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How to optimise your morning routine

There are two kinds of people in the world: morning larks and night owls. If you fall into the latter, you know the tribulations of trying to begin your day.

Whether you’re studying or working, chances are there are things about your morning routine that could be less stressful and more productive. Not to mention involve time for coffee.

‘People often don’t allow themselves enough time to get ready in the morning, and it’s understandable – you want to get as much sleep as possible then get about your day quickly,’ says Associate Professor Mark Stokes from Deakin University’s Faculty of Health. ‘The trouble is it takes a while for the brain to start up.’

Here are some practical tips to help you optimise your morning routine and set yourself up for a successful day.

Plan your morning ritual

Are you one of those people who snoozes your alarms until the last possible minute, and then rushes to get things done? Research investigating lateness shows some people are better at estimating the time it takes to get stuff done than others and Assoc. Prof. Stokes says one of the best ways to set yourself up to be on time is to plan your best morning routine the night before.

‘People are often very poor at judging how much time they need to do things, myself included,’ he says. ‘Planning your morning the night before is one of the smartest things you can do so you don’t wake up in the morning and find yourself ambushed because you forgot something. Check your diary and make sure everything you need the next day will be available.’

For some people, it’s enough to plan the next day’s priorities and make sure there’s food in the fridge for lunch, while for others planning ahead means writing an uber-detailed to-do list containing everything from making breakfast – it really is the most important meal of the day – to brushing your teeth, feeding the cat and running around the block three times.

'People often don't allow themselves enough time to get ready in the morning, and it’s understandable – you want to get as much sleep as possible then get about your day quickly.'

Assoc. Prof. Mark Stokes,
Faculty of Health, Deakin University

Start the day right

It might be the last thing you feel like doing when the alarm goes off, but exercise is one of the best ways to make sure your morning goes smoothly – and the rest of your day. Why? Not only does exercise improve mood and reduce stress, going for a walk or jog as part of your morning routine helps to reset your body clock, which has direct links to alertness and productivity.

Your body clock – or ‘circadian rhythm’ – organises the activities of the body around a 24-hour cycle, says Assoc. Prof. Stokes. ‘It determines levels of alertness, wakefulness and cognitive ability, hormonal cycles, hunger and thirst cycles, and more – in fact, all of the cycles in your in body are determined by the circadian rhythm,’ he says. Almost every creature on the planet follows a circadian rhythm, because it’s crucial for health and wellbeing.

Your body clock needs to be reset with natural light every 24 hours to keep your body in sync with the light and dark cycles of day and night. And exercising outdoors is one of the best ways to reset it.

‘The circadian rhythm is directly stimulated by light coming into the eye,’ Assoc. Prof. Stokes says. ‘But you need to get outside into daylight because light coming into the eyes from a desk lamp or overhead light is just not strong enough to reset and reamplify the rhythm of the circadian system.

‘Exercise in the morning gets you exposed to early morning light, which amplifies and resets your circadian rhythm much more robustly than anything else you can do.’

Develop a productive morning routine

Consistency is key and you’ll get even more from your revamped morning if you make your new routine a habit. For the sake of efficiency, the brain prefers repetitive behaviours over new actions. Associating a simple action with a consistent context is thought to help behaviours become habit. Plan your morning routine the night before, exercise as soon as you get up each morning and after a while – research suggests about 10 weeks – these behaviours will become automatic.

In the meantime, Assoc. Prof. Stokes says willpower will tide you over until your morning routine becomes ingrained. ‘The truth of the matter is you just have to decide you’re going to get out of bed when your alarm goes off,’ he says. ‘And once you start doing it as part of a routine, you’ll find staying in bed is something you just can’t do anymore. Press yourself until it becomes a habit.’

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Associate Professor Mark Stokes
Associate Professor Mark Stokes

Associate Professor, School of Psychology, Faculty of Health, Deakin University

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