How you start your day sets the tone for everything else that is to come. This is true in a very literal sense for your body and your brain, and you'll find that you really do set a precedent by waking up and performing positive or negative health rituals. Get up late and rush to work and you'll be feeling behind schedule and stressed all day, eat a fatty meal and you'll spend all morning digesting it, go without breakfast and you'll feel hungry throughout the day, lie in and you'll be groggy... Meanwhile the way you treat your body in the morning – when it's at one of its most vulnerable times – will have profound implications on your health so it's important to get into good habits for that reason too.
Here we will look at how to practice positive health rituals that will see you start your days well and treat your body carefully when it needs it most. The following are all positive morning rituals – try and do as many of them as possible.
Sit Up and Take a Deep Breath Before Standing Up
This will help to get the oxygen flowing around your body and should be somewhat invigorating when your brain was previously groggy.
Get Up as Soon as the Alarm Goes Off
Getting up as soon as the alarm goes off is far preferable to having to press snooze countless times, or to just oversleeping and there are countless reasons for this. First of all – if you set your alarm at that time then you no doubt intended to get up at that time for a reason, secondly if you go back to sleep you will only make it harder to wake up and enter a vicious circle, whereas waking straight up will make you feel more alert and with it (dozing is a sure fire way to start the day feeling groggy).
Of course waking straight up is easier said than done, and many of us have had lofty ambitions to do so for some time with no positive results. So how do you go about managing it? Well first of all you need to change the way you think about sleep. You will likely be 'convincing' yourself going back to sleep doesn't matter or even that it's good for you. Remember then when you wake up to think of all the reasons you should wake up – and to think of that tiredness as a good thing like burn in the gym, a sign that you're working hard. Remember, going back to sleep will only further off-set your body clock, leave you with less time, and mean you're going to bed late and stressed tonight. You have to get up now to break the cycle. It's a little cognitive restructuring that's needed and this takes practice and determination. Having a sign by your bed that says 'rest time is over' can be a good way to stimulate you out of bed too.
Other things can help. For instance if you have a tea maid machine this will wake you up with a cup of tea or coffee which is a great way to start the day and you likely won't want to leave it standing there to get cold. Otherwise if there's something you like to watch on TV early in the morning this can work too – wake up with half an hour to go slowly and to enjoy a hot drink watching it. This reward is a nice way to convince yourself that getting up that bit earlier is worth it. Setting an alarm that's a good distance away can also help as it forces you to get up to go and turn it off, set a really loud room in a different room and you're onto a winner.
Alarms though aren't really great for waking up as they will so suddenly and abruptly startle you out of whatever stage of sleep you were in – no wonder you find yourself groggy and struggling to get up. There are of course a few solutions...
One is to wake with natural sunlight. You can do this one way by leaving your curtains open. This is a much more natural way to wake up as the light is what we are evolved to be woken by and it can get through the thinner portions of our skull cause our brain to stop producing melatonin (the sleep hormone). Likewise it is a gradual way to wake, and it means that our body clocks will be in-sync with the outside cues (external zeitgebers if you speak to a psychologist).
Sometimes waking naturally by daylight though is infeasible – often because it means you have to get up when it turns light, and because it means you can't pick a specific time to wake. 'Daylight lamps' are very good alternatives then which generate light that mimics the sun and that comes on gradually to wake you at the time you set. If you couple this with a CD of gentle noises to come on around that time then you'll wake up more naturally but with more control over the time.
Finally there is another problem with alarm clocks and other clocks and that's that they wake you with no consideration for what stage of sleep you are in. If you are in SWS – Slow Wave Sleep – the deepest form of sleep, then you will be very hard to stir during this time. That's where 'Circadian Clocks' come in which wake you at roughly the time you set them, but when you are in a lighter stage of sleep and can be more easily woken. It means you will wake more naturally and gradually again and feel more awake as a result.
Note: If you don't have a daylight lamp or your curtains open then it's still a good idea to get outside in the stimulating sun – so go and stand outside for a bit and feel the heat warm you and you'll be reinvigorated. We humans are slightly solar-powered...
For the first ten minutes of waking up you should be careful not to exert yourself. Make breakfast and check e-mail and do whatever else it is that you do, but do not do any exercise, or lift anything off of the ground. The reason for this is that our spine is very vulnerable at this time and will have loosened throughout the night as a result of not having any gravity to compress it as usual (we're actually a tad taller first thing in the morning). Don't push yourself first thing then or you'll find yourself with a trapped nerve or slipped disk. Give yourself ten minutes of upright time before you get heavy.
Throughout the night your body has gone around eight hours without water, and has been working tirelessly to repair your body. You need to drink a lot first thing then, and in fact you need to drink more than you might think – so drink at least a pint or preferably more and you should start to feel better as a result. Put some lemon juice in their too and you'll find yourself more energetic.
You now need to supply your body with the energy it's going to need throughout the day and that means getting some complex carbs in you which are slower for the body to break down. This will give you more energy throughout the morning and it will prevent you from needing snacks throughout the rest of the day. Some Wheatabix with bananas or another fruit sliced on them is a good option that is also high in fiber.
Now, think about how you are going to be positive today and what you are going to achieve. Having a plan will mean you're more likely to fulfill it, and likewise what you think now will set the tone for the rest of the day. Enjoy the sunshine and if you have the time, write yourself a to-do list that you will complete throughout the day.
Brush Your Teeth
Brushing your teeth first thing in the morning is very important. This is because we produce less saliva throughout the night which allows the damaging bacteria to congregate in our mouths. This is also what causes morning breath – halitosis is just the smell of bacteria. Remember to scrape your tongue, use a mouth wash and rinse with morning. Then floss.
Once you've had a chance to recover with rehydration and food, it's time to get out there and run, or do some star jumps. This will help you to kickstart your body by getting the blood and oxygen flowing, and it will also help you to burn fat as there will be little available glucose in your system as a result of your not having eaten.
Finally it's important to wash in the mornings to feel really fresh and invigorated. Take a cool shower and you will find it even more refreshing and find that it gets your blood circulating more helping to brush away any brain cobwebs. It will also strengthen your immune system as it fights the coldness.
When you get ready make sure to dress well and take some time with your appearance (it's important to get up on time so that you can do this). The way we look of course drastically affects the way we feel, and if we put the time and effort into our appearance then we will feel more confident and productive throughout the day.