If you struggle to drag yourself out of bed in the morning and tackle the day ahead, rest assured that you’re not alone. But overcoming the morning blahs and starting out refreshed and rejuvenated is easier — and less time-consuming — than you may think.
All it takes is a few adjustments to your daily routine to feel focused, energized and optimistic all day long. Here is your five-step morning routine for a fabulous day:
Step 1: Wake Up to Light
In an ideal world, we wouldn’t need alarms to wake up, says Douglas Moul, MD, staff physician at the Sleep Disorders Center at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation. Instead, we would sleep in a set circadian pattern, going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day — even on weekends. The reality: Most of us aren’t getting enough sleep during the week and we try to make up for our sleep sins on the weekend.
What to do: Wake up to a happy tune. Then immerse yourself in sunlight. Studies show that exposure to bright light within five minutes of waking can help alert your system that it’s time to get up and get moving.
Time-saving tip: Set your alarm for when you absolutely must get out of bed (not 15 to 20 minutes earlier to accommodate snooze time) so you can enjoy more uninterrupted sleep.
Step 2: Meditate
Meditation is a silver bullet for health. Research shows daily meditation not only reduces stress, lowers blood pressure and promotes well-being, it also creates a surge in mood-stabilizing chemicals and feel-good hormones like serotonin. According to a University of Pennsylvania research study, just 30 minutes of daily meditation improves the ability to prioritize and manage tasks and goals, refocus attention, and stay alert to the environment. Sitting quietly in the moment for even five minutes can offer physical benefits too.
What to do: Take slow, deep, cleansing breaths, suggests Jane Pernotto Ehrman, MEd, CHES, of the Center for Lifestyle Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute. On the out breath, repeat a positive word or phrase. If your mind starts to wander, gently bring your attention back to your chosen “mantra.”
Time-saving tip: Take a “before your feet hit the floor” approach, starting your day with mindfulness as you wake. Just five minutes of deep breathing can lower blood pressure, ease muscle tension, release concerns, and boost the immune system.
Step 3: Do Yoga
It’s not uncommon to wake up feeling stiff from sleeping in just a couple of positions all night. Yoga is a combination of strengthening and stretching that uses breath, movement and meditation to get blood flowing and make you more alert. “Taking longer inhales helps the body wake up,” says Judi Bar, yoga program manager at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute, “and the repetitive motion energizes us.” Plus, studies show that practicing a moving meditation enhances performance on tasks that require attention, concentration, visual scanning abilities and repetitive motor skills.
What to do: Focus on the breath while performing a combination of back-bending, opening and strengthening poses. Called sun salutations, this series of movements helps warm the body’s inner furnace and energizes you for the day ahead.
Wake up like a cat: Take 30 seconds to stretch the spine from head to toe so energy can flow more freely throughout the body.
Step 4: Eat Breakfast
Starting your day on the right foot nutritionally makes you sharper and more productive by giving your brain a steady supply of its preferred fuel: glucose. “Your body has been on an all-night fast and requires fuel to give your brain, heart and muscles the nutrients they need to feel great,” says Amy Jamieson-Petonic, MEd, RD, of the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute. Many studies have shown that eating breakfast improves memory, concentration, problem-solving ability and mood.
What to do: Eat! Any morning meal is better than none, but experts say that a healthy breakfast that’s 50 percent carbohydrates and 25 percent of both protein and fat, containing at least five grams of fiber, will help maintain blood sugar levels and stave off hunger. Good examples include oatmeal topped with berries and heart-healthy nuts, whole-grain toast with an egg, or low-fat Greek yogurt with fresh fruit and sunflower seeds.
Time-saving tip: Go heavy on grab-and-go items like fruit, whole-grain toast and peanut butter. If you really can’t eat at home, pack a breakfast to go the night before and eat it when you get to the office, suggests Jamieson-Petonic. Or eat a spoonful from a jar of peanut butter you keep in a drawer at work.
Step 5: Get Moving!
Making movement part of your morning routine has countless benefits. Exercising in the morning helps ensure that nothing gets in the way of your workout, so you’ll be more likely to stick with it. Plus, exercise improves circulation, boosts energy and releases feel-good hormones that help enhance mood, reduce stress and
What to do: If you can fit in 15 to 30 minutes of your favorite exercise (walking, running, swimming, or an expert DVD) in the morning, do it! But if your schedule just doesn’t allow it, don’t give up on morning movement altogether. Take every opportunity to exercise around your other obligations. Walk your dog. Run or walk to the market if you live close enough. Park at the far end of the lot. Take the stairs. You can even perform a short series of yoga stretches at your desk. There really are lots of opportunities to move if you think about it.
Time-saving tip: Stretch while you wait for your coffee to brew; do lunges while you’re brushing your teeth, and take a 10-minute walk with your dog, spouse or kids to start off your day.