefit immediately, and all day long.
Drink a glass of ice water once you’re out of bed.
A glass of ice water first thing in the morning is great for you, for a few reasons. First off, you need water first thing in the morning, since you’ve just spent seven-plus hours not drinking any, and it will help you feel more energetic. Second, thirst will cause you to overeat at breakfast, and the water will prevent this. Third, the cold will help you to burn fat. And fourth, the cold will boost your production of sex hormones, which is good for both libido and body composition.
Do 2-5 minutes of bodyweight exercise.
Getting a small amount of exercise will kick your mind and body into high gear, enabling you to skip past the usual hour-long process of gradually waking up that most people go through. Morning workouts are what scientists called zeitgeibers, or time-givers- things that help your body set its biological clock.
And while it doesn’t seem like much, a few minutes of exercise every morning adds up to the equivalent of a whole extra workout every week. This article gives a more thorough explanation, along with one of the exact workouts I use.
Eat a high-protein breakfast.
After making your bed and drinking your ice water, eat a small, simple breakfast with at least 30 grams of protein and some healthy fats. The protein will kickstart your metabolism for the day, while the fat will fuel your body and keep you feeling full for a long time.
Unless you did a resistance-training workout the evening before, you should keep this meal low in carbohydrates; saving your carbs for the evening, post-workout, will help you sleep better and build more muscle.
You can disregard this rule if you’re following an intermittent fasting diet (which I’ll discuss in later articles), otherwise, aim to eat this breakfast within 30 minutes of waking.
No more caffeine until after breakfast.
Drinking caffeine on an empty stomach can make you twitchy, agitated, and unfocused. It can produce a crash later in the day, and can also kill your appetite so that you eat too little at breakfast. Other than the optional first thing in the morning quarter of a caffeine pill, limit yourself to one caffeinated beverage, only after breakfast. If you’re following an intermittent fasting diet, you can disregard this rule, but still need to limit caffeine on an empty stomach to one cup of tea or coffee every 2-3 hours.
Caffeine tolerance will start to build up if you consume more than 100 mg a day. If you want to cut back on caffeine, here are ten alternatives to caffeine that you probably haven’t heard of.
Get anything done that would stress you out all day.
If there’s anything that you’re going to obsess over all day until it’s done, do it after breakfast. One of the worst work/stress habits you can have is to try to do one thing with another thing eating away at the back of your mind the whole time. Get the sources of your worries out of the way early.
Meditating in the morning is another good habit to build if chronic stress is a problem for you- studies have proven that meditation not only reduces stress, but also improves mood and focus, and even helps your relationships. The good news is, you can start to see results from meditating for just two minutes a day.
This difference between a great day and a wasted day often comes down to how you spend your first half hour- or even more often, to how well you slept the night before. Develop a killer morning routine, sleep well, and you can own every day.