Morning Hacks That Win

Three techniques (backed by science) to get going.

Sunday morning. There’s nothing like that wonderful feeling of waking up without the rush—or the alarm clock. It’s the ultimate way to start the day. But why are we satisfied with only one good morning a week? What if we could wake up feeling rested, refreshed and alert every morning—maybe even on a Monday?

While the fields of sleep science and chronobiology haven’t been focused on that exact question, research does show that the way we feel when we wake up has a lot to do with how we wake up. In fact, great mornings have more to do with our habits than the day of the week.

Fix weekend jet lag (with a nap)

Our sleep biorhythms govern the rise and fall of hormones (like melatonin) that make us feel sleepy at night and wakeful in the morning. When we wake up in sync with our rhythm, we feel alert and rested. When we disrupt the rhythm, we wake up feeling groggy and tired. If you’ve ever had jet lag from crossing time zones, you know the feeling.

Sleep advice often focuses on what time we go to bed at, but our wake-up time is what determines when we’ll become sleepy at night. And according to the science, the key to easy mornings is waking up within about one hour of the same time on a regular basis.

So if you need to be awake for work at 6:30 a.m., it’s best to get up between 6:30 and 7:30 a.m. every morning—even on the weekend. Sleeping in for longer than one hour on the weekends creates what scientists call social jet lag. As far as our bodies are concerned, it’s as if we spent the weekend in another time zone, and we feel the effects—poorer sleep quality, mental fogginess and all-day fatigue. No wonder it’s hard to get back to reality come Monday morning!

Of course, nobody wants to skip out on parties, concerts or movie night on the weekend. We work too hard to miss out on a little fun. So how do we catch up on sleep and keep our wake time consistent?

The secret is the humble (but glorious) nap. A 30- to 45-minute nap before 3 p.m. will help fill your sleep tank without affecting your circadian rhythms. Trading your weekend sleep-in for a weekend nap means Monday (and Tuesday and Wednesday) morning won’t be such a shock to the system.

Pretend your alarm doesn’t have a snooze button

Are you a snoozer? Those nine minutes of bliss between the alarm going off and … the alarm going off again may be making you feel sleepier and make mental tasks harder than if you’d just gotten out of bed in the first place.

Sleep inertia is the term for the disorientation and mental fog we experience immediately upon waking. It typically lasts anywhere from two to 15 minutes, but a disrupted night’s sleep can cause sleep inertia to persist much longer—as long as four hours!

Hitting the snooze button restarts our sleep cycle, only to interrupt it again a few minutes later. It’s a problem because interrupted sleep has been shown to increase the effect of sleep inertia. It can be so bad that we spend the whole day feeling as if we never fully woke up. Yuck.

The good news is that snoozing is a habit we can break. Try moving your alarm out of reach so you’ll have to get up to silence it. Or try a clock without a snooze function, like this one that rolls away from the bed(you have to catch it) or this one that brews a cup of coffee or tea right at your bedside.

Another strategy is to reconsider your alarm time. If you set it for 6 a.m. but never get out of bed before 6:30 a.m., why not set it for 6:30 and benefit from 30 minutes of quality sleep instead?

Here comes the sun

Would you find it easier to sleep in a dark room or a bright and sunny room? Most people would choose the dark room, but why? Humans are diurnal creatures: We’re typically awake during daylight hours and asleep at night. This isn’t by choice, though. Our biorhythms are influenced by the light/dark cycle in our environment. Scientists call these external cues zeitgebers.

When the morning light hits our closed eyelids, some of the light filters through our skin and hits our retinas, sending signals to the brain and starting a cascade of chemical signals that finish our sleep cycle and slowly wake us up. Even after we’re out of bed, exposure to bright light helps us wake up more fully—increasing our alertness and cognitive function.

Waking with daylight is so important that many sleep researchers suggest making light part of a regular wake-up habit. Opening the curtains, looking out the windows and even stepping outside are all easy ways to catch some rays in the morning.

Of course, in the darkness of winter, most of us get up before the sun. Fortunately, dawn- simulating alarms (like this wake-up light) can help us hack the dark mornings.

Dawn simulators work like any other alarm clock but with a built-in lamp that mimics the sunrise by turning on and gradually getting brighter over the course of a half-hour before the alarm time. Most also have a regular alarm that sounds at the set time, but many people report waking up with the light alone. One study in the U.K. found that a 30-minute dawn simulation helped participants feel more alert when they woke up and even improved their performance in several mental and physical tests.

If you struggle with Mondays, be sure to try out these simple strategies. They’ll help make every morning easy like Sunday morning.

Photo credit: Bolun Yan, Unsplash; Maridav, Adobe Stock; pinonepantone, Adobe Stock; Lucas Favre, Unsplash