Wake up refreshed! Mornings don’t have to be hard. Our tips will get you out of bed faster and help you feel sharper and more energetic once you’re up

Wake up refreshed! Mornings don’t have to be hard. Our tips will get you out of bed faster and help you feel sharper and more energetic once you’re up

Steve Calechman

PERHAPS your morning ritual involves hitting the snooze button again and again. You eventually pry yourself out of bed, only to feel rushed and frantic because you’re late. Or maybe you stumble out of bed but feel groggy for hours. You may have chalked it up to the fact that you’re just not a morning person. But you can be.

If you have to force yourself out of bed every day, it’s a sure sign of imbalance in your life, says David Simon, M.D., medical director of The Chopra Center for Well Being in La Jolla, Calif. For example, you may be working too hard and not getting the rest you need, he says. Sticking faithfully to our three-part plan can restore your balance and make waking up easier. You’ll need to adopt as many of the following habits as you can, including those related to light, like “Simmer Down” on page 58 and “Create a Sunrise” on page 59, which researchers say can help you wake up earlier and faster in only three days.

PART 1 BEFORE BED

Set the Stage for Deeper Sleep

Rethink Sleep. Many of us stay up late to cram more into our day. “We tend to view sleep as wasted time and a luxury,” says Scott Campbell, Ph.D., director of the Chronobiology Laboratory at Cornell Medical School in White Plains, N.Y. If sleep is low on your list of priorities, give it the promotion it deserves. Aim for seven to nine hours a night, or whatever amount leaves you feeling fresh and alert the next day.

Choose an Earlier Bedtime. Consider this: Going to bed earlier can help you accomplish more with your mornings. “The benefit to waking up early is that you’ll perform better and be more alert at the time of day that you need to be,” Campbell says.

Look Hard at Your Schedule. Are there any habits you can alter to get to bed earlier? Tape your favorite 10 p.m. television show and watch it on the weekend. If friends call late, offer to call them back in the morning. Or turn off the ringer on your phone.

Don’t Deviate. Hitting the hay at a consistent time is one of the most important changes you can make, sleep experts say. Consistency normalizes your circadian rhythms, your body’s internal clock, so you’re the most deeply asleep in the first half of the night. This makes waking up in the morning easier. Most people benefit from a bedtime between 10 p.m. and midnight and a wake-up time between 6 and 8 a.m., Campbell says. Whatever you choose, stick to it faithfully, even on weekends and holidays.

Simmer Down. Once you’ve chosen a bedtime, prepare your body to fall asleep at that time. About an hour before you go to bed, dim your lamps and extinguish strong overhead lights. Lower light gives your brain the signal that it’s almost time to sleep, Campbell says. At least an hour before bed, switch to quiet activities, says Edward O’Malley, Ph.D., director of Norwalk Hospital’s Sleep Disorders Center in Norwalk, Conn. Read a book or magazine that’s not challenging. If you watch television, opt for sitcom reruns; they’re lighthearted, short, and not surprising.

Get Sleepy. If you need help becoming drowsy at an earlier hour, take a bath in water as hot as you can tolerate about 45 minutes before bed. This promotes sleep by relaxing your mind and muscles and altering your core temperature. After your bath, drink half a cup of chamomile tea (Matricaria recutita) or half a cup of warm milk (spiked with a teaspoon of honey and a dash of nutmeg). Both chamomile tea and warm milk have sedative properties, and filling your stomach with something warm makes you feel even more relaxed, says Simon. (Limiting yourself to half a cup reduces nighttime bathroom trips.)

PART 2 DURING THE NIGHT

Stay Sound Asleep

Prevent Interruptions. On your way to bed, set the thermostat to a temperature that’s not too hot or too cold. Either extreme can wake you up in the night, Campbell says. If you have a television in your bedroom, run it on a timer so it shuts off soon after you do. A television creates sounds and light patterns that your brain continues to monitor even when you’re asleep, disturbing the quality of your sleep, says Tom Balkin, Ph.D., chief of the Behavioral Biology Department at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Washington, D.C.

Put a Night Light in Your Bathroom. If you have to get up in the night, flipping on a bright bathroom light makes it harder for you to fall back asleep. Strong light is stimulating and may disrupt your circadian rhythms. A night light’s low light helps minimize the disruption.

Quiet Your Mind. If you wake in the night, stay calm. Lie on your back and breathe in and out through your nose, expanding your stomach each time you inhale. Think about a place and time when you felt completely relaxed and repeat the sleeping mantra “Om agaste shahina” (ohm ah-GAH-stay shuh-HEE-nah) as you breathe. Simon explains that Ayurvedic practitioners have used the mantra for centuries to reduce mental turbulence. (Write the words on an index card and keep it on your nightstand.) If you start to feel anxious that you can’t sleep, leave your bedroom and do something quiet in dim light, like listening to peaceful music. Simon suggests that you also prepare a hot water bottle, wrap it in a towel, and place it on your stomach, a technique that helps many people feel secure and relaxed. Return to bed when you feel drowsy.

