Mornings are not for everyone. Even scientists have given us consolation by discovering that there are genetic differences between larks and owls (granted, the study was done on fruit flies, but we’ll take it). Knowing that our own bodies may be wired to prefer a certain time of day is certainly a relief—less pressure to be that chirpy, already-ran-7-miles-by-dawn superstar—but the fact of the matter is, many of us still have to wake up and function during those first daylight hours. So what can we do?
To find out, we tapped a variety of experts—from sleep experts to nutritionists to life organizational pros—to share their tricks on how to hack the day from dawn until dusk to make mornings less stressful and more pleasant, so that even the most after-hours of night owls will look forward to sunrise. (Lose up to 13 pounds in under 2 weeks with this Liver Detox plan!)
Poor sleep quality can explain why we sometimes wake up from 8 hours of snoozing and feel like we only clocked in at 4. “It’s normal to awaken five to seven times a night as we move through sleep cycles; we generally just fall right back to sleep after each cycle and don’t remember those brief awakenings,” explains Shelby Harris, PsyD, director of the behavioral sleep medicine program at Montefiore Medical Center. “And as we get older, it’s normal to have one or two awakenings that we remember, but more than that leaves us feeling groggy in the morning because of the fragmented sleep.” What’s more, researchers from Johns Hopkins University found that sleep interruptions were worse for mood than sleeping less overall, so hitting 6 full hours of sleep can leave you more energized and peppy than 8 hours of interrupted slumber. (Drinking tart cherry juice can help you sleep more each night.)
The most common causes of poor sleep quality are sleep apnea, sleep talking, insomnia, drinking too much alcohol, and even hormonal changes. If you find yourself alert more than once or twice a night, talk with your doctor to figure out if you should enroll in an overnight sleep study to pin down the culprit, Harris says.
While slamming the snooze button can feel like winning the sleep lottery every morning, it actually does more harm than good. “When you are waking up, your body is in the process of sleep inertia, a mental and physical sluggishness that will go away after about 15 minutes,” explains James Wyatt, PhD, director of sleep disorders and sleep research at Rush University in Chicago. Nodding off again sends you into a light and fragmented sleep—it’s not even good sleep!—and then back into sleep inertia once the alarm rings again. Multiple snoozes can leave you feeling groggier than just sucking it up and getting out of bed the first time.
What’s more: Hitting snooze steals away your willpower, and we only have a limited supply of it each day, says Laura Vanderkam, author of I Know How She Does It and What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast. “Successful people don’t use it up on something as small stakes as whether to get out of bed.”
Instead, be honest about the time you intend to get up—even if it’s a little later than you’d prefer—and then enjoy every last minute of shut-eye until then so you can wake up alert and ready to go.
The trap that many people fall into is choosing a morning activity that they feel like they “should” do, like running, instead of one that truly speaks to them. Not only is this the fast track to ditching goals, it also makes mornings—which are already difficult—more miserable.
“Humans don’t do well with suffering long-term,” says Vanderkam, “so if you’re going to exercise, find a kind of exercise you like enough that you’re willing to set the alarm a little earlier. If you intend to work, make it the part of work you’re excited about. It’s easier to stick with habits we enjoy for their own sake, not because we know we should do them.” (Try working in this 10 minute total-body routine and feel great all day.)
What do green juice, a bagel and cream cheese, and a latte en route to the office have in common? They are not breakfast. While these items have found their way into our AM routines, two of them are beverages, the other is a calorie-bomb, and none will give you lasting energy.
“Ideally, breakfast includes a source of lean protein; high-fiber carbohydrates like whole grains, fruits, or vegetables; and some healthy fat,” explains Caroline Kaufman, a New York City–based nutritionist. Achieving this trifecta is easier than it sounds, and you can check off all the nutrients in just a few steps. Kaufman likes oatmeal with frozen berries and a dollop of nut butter or premade mini egg frittatas (bake them in muffin cups for a grab-and-go breakfast) made with chopped veggies, skim milk, and shredded cheese. Still feel like leaving the house with something to sip on? Ditch the vegetable juice and make a hearty, healthy smoothie with energy-sustaining protein like almond butter or chia seeds.
It can be tempting to plow through the easy things early on—checking e-mail, scanning the headlines—but it’s wise to tackle the bigger stuff first. “Getting to work on the most important tasks not only ups the chances that they actually get done, but it also leaves you with a burst of accomplishment to take with you the rest of the day,” explains Jason Selk, coauthor of Organize Tomorrow Today: 8 Ways to Retrain Your Mind to Optimize Performance at Work and in Life.
Though it may not seem like it, most of us have more brainpower earlier in the day, so even if an assignment is more difficult, it can usually be checked off with more ease and you can stress less knowing you got the biggies done. Selk suggests choosing three important goals that you want to take up each morning and creating a deadline to complete them by.
First you’re innocently scrolling through Instagram. Next thing you know, it’s been 45 minutes and you’re looking at vacation photos from your coworker’s sister’s best friend’s trip to Mexico. We’re all guilty of falling down the social media rabbit hole, but when you’re pressed for time in the morning or just want to be productive early on, it can be a serious time suck.
Hanging out on social media does come with benefits—it can motivate you to exercise and allows us to catch up with long-distance friends and family—so the key is moderation and timing. Schedule a social media block later in the afternoon to check in when you’re likely to need a break anyway, and save the morning for the important stuff.
The day is not even halfway over and you want us to think about tomorrow? Truth is, the closer you get to the end of the day, the less likely and motivated you are to think about what really needs to get done tomorrow.
Making a plan earlier—Selk thinks around lunch is the sweet spot—helps you start the next day with clarity and eliminates those feelings of disorganization and scrambling that often pop up in the morning. “You’ll be amazed at how much clearer your decision-making becomes and how much more efficiently you’ll use your time,” he says. And when your mornings don’t look harried anymore, there’s nothing to dread. What snooze button?
By Maggie Puniewksa