Some of us are just not morning people. Are you one of us? You know who you are.You are a snooze-button hitter, shower prolonger, sock mismatcher, subway dozer, dazed looker, and double espresso drinker.
In the mornings, you are there, but you are not present. You sit at your desk and it takes all of your will power to block out the hypnotic, persistent hum of the computer monitor that seduces you to sleep. At morning meetings, you doodle. You stare at the first sentence of memos for an eternity. You mute conference calls and blunder for coherence when prompted to participate.
You are not alone. From the moment we get out of bed through our morning commutes and until we are sitting at our desks, many of us remain in a zombie-like state. A recent survey by Quaker Oats found 60% of workers do not even remember their morning commutes, and 54% remain in a sleepy daze after arriving at their jobs.
Habituation—the process of diminishing responses to frequently repeated stimulus—allows us to go through everyday motions without ever having to really think about them, but it prevents us from fully utilizing our time and preparing for the day ahead of us. However, you can change your habits to promote wakefulness and get the most out of your morning.
- Prepare for your day the night before. Don’t you hate it when you’re halfway to work and you realize you’ve forgotten something important because you were only half-awake when you left the house? Try laying out your clothes, preparing lunch, and packing your bag the night before so you have one less thing to think about in the morning and can ensure nothing gets forgotten again.
- Mix up your morning habits. By changing what you do or the order you do it in, you will help your brain avoid habituation and be able to pay more attention to the tasks at hand. Even small changes like brushing your teeth before you brush your hair, or visa versa, can force you to pay attention. Instead of making coffee for yourself and throwing it in a travelmug, try occasionally treating yourself to some gourmet coffee from your local coffee shop, or listen to a podcast instead of your usual AM radio stations.
- Try waking up earlier than you normally do.Most people, despite setting their alarms for 6:30am and leaving the house by 7:30am, don’t feel fully awake until hours later, around 9:40am. If you are not a morning person, waking up earlier might not be your idea of a good time but it can help give you more time to become alert before you leave the house.
- Change how you commute. Instead of driving yourself to work, try carpooling with coworkers or friends who work nearby. Having someone to talk to in the morning will stimulate your mind before you arrive at your job. Or instead of taking public transportation, try biking to work or walking if it is close enough. Physical exertion will prevent you from remaining in your morning stupor.
- Prepare and eat a good breakfast. While breakfast is an easy meal to skip when you’re hurrying out the door, taking the time to cook and eat a meal in the morning will not only force you to wake up and pay attention (nobody likes getting a burnt tongue first thing!), but eating the right kinds of foods for breakfast can contribute to higher productivity, better energy levels, improved short-term memory, and longer periods of concentration. If you’re in a hurry to get out the door, try eating hardboiled eggs, oatmeal, or a whole wheat low sugar cereal for breakfast. If you have a little more time to prepare some food, make scrambled egg whites with vegetables; whole wheat breakfast muffins with either fruit or vegetables baked in; or a yogurt parfait with fruits, nuts, and sugar-free granola.
- Exercise before work. There is little doubt whether working out is good for us, and getting up and exercising is a morning routine many swear by. Even if you are just stretching instead of jogging, lifting weights, or doing yoga, an early workout session can warm up your body after being in bed for hours, energize your mind, and increase your metabolism. Making time to exercise in the morning also comes with the added bonus of not having to worry about finding time for it after a long day at the office.
Mornings can set the tone for the rest of the day, and what we do with our time in the early hours can either help or hinder our ability to focus, be productive, and remain energetic until the evening. Making small changes can increase our chances of feeling more awake and getting more done throughout the day, so even those who loathe mornings can benefit from a healthy morning routine.