Americans generally feel pretty tired and rundown. And the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has upended our daily routines for nearly a year now, certainly has not helped.
But developing morning habits that leave you feeling energized and ready to take on the day is possible, even amid an ongoing global health crisis. (Provided, of course, that you’re able to get sufficient restorative sleep. Alas, no amount of habit-rejiggering can help if you’re not regularly getting enough ZZZs.)
But if you are getting enough rest, and you’re still feeling kind of sluggish, here are seven simple steps that can help boost your morning energy levels:
1. Take 10 breaths.
Stress has many effects on the body, one of which is decreased energy. So experts recommend starting the day with an easy, evidence-backed intervention: taking a few deep breaths.
“I try to take a few minutes of deep breathing and silence to center myself before the work day begins,” said Gregory Katz, a cardiologist at Nuvance Health in Connecticut. He recommends a “brief period of focused deep breathing” to pretty much anyone.
Although there are many in-depth breathing exercises and routines available through apps and on the internet, it really doesn’t take much. The researchers behind a recent study that mapped out the “how” of well-being suggest, for example, that simply closing your eyes and focusing on the act of taking 10 breaths can be an effective way to slow down and to start to cultivate a sense of awareness.
2. Hydrate. (Coffee counts!)
Drinking water, even if you’re not thirsty, can be an energy booster, which is why so many nutritionists recommend downing a glass of water first thing in the morning.
“Staying hydrated helps your energy level because water helps oxygen move through the body. The more efficiently you can deliver oxygen to your muscles and organs, the more energy you’ll have,” said Stephanie Nelson, a registered dietitian and in-house nutrition expert for MyFitnessPal. By contrast, people who are significantly dehydrated can often feel extremely tired and lethargic.
Plus, it’s simple — and free. “I tend to think that hydration is one of the easiest things you can do for yourself, because all you have to do is drink water,” Nelson said. (Eight cups isn’t a hard-and-fast rule; instead, consider urine color if you’re really looking for a good barometer.)
Also caffeine fans, rejoice: “Tea and coffee are not dehydrating,” said Michele Smallidge, director of the B.S. Exercise Science Program at the University of New Haven in Connecticut. Though she recommends getting plenty of water as well, Smallidge said our typical caffeinated beverages “are a source of hydration.”
3. Get moving.
Physical exercise has all kinds of energy-boosting benefits, from pumping up your endorphins (which can make you feel both relaxed and excited) to improving concentration so you’re ready to tackle your morning to-do list. Research also suggests that people who move their bodies in the morning tend to be more active throughout the day.
It doesn’t need to be an intense cardio session, either. Do whatever type of movement feels good to you; even just a stroll around the block can help.
“Get some physical activity. Whether it’s yoga, stretching or something a bit more strenuous, anything that gets your blood flowing starts the day off right,” Katz said. “The benefits of exercise aren’t just physical; a morning workout sets a tone of self-care and the importance of wellness.”
4. Make sure you’re actually eating enough.
In general, it’s a good idea to “follow your body’s natural cadence” when it comes to food in order to boost energy in the morning, Smallidge said.
While intermittent fasting continues to be extremely trendy, for energy you really want to be “listening to your body, and its natural rise and fall in blood sugar,” Smallidge said. She recommended eating a breakfast that is “higher in protein and healthy fats,” which may help maintain energy levels throughout the morning.
People tend to get hungry every three to four hours. To keep up energy levels, it’s important to give your body plenty of fuel — so if you’re an early riser, you might eat a few times in the morning, not just once.
5. … and be mindful of your sugar intake.
Sugar isn’t the enemy by any means, but it can have an effect on your energy levels.
“When you eat a lot of sugar, your body produces high amounts of insulin to pull the sugar out of your blood and into your cells,” Nelson explained. “The overproduction of insulin leads to a sugar crash, making you feel tired, hungry and craving more sugar to bring your blood sugar levels back up.”
Experts don’t believe the goal should necessarily be to avoid sugar altogether. (Who doesn’t love a morning pastry?) Instead, consider ways in which you can cut down on added sugar in the morning — because breakfast does tend to be a pretty big culprit.
6. Ignore your phone.
When you reach for your phone first thing in the morning, you’re essentially letting someone — or something — else dictate the first thoughts and feelings you have, whether because you’re scrolling through social media or you’re checking the latest headlines. You’re certainly not alone. Two-thirds of Americans say they feel “worn out” by news fatigue.
You don’t necessarily have to go cold turkey, but do think about setting some boundaries that make sense for you.
“A calm start to the morning ― away from scrolling through social media or responding to work emails ― can give your mind a chance to hone focus,” Katz said.
7. Spend some time really getting to know your own preferences.
What works for one person in the morning won’t work for another, which is why all three experts interviewed for this piece emphasized that some deliberate trial and error is a very good thing. Change up your routine a bit, starting with one habit at a time. (Pick whatever one seems easiest to you, Nelson said.) Then see what happens.
Here’s one really simple example. “My favorite quick and easy meal in the morning is fruit and yogurt,” said Nelson, who said she opts for 2% Greek yogurt, which offers a bit of protein and fat. But she also acknowledged that yogurt doesn’t sit well with everybody. Others might want to try toast with some peanut butter, or eggs or something else entirely.
The overall idea is to get a sense of your baseline, and then spend some time making basic tweaks and just seeing what feels good — and what doesn’t.
“Play around with it,” Nelson urged, adding that people will likely notice that they feel different (or not) pretty soon after making changes to what they eat and drink and how they structure their mornings. “Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.”