Don't drink caffeine late in the day. Do something relaxing to wind down. Keep your room dark and cool. When it comes to getting a better night's sleep, you've likely heard all the tips of what to do (and what to avoid) before bed. But what about what to do in the morning?
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Turns out, many of your a.m. habits can have just as much of an effect on sleep as your p.m. ones.
"Our circadian rhythm, which is probably the most important factor regulating our sleep, is literally a 24-hour cycle," explains Angela Holliday-Bell, MD, a certified sleep specialist based in Arlington, Virginia. "Morning habits and routines can help to reinforce that rhythm and make sleep easier to come by at night."
Here are six science-backed behaviors that can make a difference.
1. Get Up at the Same Time Every Morning
Predictable get-to-bed and get-up times both play an important role in reinforcing your body's sleep-wake cycle, according to the Mayo Clinic.
How consistent are we talking? You don't have to hop out of bed at, say, exactly 7:00 a.m. every single morning. But try to stay in the same ballpark. A 30-minute timeframe is ideal, but it's OK to stretch it to an hour once in a while when you really want the extra sleep, Dr. Holliday-Bell says.
The temptation to eke out a few more minutes of shut-eye can be strong. But it won't do you any favors, because hitting snooze can actually prolong that feeling of just-woke-up grogginess.
"The average snooze button is seven to nine minutes long, so the average person can't get into a deep stage of sleep in that amount of time," explains Michael Breus, PhD, a psychologist, sleep specialist and author of The Power of When.
Instead, "it delays you actually waking up and feeling refreshed," leaving you sleepy or sluggish during the morning.
3. Get 15 Minutes of Sunlight ASAP
Raise the blinds, or even better, head outside with your coffee or tea. Exposure to natural light within an hour of waking helps regulate your circadian rhythm, making you more alert in the morning and sleepier at bedtime, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Light halts the production of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin, "which helps to clear away morning brain fog," Breus says.
Logging at least 15 minutes of sun exposure will deliver the biggest benefits, he adds.
4. Make Your Bed and Tidy Up
Smooth your sheets and blankets, rearrange the pillows and pick up any clothing or clutter that might be laying around from the night before. Why? People who make their beds in the morning report sleeping better in the evening, per Johns Hopkins Medicine.
That could have to do with the fact that messy spaces can be distracting and even ramp up levels of the stress hormone cortisol, according to a January 2010 study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
On the other hand? Walking into a tidy, organized room at the end of the day may be more likely to promote feelings of calm, which is exactly how you want to feel before bed.
5. Eat a Nutritious Breakfast
Here's one more reason to make time for a satisfying morning meal: Breakfast-eaters tend to feel more alert in the a.m. and report better quality sleep at night compared to those who skip out, found a June 2019 study in Current Developments in Nutrition.
Like consistent wake and bedtimes, consistent meal times also play a role in regulating our circadian rhythms, Dr. Holliday-Bell says. Plus, "starting your day with one healthy habit may encourage other healthy behaviors" throughout the day that can also foster better sleep, like going to bed on time.
As for what to eat? While noshing on certain foods in the evening might support better sleep, there's no one breakfast known to deliver better shut-eye. Dr. Holliday-Bell recommends picking something high in protein and fiber, which can "give you energy and keep you satiated."
Try Greek yogurt with fruit and nuts, or a veggie omelet with whole-wheat toast.
6. Move Your Body
There's no debating the general benefits of exercise. But you'll sleep better if you work your workout into the morning rather than in the early evening, per a November 2021 Chronobiology International study.
And if you take your sweat session outside, you'll get the added benefit of sunlight exposure.
Morning exercise seems to enhance the body's sleep drive, which builds throughout the day and helps us fall asleep at night, Dr. Holliday-Bell explains.
"Exercise has also been shown to decrease stress, which could also make it easier to fall asleep," she says.
- Mayo Clinic: "Sleep tips: 6 steps to better sleep"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Effects of Light on Circadian Rhythms"
- Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Preparing Your Bedroom for a Great Night's Sleep"
- Journal of Personality and Social Psychology: "For better or worse? Coregulation of couples' cortisol levels and mood states"
- Current Developments in Nutrition: "Breakfast Habits Are Associated with Mood, Sleep Quality, and Daily Food Intake in Healthy Adults (OR08-02-19)"
- Chronobiology International: "Effect of morning versus evening exercise training on sleep, physical activity, fitness, fatigue and quality of life in overweight and obese adults"