Off to a Clean Start: The Importance of Morning Routine

How do you start your average day? Do you sleep in until the last possible moment, throw on whatever clothes you find on the floor nearest your bed, down a cup of coffee and leave the house feeling rushed, groggy and stressed? Or are you maybe one of those early birds starting the day off with a run around the lake followed by a good stretch, healthy breakfast and hot shower? Personally I strive to be the latter, but realistically fall somewhere in between those two extremes.

There has been a ton of research on this subject (my favorite stems from this project by the IKEA data team on the home lives and happiness of people based on their habits), overwhelmingly indicating that your mood, focus, productivity and decisions throughout the day are influenced by your morning routine. What have researchers found?

1. Avoid the snooze button. Your brain and body get confused and groggy when you dip in and out of sleep in the morning (a process with the fantastic old-timey name of "drockling"). You may feel like you're sneaking in some extra time, but your system is getting jerked around and you'll end up taking longer to adjust to being awake than if you'd hopped out of bed with your first alarm. This is known as "sleep inertia" and can cause you up to 2-4 more hours of brain fog. Help yourself out by ditching the snooze.

2. Get your exercise first thing! The earlier you get your blood pumping, the earlier your focus will sharpen and your brain will get the message that the day has officially begun. When your heart rate is raised, oxygen is pushed through your body at a much higher rate than when at rest. This boost in oxygen causes an improvement in mental function and mood in addition to getting those muscles warmed up for the day ahead!

3. Give yourself plenty of time before heading out the door. I'd be willing to be that, like me, you hate the frazzled feeling of rushing around in the morning, desperately trying to pull everything together and make it to school or work on time. Allowing for a more leisurely pace is a great way to start your day feeling clear-headed and ready for anything. Feel best when you've taken a shower before work? Make sure you leave plenty of time to make that a part of your morning ritual! Like a sit-down breakfast with the paper and a cup of coffee? Make time for it! Find one or two things that slow you down and make the time to do so. When I am able to do my hair and makeup methodically before work, my confidence skyrockets. I've seen the difference in my partner's mood when taking ten or so minutes to meditate rather than jumping straight into productivity. Don't neglect the slow necessities.

4. Protein and fat at breakfast are key. Here in the USA, we are programmed from toddlerhood to fill our bellies with sugar and starchy simple carbohydrates when we wake up. Cereal, doughnuts, waffles, french toast....think about it! How often in your childhood did you sit down to a breakfast of dark leafy vegetables and good, healthy fats and proteins? (If you're in that minority of Americans who have been rocking the complete, non-sugary since you were small, right on! You are so fortunate to have been trained early with this vital health necessity.) Simple carbs make us crash early and crave more simple carbs. It's way too easy to get trapped in a sugar loop if that's the way you break your fast! Try instead choosing low-sugar, high-protein alternatives. Make sure your yogurt is full-fat, but plain. Greek yogurts are fantastic for creamy texture, high protein and low sugar! Eggs are a classic for a reason. Just good clean fat and protein there. Sweet potatoes and salmon? Nice. You'll be less influenced by sugar cravings and false hunger if you start on the right foot, nutritionally speaking.

5. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! Are you drinking enough water throughout the day? Me neither. Do yourself a favor and start early. Like, immediately upon awaking early. A common rule of thumb is to try to consume 1/2-1 ounce of water per pound of body weight daily. For example, a 150-pound individual should aim for 75-150 ounces of water intake each day for optimal health. Our bodies need water like a car needs oil. Imagine the degree to which the human body is composed of water (50-75%, depending on your age). Now consider how much water we lose daily through urination, crying, sweating, drooling, even just breathing. Not to mention the amount of water necessary for our bodies to perform and all the tasks we don't think about, like basic organ function, cell regeneration and skin health (just to name a few). Hydration is absolutely key to keeping everything working the way it's supposed to. Try to intake at least 24 ounces of water before going about the rest of your day. It's also easier to get enough water throughout the day if you carry a water bottle everywhere with you.


My routine? I'm certainly not perfect, but lately have developed some healthier morning habits. Here's what's working for me lately:

  • 5am - Wake up, try my hardest NOT to hit snooze.
  • Throw on workout gear that I set next to my bed the night before (this gets me in the mental space to workout right away).
  • Take vitamins (Vitamin D suspended in olive oil, a B vitamin complex and calcium-magnesium drink), drink a glass of water.
  • Wash my face and brush my hair, out the door around 5:30am.
  • 6am - Hit the gym. I alternate yoga and spin classes at my neighborhood gym. They happen to have 6am classes I enjoy every weekday, so that works for me. Getting my blood pumping before my family is even awake gives me vital "me time," which as a mom is a precious commodity. I end up getting about 1.5 hours to myself before having to take care of anyone else. Luxurious! (Bonus, I drink at least another 20-40 ounces of water during my workout.)
  • 7:30am - I get home, take a shower, get dressed and get myself a protein-rich breakfast. Making sure Kiddo is fed and ready to go to school does make this last 45 minutes before heading to work kind of hectic, but I'm WAY more equipped to handle the whirlwind because I've been up for a couple hours already.
  • 8:15am - We are out the door with minimal griping and a positive start to our day! I'm ready for work and my 12 year old isn't feeding off my cranky morning mom stress like they used to. Now that I'm getting myself off to a great start in the mornings, Kiddo is a lot more cheerful and less whiny about going to school. Bonus side effect!

I find that when I start my mornings off this way, the whole household is in a better mood all day. I also tend to make healthier eating choices throughout the day and am more inclined to get to sleep at a reasonable hour (10pm as opposed to my previous 1-3am sleep time. Yikes.) Obviously, everyone has different resources and circumstances. It took a few weeks of trial and error to find a morning routine that works for me. What have you found that works for you? What would you like to try? Leave your thoughts down below!



P.S. For more reading on healthy morning routines, check out these sources:

Harvard Extention

Business Insider

Taylor Pearson

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