We know the feeling all too well; the jolting cruelty of an alarm clock, the dehydrated mouth that longs for coffee rather than water, and the existential dread of another day coming to sink its teeth into us. Yes, waking early up is no easy feat.
And while many Canadians are still working from home, ditching their morning routines for the extra 20 minutes in bed, experts say we can benefit from more structure to start our day off right.
Whether you’re a night owl hoping to transition to an early bird, or someone who simply wants to make the most of their mornings, we've put together some tips to help get you started.
Expose yourself to light
Our sleep-wake cycles are determined by our circadian rhythm—the physical and mental changes that follow a 24-hour cycle. Think of it as an internal body clock that responds primarily to light and dark.
“Having early morning, bright light really helps us to wake up and likewise, dim light helps us to feel sleepy,” University of Alberta psychology science professor and neuroscientist Clayton Dickson tells Yahoo Canada. “That’s why people tend to feel sleepier in the winter.”
Thankfully, with the change of seasons comes more daylight (and we’re here for it).
Dickson recommends getting yourself in the sunlight — whether that means opening your blinds or falling asleep with them open, or physically stepping outside. And if there isn’t any sunlight, turn on the lights in your home to promote a “circadian reset” in your body.
According to a 2017 study, people who are exposed to sunlight in the morning sleep better at night and feel less stressed and depressed than people who don’t get access to morning sunlight. Furthermore, researchers have found that morning sunshine exposure results in greater alertness throughout the day.
On the flip side, be mindful of your light exposure in the evening, says Dickson, like when you’re scrolling on your phone or watching a movie late at night.
“That intense blue light is really detrimental because it prolongs your sleep and can potentially reset your circadian rhythm,” he says, adding that you should stop looking at screens at least half an hour before going to bed.
Be mindful of your sleeping pattern
Although it’s been said that people need eight hours of sleep to properly function, Dickson says the amount of sleep required each night varies per person, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution.
“You, yourself, have to determine whether or not you need more [or less],” he explains.
Dickson recommends putting yourself through a rigid routine to see if you require more or less sleep each night: set an alarm for the time you need to be awake and try to go through the day without any stimulants.
“See how long it takes you to fall asleep,” he says. “Typically, it takes people about 10 minutes to go to sleep. If you’re falling asleep in less time than that, you’re probably sleep-deprived.”
Long-term effects of sleep deprivation can lead to a number of mental and physical health issues. A lack of sleep can put people at a risk for diabetes, lead to weight gain, weakened immunity and high blood pressure; oversleeping can pose similar problems or might be a sign of depression.
Unfortunately, the lingering effects of pandemic lockdowns, and the social changes which have coincided, continue to affect our sleeping habits.
In a 2021 survey by 23andMe, 25 per cent of participants said they were having trouble falling asleep, while 23 per cent of respondents were waking up at night more than usual.
Having a consistent nighttime routine can help reset your circadian rhythm, signalling to your brain it’s time to sleep—whether that means reading a book before bed, listening to a podcast, tending to your skincare or journaling your day.
Start your day with water and protein
Many people reach for a cup of coffee before having water in the morning, which Vancouver-based nutritionist and wellness educator Nicole Porter advises against.
“Your brain needs constant hydration all day long,” Porter tells Yahoo Canada, adding that water will help to wake up your brain, creating neurotransmitters and hormones.
“The problem is that people think they need coffee for energy and the truth of the matter is that that’s what food is scientifically for,” she says.
Porter recommends choosing proteins like avocado and eggs to start your day, and relying less on carbohydrates or sugars, like cereal. Eating too much sugar in the morning can cause energy spikes and crashes, which is far less sustainable than the energy proteins can offer.
Also, if you do decide to have coffee, try to consume it before the afternoon since it can take up to 10 hours to completely clear from your bloodstream.
Starting your day with some light movement, like taking a walk and doing some stretches, can improve your mental clarity and increase your blood flow.
A 2005 study in the Korean Journal of Adult Nursing found that stretching in the morning lowered levels of depression and promoted feelings of motivation among stroke patients in rehabilitation. Your posture can also improve significantly from stretching, which is crucial for those who spend their day hunched over their computer screens.
Dickson says if you no longer have to wake up earlier to commute, you can use that time to take a walk or exercise.
“I know there’s a motivational issue to it, but having that routine and forcing yourself to get up before you start your workday is very beneficial,” he says.