Getting a good night’s sleep is vital for health and happiness, improving our memory, mood and immune system. But did you know how you wake up is also important?
That’s because when you wake up your body goes through certain changes (as shown in the video below) to help you feel fresh for the upcoming day: your body temperature increases, your sleep becomes lighter and hormones, such as dopamine and cortisol, are released.
But if you do certain things (hit your snooze button or get dressed in the dark, for example) this cycle can be affected and as a result your energy, alertness and concentration in the morning can suffer. So what can you do to ensure you start the day well?
You snooze you lose
By pressing the snooze button, you disrupt your natural sleep pattern and, instead of preparing you to wake up, your body may start preparing itself to go back to sleep. This means that when your alarm goes off again, you may wake up feeling groggier and less refreshed. Research suggests this feeling can last for more than two hours after waking up.
Try moving your alarm clock further away so that you have to get out of bed to turn it off. Another good way to avoid the snooze button is to plan your sleep/wakeup time more effectively. People sleep in 90-minute cycles, so if you plan backwards, you can set your bedtime to coincide with this, ensuring that you wake up at the right time, feeling refreshed and not tempted to stay in bed.
Worried that you won’t be able to kick your snooze habit? You can take advantage of your lack of self-control by downloading this rather nifty app that donates £1 to your favourite charity each time you hit snooze. You may not feel more awake, but at least you’ll be doing some good while you lie in bed.
Here comes the sun
Repeat after me: do not get ready in the dark. Your body’s internal clock, known as your circadian rhythm, is linked to light and darkness. This has evolutionary roots; we hunted in the day and rested or hid from predators we could not see in the dark at night. This routine helped set our body clocks. We learned to wake up when it was light because this was when we could best maximise our environment and surroundings. If your exposure to light is altered, your body clock can shift, leaving you out of sync. This is known as a light phase response curve.
As well as regulating your body clock, sunlight also affects levels of the hormone serotonin, which is associated with wellbeing. The more light you enjoy, the better you will feel, so open your curtains and let in the sun.
Unfortunately, and especially in the winter months, this may not always make your room any lighter. Some people have taken to using an alarm clock that mimics dawn rising, by getting gradually lighter and lighter. This may not be to everyone taste, in which case, try to turn on your light soon after waking. You may not get all the benefits of getting natural light, but it is still better than getting ready in the dark.
Ask yourself good questions
In 2005, former Apple founder and chief executive, Steve Jobs, addressed the new graduates of Stanford University. His speech is one of the most viewed of the 21st century, and during it, he gave an insight into his daily waking up routine. He said: “For the past 33 years I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself, ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been ‘no’ for too many days in a row, I know something needs to change.”
This approach may not be appropriate for everyone, but it shows the impact that asking yourself questions can have. As well as helping you manage any nerves or self-doubt, asking yourself questions can also be motivating. One possible reason why this strategy is effective is because by asking yourself questions, your brain will automatically start searching for answers, acting as a call to action. So take heed of your inner narrative and start using it to your advantage.
Rise and dine
The gap between your evening meal and your first meal the next day is the longest your body goes without eating or drinking, yet many people regularly skip breakfast. Research suggests that students may learn this habit from their parents. Skipping breakfast often leads to people seeking high-calorie food later in the day.
The 10 minutes it takes to eat breakfast will benefit you more than that extra 10 minutes in bed. If running late, the temptation may be to use snacks or energy drinks as a replacement for traditional breakfasts. However, eating cereal has been shown to help people improve their concentration and memory over the course of a morning. This effect was not felt for energy drinks. This is because cereals that are rich in complex carbohydrates provide energy over the course of a whole morning, as opposed to high energy drinks which may offer a short burst but are followed by a large slump.
Exercise has many known benefits, both physically and psychologically. Doing just a little exercise regularly can lower the risk of many major diseases (including coronary heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes), as well as improving your mood and self-esteem, and your ability to deal with stressful situations.
Exercising in the morning is good, as it is easy to put off being physically active by the time you get to the end of the day. An early morning workout can get your heart rate up and your blood flowing. You don’t need to do a full gym session. The NHS recommends walking at an intensity where you are still able to talk, but not sing the words to your favourite song.
In the long run, exercising helps fight feelings of fatigue, which will energise you during the day.
This article was first published on The Guardian website on 26.01.16. You can read it, alongside all of our other Guardian blogs here: https://www.theguardian.com/profile/bradley-busch
For all our other articles on sleep, check our our Hidden Benefits of Sleep guide.