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-seven-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.
1. Nix night wakings
Poor sleep quality can explain why we sometimes wake up from eight hours of snoozing and feel like we only clocked in at four. “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, 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.”
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What’s more, researchers from Johns Hopkins University found that sleep interruptions were worse for mood than sleeping less overall, so hitting six full hours of sleep can leave you more energized and peppy than eight hours of interrupted slumber.
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.
2. Understand the science of snoozing
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, 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,” Vanderkam says.
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.
3. Do something enjoyable right after waking
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.
“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.”
4. Make breakfast really count
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 morning 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.
5. Don’t ease into your workday
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,” says Jason Selk, coauthor of “Organize Tomorrow Today: 8 Ways to Retrain Your Mind to Optimize Performance at Work and in Life.”
6. Save social media for later
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.
7. By lunch, make a to-do list for the next day
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?