How you start your morning can set the tone for the rest of the day. A screaming match with your partner? Not a good way to start. A good, hearty breakfast? Much better. But your day could just as easily be derailed by other, more seemingly innocuous habits. How many of these do you do?
Hitting the Snooze Button
“Hitting the snooze button is frequently a sign that you are not getting enough sleep,” says Robert Rosenberg, M.D., Medical Director of the Sleep Disorders Center of Prescott Valley, Arizona and author of Sleep Soundly Every Night, Feel Fantastic Every Day. “But it may also be a sign of ‘social jet lag,’ a condition where you are staying up too late on weekends and then because of the sleep debt you have built up, you need more sleep on work days.” When you hit snooze, you disrupt your sleep cycles and you end up sleepier than if you had gotten up in the first place. You also scramble your internal circadian clock, which tells you when to sleep and when to wake, Dr. Rosenberg says. This makes it even harder to get up when your alarm rings.
And speaking of alarms, no studies have proven them to be detrimental, but Dr. Rosenberg adds, “It probably sends your stress hormone soaring and triggers your fight or flight response. I would think that if you have high blood pressure or heart disease, or suffer from an anxiety disorder, this is not a good idea.”
BETTER: Wake to a dawn simulator, a device that begins putting out light in your room 20 to 30 minutes before your wake up time. “In several studies they have been shown to leave subjects feeling more alert and awake,” Dr. Rosenberg says. "In one study, morning cortisol levels were higher in the dawn light subjects. Cortisol usually is highest in the morning and contributes to feeling awake."
Checking Your Phone Before You Get Out of Bed
A research paper from the University of British Columbia found that people who checked their email regularly throughout the day were more stressed than those who checked them three times a day. That makes sense, according to Joanna Kleinman, Ph.D., a psychologist in Cherry Hill, New Jersey.
“When you check your phone first thing in the morning, you run the risk of stimulating your mind into criticism and judgment: your emails, texts, and voicemails tell you what you have to respond to or manage that day. Your Facebook page has you compare yourself to other people’s lives, and stimulates jealousy.”
You may feel like looking at your phone helps you wake up, but Kleinman says you may awaken more than yourself with this habit. “Unfortunately, checking your phone can awaken your Inner Critic,” she says, “that incessant voice in your mind that is always assessing, judging and evaluating you, and never shuts up. When you start the day listening to the Inner Critic, your stress level immediately goes up. Your brain begins to produce stress hormones, and your body responds, and before you know it, you are tense and agitated, your blood pressure is elevated, and your day hasn’t even started yet!”
BETTER: Charge your phone in another room, and pick it up after you have done your self-care in the morning—gotten showered, dressed, and had something to eat or drink. Then you can check your phone from a nourished place of calm.
Putting Off Exercise
Exercising at any time of day is better than not exercising at all, says Lara Carlson, Ph.D., associate professor at the University of New England and president of the New England Chapter of the American College of Sports Medicine. But if you can exercise in the morning, you may be doing your body a day-long favor. “There’s research that has looked at people engaging in morning versus afternoon exercise, and those who exercise in the morning appear to have lower blood pressure throughout the day and they get better sleep,” Dr. Carlson says.
BETTER: Schedule your exercise as you would a business meeting, planning to get an extra-early start some days of the week to fit it in before heading to work or other activities.
Taking a Too-Hot Shower
That hot shower on a winter morning feels almost like a reward for getting up out of your warm bed and facing the cold each morning. But be careful! A shower that is too hot will ultimately cause other problems—most notably on your skin which will become irritated, itchy, and dried out.
“Hot showers—especially long hot showers, disrupt the skin barrier,” says Stacy Salob, M.D., a New York City dermatologist and clinical assistant professor in Dermatology at Cornell University Medical College and NY Presbyterian Hospital. “This leads to dry skin which is more easily irritated, which can become inflamed, red, and itchy.”
BETTER: “Make your showers functional,” Dr. Salob says. “Get clean and get out!” Set the water temperature to be comfortable, but not scalding hot. Use gentle cleansers—Cerave and Dove are good choices, Dr. Salob says. Pat dry (don’t rub) with an absorbent towel after and apply moisturizer liberally to still-damp skin.
(On the positive side, says Dr. Rosenberg, a hot shower in the morning will raise your body’s core temperature and increase your alertness. But there’s a difference between “hot” and “too hot.” If the shower leaves your skin red afterwards, then it’s too hot. Use your elbow to test the water before hopping in; it’s a better barometer of temperature than your outstretched palm.)
Eating a Carb-Heavy Breakfast
If you love that bagel or the big-as-your-head muffin that you grab every morning from the corner bakery, you may be robbing yourself of the energy you need to get through the day. “Empty carbs give you energy, but it can be short-lived,” says Isabel Maples, R.D., a spokesperson for the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Once those carbs are digested, they send your blood sugar crashing down and you’re likely to feel sleepy and hungry well before lunch. So skip the sugary sweet breakfast favorite.
BETTER: “Combining other food groups slows digestion and releases energy more slowly, throughout the morning,” Maples says. “If you add protein and fiber to your breakfast, along with a whole grain carbohydrate, you’ll feel full longer and more satisfied.”
Skipping Breakfast Altogether
For years we’ve heard that skipping breakfast is bad for us, yet people do it all the time! Skipping that first meal of the day is a bad morning habit, and the research proves it. Opting out of breakfast can lead your energy to flag and your appetite to increase. If you skip breakfast, you’re more likely to eat more calories later in the day, Maples says. “Breakfast does kick start our mornings.”
BETTER: If you eschew the urge to chew in the morning because you feel nauseated or don’t have time, spread your morning meal out rather than skipping it altogether. Choose one food that’s either a protein, complex carbohydrate or a fruit and eat it as you leave the house, Maples suggests. Then, at around 10 a.m., complete your breakfast with a snack of the two food groups you’re missing. For example, if you grab a latte (made with lots of milk) in the early morning, snack on peanut butter on whole grain toast at mid-morning.
Forgetting to Stretch
If you’ve ever felt stiff in the morning—almost like you can’t bend your knees or walk quite right, it’s not just you. Overnight, muscles and joints can stiffen as they “sleep” right along with you. If you just try to hop out of bed, you may feel muscle twinges where you didn’t know you had muscles.
BETTER: Lie on your back and stretch your arms and legs, pulling them in opposite directions. Make small circles with your wrists and feet to encourage blood and oxygen to these joints. You’ll find you get an energy boost and increase your flexibility, too. “It’s a positive, non-pharmacological approach to wellness,” says Dr. Carlson.
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