A Sleep Specialist's Top 3 Tips For Infusing Life Into Groggy Mornings
If your mornings are a haphazard combination of brain fog, caffeine, and the snooze button, it's easy to think that grogginess just comes with the territory of being a human being—something that can be begrudgingly accepted but never entirely fixed. Michael J. Breus, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist who specializes in sleep and sleep disorders, says otherwise.
Breus believes that even the sleepiest of folks can train themselves to be more alert in the mornings by tuning into their sleep type and keeping up with relatively simple habits. Here are his top tips for a better wake-up:
Follow your chronotype.
According to Breus, everyone falls into one of four sleep chronotypes. Your chronotype essentially dictates the time your body naturally wants to fall asleep at night and wake up in the morning. Think of it like the time zone for your personal circadian rhythm, or internal clock. In his book The Power of When, Breus describes the four chronotype as animals:
- The bear: The most common chronotype, bears naturally want to wake up close to sunrise (though they may reach for the snooze button a few times, too). They tend to have an energy dip in the late afternoon and are ready to hit the hay at the end of the day.
- The wolf: Wolves struggle to wake up early and naturally want to sleep in. They have a surge of energy later in the day and get their best thinking and working done at night.
- The lion: Lions are the early birds of the chronotype world. They wake up naturally and lose steam as the day goes on, preferring earlier bedtimes.
- The dolphin: Dolphins struggle to wake up in the morning and fall asleep at night. They tend to feel tired throughout the day and wired during the evening.
Breus says that setting your sleep schedule according to your chronotype (take this quiz if you're unsure which animal you are) can help make mornings easier. If you're a wolf, for example, stop setting an early alarm like a lion. Instead, try to rearrange your day to free up some more time for sleep in the mornings and slot important tasks for later in the afternoon.
Once you set realistic parameters about the time you'll get into and out of bed every day, you can clean up your nightly habits: Try not to drink alcohol or eat heavy food too close to your new bedtime, turn off electronics and start your wind-down ritual about an hour before bed, and consider introducing a sleep-promoting supplement, like magnesium, to your routine.* Once you prioritize deeper, longer sleep, more energized mornings will naturally follow.
Drink 16 to 18 fluid ounces of water first thing in the morning.
Our bodies lose a lot of water through our exhales while we sleep (up to a liter's worth, according to Breus), so we naturally wake up craving H2O. "Picture this," Breus tells mbg, "you've been drinking coffee all day, which is a diuretic. Then you have a couple of glasses of wine with dinner, which is also a diuretic. You go to sleep, and sleep in itself is a diuretic. You're going to wake up dehydrated."
Get some sunlight (either outside or in front of a window).
Too much melatonin—a hormone secreted during the sleep-wake cycle—in the morning can confuse your body into thinking that it's still time to sleep, so you'll want to reduce levels of it right when you wake up. "Direct sunlight turns off the melanopsin cells in your brain that give the signal to turn on melatonin," Breus explains. "Grab a bottle of water, walk over to the window, and get some sunlight while you're drinking the water. You'll be surprised at how much better you feel."
Your anti-groggy morning routine, summarized:
A solid sleep schedule sets the tone for energized mornings. Consider when your body naturally feels awake and tired based on your sleep chronotype, and try to follow that rhythm. Then, get into the habit of drinking water in the sunshine first thing in the morning for a quick wake-up call.
Emma Loewe is the Sustainability and Health Director at mindbodygreen and the author of Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us. She is also the co-author of The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care, which she wrote alongside Lindsay Kellner.
Emma received her B.A. in Environmental Science & Policy with a specialty in environmental communications from Duke University. In addition to penning over 1,000 mbg articles on topics from the water crisis in California to the rise of urban beekeeping, her work has appeared on Grist, Bloomberg News, Bustle, and Forbes. She's spoken about the intersection of self-care and sustainability on podcasts and live events alongside environmental thought leaders like Marci Zaroff, Gay Browne, and Summer Rayne Oakes.