Renowned Neurophysiologist and Sleep Expert, Dr Nerina Ramlakhan explains how you can maximise your working-performance by doing these simple steps to ultimately being a morning person.
You’ve probably heard about entrepreneurs championing the virtues of getting up at dawn. Richard Branson, Oprah Winfrey and Tim Cook are just some of the wildly successful names who swear by waking up early as a means to feel and perform at their best. Could becoming a morning person boost your business prowess?
The concept of The 5am Club – spending 20 minutes exercising, 20 minutes planning and 20 minutes studying – started by Robin Sharma 20 years ago certainly has its merits. It allows you to get a positive head start on your day, make time for your physical and mental health and gives you extra opportunities to be more productive.
If your sleep habits lean more towards those of an owl than a lark, there are things that you can do to help us feel more energetic and positive in the mornings. But waking at dawn is not for everyone. Whatever time you get up, here are some key things that will support your energy and feelings of alertness throughout the day:
Try waking to natural sunlight, it gives your body a kick start, telling it that it is time to rise and get active. Sunlight offers us vitamin D and helps us follow the natural circadian rhythm which tells our bodies the time of day and whether we should be gearing up for activity or winding down for rest. This subtle change in the light levels keeps our bodies in sync with the time of day and the seasons.
Don’t reach for your phone first thing and straightaway throw your attention into what’s out there, your inbox, the news, or social media. If you do this, just a few seconds into your day your energy is already being projected externally, and you’re likely to begin your day in a state of worry and stress, adrenaline pumping. Try doing it differently and see the effects on your stress levels and positivity. Life is always going to throw you challenges but at least if you start your day on the right foot, you can meet them from a place of calm.
Whatever time your alarm goes off, don’t keep hitting the snooze button as this is likely to make you feel groggy and lethargic throughout the day. Instead use the time you would be snoozing to do some mindfulness exercises. As soon as you become aware that you’re awake, take a moment to practice self-awareness. You could do a 10-minute guided meditation to encourage a positive headspace. Or simply breathe in, breathe out, and ask yourself ‘How am I feeling right now?’ Then move outwards into your day from this place.
Cut back on caffeine
That first cup of the day is tempting but relying on caffeine can become a viscous circle, sending your energy levels rising then plummeting, and keeping you awake later at night. Cutting back on caffeine can hugely enhance your sleep. Everyone’s caffeine metabolism is different; however the effects can linger for a long time in the body. If you can’t bear to give it up altogether, aim to avoid caffeine after 4pm. Drink plenty of water in the morning and throughout the day (ideally 2 litres) to stay hydrated and help you avoid caffeinated drinks. When we are dehydrated our brain is the first organ to register this and the systems in our brain that control sleep are thrown off kilter, so being well hydrated is important for helping to get deep, nourishing sleep.
Not only is the most important meal of the day vital for energy and concentration, but breakfast can affect your sleep at night, too. I recommend eating within 30-35 minutes of rising, which stabilises your blood sugar levels and enhances your body’s ability to produce melatonin, which is needed for sleep later in the day. People who eat breakfast first thing tend to wake up with more energy in the mornings, have less of a reliance on caffeine, are more likely to wake up in a good mood, are less prone to weight gain, and have a reduced mid-afternoon energy slump.
Avoid tech before bed
If you bombard your brain with blue light from your phone, laptop or other technological device before bed, your brain produces more dopamine, the ‘reward’ or ‘wake-up’ chemical, which keeps you alert. It also suppresses melatonin, needed for sleep. So it takes you longer to snooze off and your sleep is lighter. Aim to switch off from tech an hour before going to bed to set you up for a restorative night and more energy come morning.
Get to bed early
Try to get at least 3-4 pre-midnight sleeps per week. Even if you sleep in late, going to bed late is likely to mean that a large amount of your sleep is inefficient. The phase of sleep before midnight is the deepest stage and our shortest phase of REM sleep.
The way you start your day has a powerful effect on the way your day unfolds and therefore how you sleep at night. The two most powerful words to start (and end) your day are ‘thank you’.