We’ve all had those mornings when we just can’t shake a feeling of sluggishness, even when we’ve technically gotten enough sleep. In an effort to perk up on tired days, many of us load up on cup after cup of coffee.
But over-caffeinating can leave us jittery and anxious (not to mention perpetually running to the bathroom).
Perhaps there’s a better way to banish morning fatigue and get on with your day with the energy you need.
1. Don’t hit snooze — at all
That beloved button on top of your alarm clock may not be so helpful after all.
Spending the last half hour or so of nighttime rest in what researchers call “fragmented sleep” has consequences for your ability to function throughout the day.
Pro-tip: Try the 90-minute sleep cycle hack by setting two alarms — one for 90 minutes before you want to wake up and one for when you actually want to wake up.
The theory is that the 90 minutes of sleep you get between snoozes will be a full sleep cycle, allowing you to wake up after your REM state, instead of during.
2. Drink a glass of water first thing
Fatigue is a classic symptom of dehydration, and even a mild case can trigger feelings of sleepiness, changes in cognitive ability, and mood disruptions. Let a glass of water freshen up your entire body before you get moving.
Pro-tip: If you find you still can’t shake morning lethargy, try upping your intake of water and other noncaffeinated beverages throughout the day.
3. Stretch out your tired body with yoga
There’s a reason it feels so good to stretch when you wake up. Overnight, during REM sleep, your muscles are literally paralyzed (atonia), and reactivating them releases energy-stimulating endorphins.
4. Splash your face with water
Cold showers are reported to reduce sick-day absences from work. If you don’t want to take a full shower, a splash of cold water to the face, to signal a temperature change to your body, may also do the trick.
Is getting out of bed the main problem? Keep a spray bottle or water mist by your bedside table so you can lean over and mist yourself without even opening your eyes!
Pro-tip: One cult-favorite product is Saborino’s Morning Face Mask from Japan, which has essential oils to activate your senses. In one minute, this sheet mask cleanses, invigorates, and moisturizes your skin.
Note: People with sensitive skin may want to avoid this product.
5. Eat breakfast to spark your energy
The jury is still out on whether breakfast is the most important meal of the day. But research does say that skipping this first meal can negatively affect your energy and ability to pay attention throughout the day.
Food is fuel. Give your body some calories to put it into action at the start of the day.
But if you’re working out in the morning, remember to eat after, not before. This will (a) burn more calories, (b) boost your metabolism, and (c) help you avoid an unsettled stomach.
Pro tip: Build a fatigue-fighting breakfast instead. Since what you eat at breakfast can affect how you feel for hours, making the right choice is critical for your morning.
Reach for a combination of fatigue-fighting foods like lean proteins, whole grains, nuts, and lower-sugar fruits.
6. Avoid having sugar until lunch
All breakfasts are not created equal, so take stock of your morning food choices. Sugary items like sweetened coffee drinks, pastries, and breakfast cereals can lead to the classic blood sugar spike-and-drop that leaves you feeling drained.
Pro-tip: Pay attention to nutrition labels to see how much sugar you’re getting at breakfast — and cut back wherever possible. Keep whole foods like apples, carrots, and oranges on hand for easy access.
7. Drink less coffee
Participants in one study reported feeling more tired the day after they had consumed caffeinated drinks. Experimenting with a reduced amount of caffeine in the morning actually may make you less tired.
Pro-tip: Avoid the big mugs. Purchase a smaller cup, if you have to, to help reduce the amount you drink.
8. Go outside to activate your brain
Sunlight bumps up your body’s serotonin levels, leading to improved sleep — and, therefore, increased daytime energy. And, according to a series of studies at the University of Rochester, spending time in nature “makes people feel more alive.”
Sounds like a very good reason to carve out a portion of your morning in the great outdoors.
Pro-tip: If going outside is a chore in the early morning, adjust your curtain so that the sunlight seeps in when you’re getting ready to wake up.
9. Get some cardio in, throughout the morning
Sure, when you want to crawl back into bed, exercise may sound pretty unappealing — but it may be exactly what your body needs to get help booting up. Research consistently correlates aerobic exercise with reduced fatigue.
See if you can squeeze in a quick walk or bike ride, or try a longer workout for even more benefit.
Pro-tip: When pressed for time, get your body up with a few rounds of high-knees and jumping jacks. Even 30 seconds of torso twists could do the trick, or plan a short cardio commute on your way to work.
10. Address your stress
Is it possible that negative feelings about your job or stressors at home are draining you of morning oomph?
You may not be able to fix certain situations overnight, but once you’ve identified them as a source of mental and physical exhaustion, you can often take some action to alleviate them.
Pro-tip: Streamline harried mornings at home by making school lunches the night before, or make time for morning meditations and create calm before your day begins.
11. Give yourself something to look forward to
Sometimes all we need for an energy boost is a little excitement on the horizon.
To beat morning fatigue, consider scheduling a phone call with a friend during your commute, penciling in an outdoor walk on your midmorning break, or pre-making an appealing breakfast that calls you out of bed.
Pro-tip: Let another schedule determine yours. Make an earlier morning podcast or radio show part of your wake-up routine.
12. Go deeper with mental health
If morning fatigue becomes a chronic problem, it could be caused by depression or anxiety. People with depression can feel worse in the morning or only feel depressed in the morning.
The only way to know, however, is to track your mood or see a professional.
Pro-tip: Dig a little deeper. Asking some key questions about your mental health state may reveal an underlying condition that needs professional attention.
13. Ultimately, practice good sleep (and waking) hygiene
If your bedtime habits can have so profound an effect on your rest, so too could your waking routine. You’ve probably heard of sleep hygiene — the handful of best practices that help you fall asleep at night. These include:
- turning off screens an hour before bed
- turning in at the same time each night
- creating a comfortable sleeping environment
Getting up at the same time each morning helps maintain circadian rhythm, the internal biological clock that’s responsible for feelings of sleepiness.
Make an effort to rise at the same time every day — even on weekends — to see if you can banish the midmorning slump.
Sarah Garone, NDTR, is a nutritionist, freelance health writer, and food blogger. She lives with her husband and three children in Mesa, Arizona. Find her sharing down-to-earth health and nutrition info and (mostly) healthy recipes at A Love Letter to Food.
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