The First Hour of Your Day
Welcome back. Yesterday, we learned about circadian rhythms, the biological cycles of our bodies, and discussed how planning our schedules to align with these natural patterns can improve our lives.
Today, we’ll focus on how you start your day.
First things first: Consider your wake-up. Jot down a few key details: What time do you wake up? How do you wake up (i.e., by what mechanism? With the sun? With a blaring alarm? Because your neighbor’s dog barks at the trash trucks?)? How do you feel when you wake up? And how does your weekday wake-up vary from your weekend routine?
Perhaps even more importantly: When you wake up, how many hours has it been since you went to sleep?
If you’re waking up only four or five or even six hours after you close your eyes, you are sleep deprived, and it’s impacting your health and wellness. We’ll talk later in our course about how important sleep is and why you have to stop skimping and cutting corners on shut-eye. For now, know that Dr. Matthew Walker, a neuroscientist and director of the Center for Human Sleep Science at the University of California, Berkeley [1, 2, 3] says that sleep is so important to health, it should be prescribed.
How you wake up matters, and an important part is that you are consistent in when you wake up each day. This feels hard to achieve: Your weekday routine may require you to get up early, to hit the gym, perhaps get kids to school or daycare, and make it to your office in time for your first meeting. And on weekends, you may want to relax and rest and just sleep in. But our bodies are creatures of habit, and our health is at its best when we achieve consistent self-care. Research shows that inconsistent sleep schedules are related both to insufficient sleep and poor sleep quality . Sleeping in on your days off will shift your internal body clock, making it harder to fall asleep when you get back to work, and therefore, it can actually exacerbate fatigue. Sleep researchers recommend that your wake times vary no more than one hour between your workdays and days off .
Try this experiment to improve how you feel, both when you wake up and throughout your day . Figure out when you have to get up for work. Make it early enough to not feel rushed or stressed, but late enough so you can get at least seven hours of sleep (and perhaps you need to adjust your bedtime to support those seven hours). Forget productivity advice about getting up at 4 a.m. and tackling your to-do list. I promise that when you are really rested, you will be more productive! Once you’ve picked your wake time, stick to it consistently, every workday, and allow yourself to sleep no more than one additional hour on your days off. Maybe you get up at 6 a.m. on working days and 7 a.m. on your days off. Try to get both enough sleep and consistent sleep times for one full month, and notice how you begin to feel better when you work with the wisdom of your body.
Once you wake up, how do you spend your first hour? If you do a quick google search, you’ll find article after article giving advice on what you should do to boost your productivity, to mimic successful people, to pursue meaning. The problem is that none of those articles take into consideration your personal life requirements: Maybe you have young children or older parents, and it’s just not feasible to run three miles, make a fresh juice drink, and power through your highest priority creative project in the first hour of the morning (because, you know, you’re packing lunches and carpooling while you chug your coffee and try to eat a few scraps of toast).
So, let’s focus on the two things that you really must do to work with the natural rhythms of your body.
In the first hour of your day, you should:
1. Get some sunlight. Research indicates that the human body uses natural light to regulate many physiological processes . Exposure to sunlight early in your day allows your body to recognize that it’s morning, and this can support healthy hormones and improve how you feel, how you sleep, and even how your body digests food. Find a simple, easy way to integrate this morning light into your first hour: Maybe drink your coffee by the kitchen window, or park at the back of the parking lot at work to get a brief stroll outside before you start your workday.
2. Eat something. It’s called “breakfast” because it’s the breaking of the fast that occurs over the night. Eating something first thing in the morning jumpstarts your metabolism and may even support weight loss. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics offers great advice for breakfast options based on your time available .
Tomorrow, we’ll talk more about eating, food, and how to plan your meals to align with your body’s rhythms.
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