Written by Charley Ross
Struggle to get out of bed every morning? Sleep expert Dr Nerina Ramlakhan explains how to reinvigorate your routine and become a morning person.
When your alarm goes off in the morning do you leap out of bed in a flash? Or, do you hit the snooze button on repeat and drag yourself from under the covers?
If you struggle to get out of bed in the morning, you’re not alone. Every one of us has a different “chronotype” – the balance of “morningness” and “eveningness” that informs how we cope with different ends of the day.
But, if you’re a night owl wanting to improve your morning routine, don’t be discouraged. While part of your ability to get out of bed fresh in the morning is down to your own body’s biology, there are still plenty of small fixes you can incorporate into your daily routine to make getting up in the morning that little bit easier.
Sleep expert and author Dr Nerina Ramlakhan insists that we can all adapt our inner morning person, and she’s pulled together a go-to guide to doing so for The Curiosity Academy.
Work on phasing into sleep
We can’t all fall asleep instantly, so it’s important to prepare for a “phase” period between your waking day and your period of sleep. “You’re giving yourself that time to decompress the nervous system, transition you into them being able to get a good deep, deep sleep,” Nerina says. “And that will help at the other end – phasing has so much to do with your ability to then get up early the next morning.”
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Nerina advises creating a rough 90-minute period between the time you finish your day and the time that you want to go to sleep.
Ultimately, she says, this will lead to you falling asleep earlier and at the right time for you to get optimum hours of sleep. This will then help you out in the morning, because you’ll have had the correct hours of sleep, as well as an extra hour or so of wakeful rest to recharge your body.
Tweak your meal and snacking times
In order to get your body adjusted to waking early, it helps to train it into feeling hungry when you start your day. If you’re craving and eating food as soon as you wake, this will signify to your body that the day has begun,
“If you don’t eat breakfast but are trying to rise out of bed early, you’re going to hit a metabolic slump,” Nerina says. This means you don’t feel hungry, so you don’t eat breakfast and then find it way more difficult to be motivated early in the day.
And when you’re winding down at the end of the day, it’s best to avoid eating too close to bedtime because then your body is concentrating on digesting food instead of getting into rest mode.
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In order to train your body into craving food first thing, Nerina recommends breaking your fast as quickly as possible when you wake. This doesn’t need to include a massive meal – “perhaps just a handful of nuts with a banana, or a nut butter and some toast” she suggests.
Then, later in the morning you can have a larger breakfast if you need it. But it definitely pays to fit some kind of snack in as early as possible. Nerina says that you will notice a difference if you stick to this routine – it varies from person to person but by 1-3 weeks into eating breakfast earlier you should find that you wake up hungrier and energised.
When it comes to snacking and eating late, Nerina recommends giving yourself two to three hours after eating before getting into bed and to steer clear of sugary snacks. She also advises cutting alcohol intake later in the evening because it affects the quality of your sleep, as well as often making it more difficult to get to sleep and delaying your body’s ability to wake up in the morning. “With alcohol, you’re often swimming against the tide,” she says.
Schedule some form of exercise for when you get up
Again, this is all about getting your body to crave something different. Nerina says that training your body to lean towards exercising when you first get up is a great way to ensure you feel alert throughout the morning, after you finish your workout.
“After exercise, you produce a cocktail of hormones – stress hormone levels drop, you produce endorphins that make you feel good and your ability to feel alert rises. These are all things you want out of your morning,” she says.
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The key here is to take things as slow as your body needs, gradually incorporating exercise into your routine. It might start out with a walk, and then you can slowly build into a more tangible workout once your body acclimatises to the early morning movement.
Nerina recommends “a short burst of exercise in the morning, perhaps a HIIT training video or a short interval training exercise”.
“Rather than going too far too quick and trying to get yourself to the gym for hours, just start with short, sharp bursts of exercise,” she says.
Resist your caffeine cravings first thing
For so many of us, the first thing we think of and gravitate towards when we wake up is our first cup of coffee (or caffeinated beverage of choice).
But to get your body energised as early as possible, Nerina suggests resisting the urge to have your caffeine fix straight away. “Caffeine reliance can get your body in a fatigued state when it wakes up, because it needs that caffeine hit to get going,” she says.
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“Remove the caffeine from your initial routine when you get up,” Nerina says. “Instead, prioritise eating small amounts of food, get exercising, then have your caffeine.”
This not only gives your body incentive to get through your initial morning routine, but it also allows it to generate natural energy first thing through endorphins and from your breakfast (however small it is).
Prepare your surroundings for sleep
There’s a few things we can do around our bedroom to make it more morning person friendly. First of all, we must rethink where we are keeping our phones and other devices.
“Our lifestyle habits have become very much affected by technology and blue-light electronic devices, which suppress our levels of melatonin – the sleep hormone,” Nerina says. “So it’s harder to get sleep, so we go to bed later and then it’s harder to wake up.”
Also, the smallest amount of exposure to light in the morning can help our body to naturally wake up earlier.
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Nerina advises putting your phone on the other side of your room so you’re not looking as you settle down to go to sleep. Bonus points if you put it in a different room.
Part of this process will also involve finding other more analogue ways to serve your phone’s functions, like investing in an alarm clock and keeping a notebook next to your bed for any thoughts you have, replacing the Notes app.
Nerina also suggests not using your phone for at least the first 10 minutes of your day, allowing your brain to wake up organically without the artificial stimulation of social media overwhelming your brain as it tries to adjust to early mornings.
If you struggle to sleep with your curtains open, Nerina advises letting a small chink of light in and gradually increasing it if you can, allowing your body to get used to being exposed to natural light in the morning.
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