Ah, mornings. Another day, another chance to roll up your sleeves, dig in, and take life by the horns. There’s nothing like the promise of a brand new day to inspire you to breathe in deep the air of potential and exhale pure productivity. Mornings are times of opportunity, gusto, and joie de vivre.
Problem is, they tend to start before noon.
The truth is that for many of us, mornings rank somewhere between “root canal” and “mother-in-law spending the weekend” on the spectrum of life’s favorite moments. Often, the morning lag is caused by something called sleep inertia, the clinical term for the lack of alertness and reduced ability to perform routine functions after waking. Sleep inertia is caused by being awakened during REM sleep, when levels of the chemical that causes sleepiness (melatonin) are highest in the brain. And it can last anywhere from 15 minutes to 4 hours. Ack.
There are some tricks to jumpstart your brain in the morning, however. (Spoiler: Hitting the snooze button didn’t make the list.)
We get it. The morning blahs may not be the safest time for activities involving barbells and presses. But the effects of exercise on mood and energy levels are well-documented. If you’re not the morning gym type, look for small ways to stretch and increase your heart rate in the morning. As blood flow increases, so will endorphins and hormones that improve mood and energy. You may not even have to leave your bed.
Sleep 20 more minutes
In general, sticking to a sleep routine would help your brain transition out of sleep and wakefulness more easily. However, research is starting to show that even just 20 minutes of sleep more a night has compounding benefits for cognition and mental performance. That doesn’t mean hitting snooze. For most of us, that will mean getting to bed 20 minutes earlier. And that will require some of our usual morning routine will need to take place the night before. Set out the clothes. Set out the kids’ clothes. Set the coffee maker. You get the idea. Studies show that after about three weeks of adding 20 minutes to your normal sleep time, you’ll see marked improvement in your mental acuity, especially creative problem solving.
Take a different route to work
It may sound strange, but deviating from your normal patterns is an excellent way to stimulate your brain. Taking a different route to work forces your mind to come off autopilot and actively problem-solve. Obviously, be smart. We’re talking about relatively subtle changes that won’t require an extra fill-up or Uber. Look for other ways to change up the morning routine as well - different coffee order, start carpooling, bike to work - to engage the mind on your commute.
Duh. Coffee has been the salve for grogginess for time immemorial. You know it works, but you may not know why: In a way, coffee “tricks” little receptors in your brain into linking up with chemicals that keep you awake, which your brain thinks are the normal chemicals that tell you you’re tired. (Eventually, your brain catches on and creates more receptors, which is why most people build up a caffeine tolerance and in time need more of the stuff for same effect.)
Coffee has been shown to be especially helpful in increasing the speed at which people can execute fairly straightforward tasks (like those in your morning routine). This only enhances its benefits for the morning jumpstart...but you knew that.
Ultimately, your success comes down to a combination of the above or some other method to be your best “you” earlier in the day. That’s all anyone is asking, and before noon would be great.