Powerful Morning Routines

July 10, 2017 | Dr. Kathleen Mahannah, Naturopathic Doctor

RHC-Morning

If you’re interested in being a top performer, whether that’s at work, athletics, or in your own personal life, you’ve probably noticed many articles circulating about how to optimize your morning routine to be more energized and productive throughout the rest of the day.  I love to try out new tips and tricks to feel focused and happy throughout the day while I’m with patients.  After checking out many of these articles, there are a few foundational points that I think everyone should employ in order to set you up for a powerful, effective day.  The following points are often topics of discussion I have with patients about morning routines to empower your day.

But first: How’s your sleep? 

Undoubtedly, mornings are rough for those who don’t get adequate sleep.   Quality sleep is critical for your overall health and wellbeing.  During this time, your body goes into “repair and rejuvenate” mode, allowing for muscle growth, tissue repair, and the release of growth hormone.  Sleep is critical for growing kids, as sleep is correlated to changes in the organization and structure of the brain.

Sleep deprivation increases your risk of chronic health consequences, such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.  Getting a good night’s sleep is one of the first things I aim to support for patients struggling with fatigue, burn out, hormone imbalance, poor immunity or athletic recovery.  Poor sleep can be symptom of cortisol dysregulation, overtraining in athletes, anxiety or depression, pain, hormone imbalances (for example, during perimenopause), or poor “sleep hygiene” habits (i.e. your bedtime routine… a topic for another blog post).

If you’re not sleeping adequately, this will definitely be something I would want to investigate the cause of.  I like to use gentle herbs like lemon balm and chamomile tea before bed, or sometimes more sedating and calming herbs like valerian combined with passionflower.  Melatonin can be beneficial for some people, but not all.  I’ve also used acupuncture very successfully to treat the bothersome “busy mind” at night.  If measures such as these don’t work, then I often suggest testing cortisol levels using a 4-point salivary test to see how stress is affecting your physiology and sleep.

Try… no cell phone in the morning.

What is the first thing you do when you wake up?  For many, it’s shut off the alarm clock on their cell phone… then lie in bed and scroll through social media or check emails.  Sound familiar?  (I’ve been guilty of this too!)

Notice how you feel when you check your emails while laying in bed.  Allowing the digital world to occupy your mind first thing in the morning puts your mind and body into a “reactive” state.  It may make you feel slightly tense in anticipation of everything you need to tackle that day.  Immediately, you’re no longer present with yourself, partner, or your kids; you’re reacting to the anticipation of the rest of your day.  Further, scrolling through social media is addictive.  Have you every noticed how 10 minutes seems to disappear while your scrolling?  Seeing new videos and posts pop up give your brain a little “hit” of dopamine the neurotransmitter associated with reward and addiction.  Why does the act of “scrolling” feel good when we are stressed and need a mental break?  Scrolling through social media or checking our “likes” causes the brain to release dopamine, which is habit-forming.

Immediately, you’re no longer present with yourself, partner, or your kids; you’re reacting to the anticipation of the rest of your day.  Further, scrolling through social media is addictive.  Have you every noticed how 10 minutes seems to disappear while your scrolling?  Seeing new videos and posts pop up give your brain a little “hit” of dopamine the neurotransmitter associated with reward and addiction.  Why does the act of “scrolling” feel good when we are stressed and need a mental break?  Scrolling through social media or checking our “likes” causes the brain to release dopamine, which is habit-forming.

Further, scrolling through social media is addictive.  Have you every noticed how 10 minutes seems to disappear while your scrolling?  Seeing new videos and posts pop up give your brain a little “hit” of dopamine the neurotransmitter associated with reward and addiction.  Why does the act of “scrolling” feel good when we are stressed and need a mental break?  Scrolling through social media or checking our “likes” causes the brain to release dopamine, which is habit-forming.

Break this cycle by developing your morning routine to put yourself in an empowered, “proactive” state.  Buy an alarm clock.  Keep your cell phone in another room.  Don’t check emails until after your morning routine, or better yet, until you’re in work mode.  If this is hard (remember, scrolling is addictive) try going 10 minutes without checking your phone first thing in the morning for one week.  Then increase to 15 minutes, then 30 minutes.  You may be surprised by how tricky it is to break this habit; give it 7 days.  You will find yourself with more time, energy, and happiness, which will set you up positively for the rest of your day.

Bonus: If you need any more motivation to reduce your social media time, check out the app “Quality Time”, which tracks how much time you spend on social media on your phone.  Track it for a week.  If you’ve ever complained of “not enough time” for activities you’ve been meaning to get to, this could be your opportunity!

Eat Breakfast.

Wake up your physiology and get your metabolism going by eating a well-rounded breakfast every day.  This helps to regulate your blood sugar levels through the morning and improves your energy.  A coffee and a sugary muffin will leave you feeling “hangry” a couple hours later, whereas a protein-rich breakfast will help optimize your blood glucose, keep your energy smooth throughout the morning, and keep you feeling full until lunch time.  Several of my patients have found that simply adding a healthy breakfast improved their mood throughout the morning, because they were no longer feeling irritable and hungry.  Some examples of healthy breakfasts include:

  • Organic, free range eggs cooked with sautéed greens and peppers and half an avocado
  • 2 slices of nutrient dense, nut/seed bread with almond butter. My go-to recipe: “Life Changing Loaf of Bread” from mynewroots.com
  • Chia seed pudding with coconut milk, granola and nuts
  • Full-fat Greek yoghurt with berries and nutty granola

Bonus: increase your daily intake of green leafy vegetables by blending a smoothie and bringing it with you for a mid-morning snack.  Use spinach or kale, frozen berries, half a banana, and your favourite protein powder or hemp hearts.

Move.

Move your body first thing in the morning.  This can be as simple as an easy walk around the block with the dog, some yoga stretches in the living room, or change your transit game and try cycling to work.  People who work out in the morning have been shown to have better quality sleep compared to those who work out in the evening –  this circles us back to point #1 in this article.  Morning exercise gets your blood moving and makes you feel alert before you step into the office for the day.

Bonus: If “exercising” doesn’t sound inspiring to you, “play” instead!  Get outside into nature with friends and get in touch with your inner child and play.  Check out Dr. Carla Cupido’s Lioness Movement Club to sweat with other like-minded women out in nature – she leads outdoor group play sessions every Sunday morning to revolutionize exercise, and yourself.  Check out www.lioness.club for more information, or check out the Facebook page.

What are your favourite morning routines?  Follow Dr. Kathleen Mahannah, ND on Instagram and comment about what helps you set yourself up for a powerful and effective day!

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