PART 3 IN THE MORNING

Shake Your Fog

Create a Sunrise. A study published last year in the Archives of General Psychiatry found that exposing yourself to very bright light for 30 minutes as you wake can help reset your circadian rhythms. As a result, you’ll become more of a morning person. To recreate the conditions researchers used in the lab, you’d need a bedside dawn simulator (which costs about $400). Or you could take advantage of the real thing for free this time of year. Because the sun rises so early in the summer, sleeping with your curtains open may help you wake up faster, Campbell says. In fall and winter, when the sun rises later, you might experiment with alarm docks that feature lights that gradually get brighter (see “Gentle Alarm Clock Alternatives,” previous page). Once you’re out of bed, open all your blinds, switch on your brightest lights, or turn on a light box, a device that creates sunshine-strength light and costs about $200.

Vary Sounds. It’s easy to ignore the familiar beep of an alarm clock you’ve had for years. Your brain is more likely to respond to new noises, Balkin says. Switch among two or three alarm clocks, or experiment with noise-making clocks that emit sounds of surf, birds, or the jungle. Sounds that differ from your everyday environment work best.

Get Moving. Morning activity sends a signal to your brain that it’s time to kick into gear and helps reset your internal clock, says Thomas Kilkenny, M.D., director of the Sleep Apnea Center at Staten Island University Hospital in New York. Instead of listening to droning morning news, put on a three-minute pop song that makes you want to move. Or try an energizing yoga technique known as Standing Swings. Stand tall with your feet about hip distance apart and your arms hanging at your sides. Begin to turn your torso from side to side, gently swinging your arms so they flap lightly against your body. Look over the shoulder you’re swinging toward, and lift the opposite heel. Try to match your breath to your movements: Inhale through your nose as you turn to the front, and exhale through your mouth as you swing to the side. Maintain a steady swinging motion for a minute or two.

Nourish Your Body the Right Way. Soon after you’re up, sip a cup of warm water flavored with a squirt of fresh lemon. This drink triggers peristalsis, the contractions that move food along your digestive tract, a signal to your body that it’s time to start the day. Don’t eat breakfast until you are hungry, Simon says. Eating too soon adds to your body’s workload and makes it harder to be alert.

Make a Morning Date. Remember when you were a child and you jumped out of bed when you knew you’d be doing something fun? “It helps to have something to get out of bed for,” Simon says. Plan at least one short morning activity that pleases you. Meet a good friend for breakfast, suggests Edward Stepanski, Ph.D., director of the Sleep Disorders Service and Research Center at Rush-Presbyterian St. Luke’s Medical Center in Chicago. Watch a tape of your favorite television show while you eat breakfast. Spend a few minutes surveying your garden before you leave for work. Or listen to a book on tape by your favorite author on your way to work.

Gentle Alarm Clock Alternatives

These clocks nudge you awake so you’re more likely to start the day feeling calm and refreshed.

The Zen Alarm Clock: Its mellow chime grows more frequent over a 10-minute period. The manufacturer says this wake-up is so gentle that it won’t scare your dreams away ($99.95; 800-779-6383; www.now-zen.com).

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Soleil Sun Alarm: Thirty minutes before your wake-up time, this clock lights up and grows brighter to replicate sunrise. When the light reaches full intensity, a beeper sounds to make sure you’re up ($119; 800-298-2240; soleilsunalarm.com).

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Nature’s Clock: It uses a combination of tactics: light (it mimics a sunrise); sound (you choose from six nature sounds); and aromatherapy (use your favorite essential oil on the enclosed felt disk). If all that doesn’t wake you, a beeper sounds ($69; 800-736-4648; www.remingtonstore.com).

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RELATED ARTICLE: An NH editor seeks some morning pep.

I used to be a night owl. It wouldn’t be unusual for me to clean the bathroom at 10 p.m. or stay at the gym till 11. But I paid for my habit: In the mornings I would hit the snooze button repeatedly, wake up late and groggy, and scramble to get to work on time.

Hoping to become a morning person, I agreed to test our “Wake Up Refreshed” plan. Three weeks later, I have found it is easier to get up. I only hit the snooze once (or not at all). I now wake up early on weekends–something I never did before–and am amazed at how much I can get done before lunch (going to yoga class first thing on Sunday gives me a nice sense of accomplishment).

But the program isn’t easy if you’re addicted to nighttime activity like I was. It takes discipline to slow down an hour before bed and to adopt a consistently early bedtime. Yet the program has helped me see that it’s foolish to think I can gain an extra hour by staying up later; doing so only hurts my productivity the following day.–Susanne Althoff

Steve Calechman, a regular contributor to Natural Health, lives in Waltham, Mass. Writing this article has made him less likely to sleep through his alarm.

COPYRIGHT 2002 Weider Publications

COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group