Generally, good-quality sleep comes when our behaviors align well with our circadian rhythm, or the 24-hour body clock that causes us to feel sleepy at nightfall and alert during the day. And several components of a morning routine—that is, light, temperature, food, schedule, and social interaction—can directly influence and help regulate that rhythm, says neurologist W. Chris Winter, MD, advisor for Sleep.com and author of The Sleep Solution: Why Your Sleep Is Broken and How To Fix It. “Practices involving these cues tell our bodies to feel awake and also orient us as to where we are within that 24-hour cycle, which, over time, can help with falling asleep at night,” he says.
“Cues that tell our bodies to feel awake and also orient us as to where we are within the 24-hour cycle can, over time, help with falling asleep at night." —neurologist W. Chris Winter, MD
Since the whole shebang operates on a timetable, though, your first step to regulating your circadian rhythm (and, in turn, clocking higher-quality sleep) will always be following a sleep schedule. Keeping a consistent wakeup time every day, even on weekends, will eventually make waking up feel easier and easier, says sleep specialist Angela Holliday-Bell, MD. And that alone means you'll be in a better position to go to bed easily at your usual time the next night, too.
- Angela Holliday-Bell, MD, board-certified physician, certified sleep specialist, sleep coach, and founder of The Solution is Sleep
- Jade Wu, PhD, board-certified behavioral sleep medicine specialist, sleep advisor at Mattress Firm, and author of Hello Sleep
- W. Christopher Winter, MD, neurologist, sleep specialist and author of The Sleep Solution
Beyond timing, adjusting your wake-up routine to jibe well with your circadian rhythm comes down to a few key practices. Read on for the four essential parts of a morning routine that can help promote better sleep that night—and every night to follow.
Here’s what to do each morning in order to sleep more soundly at night, according to sleep doctors
1. See the light
Of all sleep-affecting elements, light exposure is perhaps the most powerful force driving your circadian rhythm. “Light suppresses the release of sleepiness hormone melatonin while promoting the release of the alertness hormone cortisol,” says Dr. Holliday-Bell. And in a nutshell, that’s why it’s so hard to feel fully awake in the morning when it’s still dark outside (aka almost all winter long): The lack of light essentially prevents the alertness hormone from flooding your system in the same way it would in the brighter, lighter summer months.
Season aside, getting exposure to light when you wake up—whether by flinging open the blinds or windows (assuming it's not frigid), stepping outside, or turning on a bright light—is a sure way to switch your brain to wakefulness mode. Doing so also anchors your circadian rhythm, “so your brain stays on track with when to make you sleepy and when to make you awake,” says sleep-medicine specialist Jade Wu, PhD, DBSM, advisor for Sleep.com. And the more awake, energized, and active you feel in the morning and throughout the day, the more sleep drive you’ll build up before it’s time for bed—making you more likely to fall asleep easily when you do rest your head, says Dr. Wu.
Not to mention, the big contrast between the darkness of your bedroom while you’re asleep and the burst of brightness in the morning can help mitigate the detrimental effects of light exposure later at night, Dr. Wu adds: “In other words, the brighter your days, the less your evening screen time will interfere with your sleep.”
2. Take a walk (or run) outside
Stepping outside shortly after you get up doesn’t just have the benefit of potentially increasing your light exposure. “Exercise can release those natural endorphins that make you feel good and even more awake, while also leading to increased deep wave sleep at night,” says Dr. Holliday-Bell. And again, the extra activity built into your day helps increase sleep drive, so you’re naturally more tired and ready to fall asleep when bedtime rolls around.
3. Check in with a friend or loved one
Social interaction can have a similar effect as taking a walk in terms of boosting your mood through the release of feel-good neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin, says Dr. Winter: “This can help not only with positivity and motivation, but also with wakefulness.” (Better yet? Meet up with a friend for a walk in a sunny place, and achieve all of the above in one fell swoop.)
4. Eat a breakfast that you’ll look forward to
Having breakfast in the morning shortly after you wake up helps signal to the body that it’s time to get to work—particularly when you keep that mealtime regular. “It gets your metabolism going and is another factor helping to keep your circadian rhythm on track,” says Dr. Wu.
While any protein-rich breakfast can provide you with the fuel you’ll need to be active throughout the day (and again, accumulate that trusty sleep drive, as a result), eating a breakfast that you’re legitimately excited about can also lift your mood in a way that promotes alertness. “And planning it in advance just makes it easier to get out of bed on schedule,” says Dr. Holliday-Bell, which just goes back to the most important part of any morning routine for better sleep: the routine part.
Watch what happened when Well+Good senior beauty editor Zoë Weiner tried the morning routines of three celebrities:
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