We’ve all heard examples of incredible morning routines from the most successful people. But do the first few hours of your day really have that much of an impact?
Finding the optimum morning routine is a popular obsession. It’s why celebrities who share their bizarre wake-up schedules à la Mark Wahlberg spark so much conversation, and why 6.5 billion people have watched #MorningRoutine on TikTok.
While we are promised that perfecting the time we spend between waking up and starting work will give us the best start to the day, we have to ask… does it really? Can you bounce back from a morning routine that isn’t perfect? Are we doomed for lethargy and unproductivity if we fail to start our day exactly right?
The classic routine might be getting up for sun-drenched coffee, performing mindfulness and meditation before getting in some form of movement and preparing a nutrient-loaded breakfast. And the good news is that all of the benefits of these activities (exercising, meditating, eating well) can be reaped at any time of the day.
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“If there are things that you have to or should get done in a day, then it doesn’t really matter what time you do them. Yes, if you optimise everything in your life, you might see small effects – but as long as you’re nailing the core things, it doesn’t really matter what time of day they are done,” says Anne-Sophie Fluri, neuroscientist and founder of science-backed mindfulness app MindLabs.
That’s good news if you’re not one for morning exercise but want to reap the benefits of a workout, or even if you’re a busy mum or boss who has to start looking after others from the second they wake up.
“However, I do think that routines inevitably lead to efficiency,” says Fluri. And it turns out that a good morning might have the power to impact your physical and mental health.
Why is a morning routine important?
It limits decision making
How many times have you lain in bed with the sound of your alarm blaring, wondering whether or not you should go to the gym? Or maybe you could do a quick flat tidy before the day starts? You could also get an extra half an hour of shut-eye, or maybe do some meal prep…
Attempting to make all of those decisions before the day has even started is a recipe for a scrambled brain, says Fluri. Much like how Steve Jobs wore a black turtle neck for his entire career, “sticking to a routine can take so much decision making out of your morning,” says Fluri. “That means you can focus your energy on completing the most important things that will help you throughout your day.”
It sets your circadian rhythm
From a more biological point of view, having regular habits that you perform at a certain time of day can signal to the body that it’s time to wake up. Your morning activities actually help set your circadian rhythm – meaning your cortisol will spike in the morning to help you feel alert and energised, and that your body will produce the melatonin at night that makes you sleepy.
Research shows that a late-shifted or irregular circadian rhythm is associated with higher rates of anxiety, and researchers of a 2020 paper in Nature found: “While circadian disruption may not be the sole cause of mood disorders, it may elicit or exacerbate symptoms in individuals with a predisposition for mental health disorders.”
So a morning routine that not only helps you get out of bed but also regulates your sleep-wake cycle could be crucial for your mental health throughout the day and your life.
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It establishes your mood
A 2011 study from the University of Pennsylvania found those who started out each day happy or calm usually stayed that way throughout the day while those who started the day in a bad mood struggled to climb out of it – and often felt worse by the end of the day.
“The way that you start your morning does set the tone for your satisfaction in the rest of your life. It’s why I think it is critical to do at least one thing that puts you in a good mood in the morning, whether that is exercise, meditation or simply avoiding social media, implementing those healthy habits first thing could be the best way forwards,” says Fluri.
It gives you an achievement
Plus, doing something good first thing can have a snowball effect, according to Fluri. “It’s often about the feeling that you get when you’ve completed a task, or the sense of trust you get when you have done something good for yourself. There is a whole reward system that goes off in your brain, and starting that up in the morning sets the tone for the rest of your day to be focused on achievement.”
The achievements don’t need to be elaborate – you can start that reward system with even the simplest of tasks. “I always remember this story I heard of a woman who felt so overwhelmed by all of the different morning routines out there, so she set herself one intention of drinking a glass of water before doing anything else in the day,” says Fluri. “That was such a manageable commitment for her, but by sticking with it she built such a sense of trust in herself to take on a little more and a little more until she suddenly was achieving huge things.”
How to overcome a bad morning
Did you spend the morning sleeping, before jumping straight out of bed and onto your laptop for a day of work? Don’t panic. As Furi mentioned earlier, the benefits of healthy habits do come at any time of day, so if you missed your morning workout or didn’t get outside before starting your emails, doing it now might give you the energy boost or sense of achievement you were missing.
As for having a better day tomorrow? There’s a simple solution – and it starts with what you do tonight.
“Focusing on your bedtime routine is the best way to have a good morning. A lot of the time not having enough sleep or not feeling rested when you wake up is the reason you snooze your alarm 100 times or why you roll out of bed and start scrolling on your phone,” says Fluri.
“If you set up your sleep routine so you can wake up naturally, you’ll be more likely to get that hit of light in the morning, more likely to feel energised in the day and more likely to complete everything you need to do. It’s very easy to say that you should exercise in the morning for mental clarity, but if you are waking up so tired you can’t be bothered to do anything, then that tip is useless.”
So while it turns out your morning routine really can make or break your day, so can your nighttime routine. We’ll be seeing you tucked up nice and early.
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