We hear that healthy morning routines set our day up for awesomeness, yet I’d like to make a case for good sleep. A browser search for “morning routine” yields about 529 million results. While our morning routine is certainly important, the most powerful effect on our day today is what we did last night. And yesterday. Because both of those affect our ability to experience good sleep.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m a fan of morning habits like starting your day with 16 oz of water, breaking your fast with nutrient-dense foods, exercise, and starting your day in the creator mindset (versus the victim mindset. See Wild World, Joyful Heart for more info). But here’s the deal. Anyone who has had a crappy sleep, or struggles with insomnia, can tell you that no amount of morning snazziness can make up for a lousy night’s sleep.
The genius of reverse-engineering
The most important data to look at when wondering why you feel sluggish, unmovitated, distracted, etc today? Look at your choices from the previous night, and even the previous day.
I recently procured an Oura Ring and have been using it for 3 weeks. I look forward to gathering data over the summer to support me in reverse-engineering good sleep. I’ll circle back with a post this fall on what I’ve learned. Because one thing I know for sure…
Unfortunately, no healthy morning routine is going to undo your choices and habits from the previous day and evening. It can certainly mitigate the situation to some degree, but not fix it. It turns out that the very best “morning routine” actually happens at night and the day prior. Before we explore why that is, let’s suss out what the big whoop is about SLEEP.
I’m a fan of health-promoting choices, like the Food Sass® Lifestyle, regular exercise and mindfulness practice. With all that we can do to support health, restorative sleep is likely the largest effector on your health, and how your day rolls out.
Good sleep is the most influential factor on your day because sleep isn’t just about laying down for 7-8 hours. Our body, mind and emotions all undergo a reset overnight. No reset? Sluggish-ville the next day. Even worse is that your health is being compromised if lack of sleep becomes an ongoing trend.
If we don’t sleep well, or don’t sleep for long enough (or both), our health suffers. We can do it for a short period of time—like when we have a newborn baby—because the body is resilient. Push your resilience abilities too far and imbalances can begin to turn into dysregulation and eventually disease/disorder states.
While we sleep, the human organism is an absolute bevy of activity. Let’s look at a sampling of the myriad of activities that your body-mind-spirit engages with during ZZZZZ.
- Your immune system does key maintenance work while you sleep, particularly during the last few hours of sleep.
- Hormones shift to allow for restoration. Most notably, melatonin releases to control sleep patterns, growth hormone releases to help the body grow and repair, and cortisol (our “stress hormone”) levels drop.
- As the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) takes a break, the parasympathetic nervous system promotes rest and regeneration.
- The digestive system does maintenance work so that our ability to break down and assimilate nutrients stays top-notch.
- Your brain is busy sorting and storing the previous day’s information, processing emotions and data, and creating memories.
- Blood pressure lowers allowing the heart muscles and circulatory system a time of relaxation and repair before starting a new day.
- The body releases more of the protein collagen at night to promote cell repair and strengthening. Bonus? Collagen also supports healthy skin and hair.
- Some belief systems propose that our connection to spirit is stronger at night, when our fickle ego is in repose.
- Your spinal column decompresses, especially if you sleep on your side in the fetal position. This affects back health and nerve health.
- Your brain’s glymphatic system clears out waste from the central nervous system. It removes toxic byproducts from your brain, which build up throughout the day. This allows your brain to work well the next day.
- Sleep affects your weight by controlling the hunger hormones ghrelin and leptin.
In the world of proactive health, sleep is the real deal. The great news? We have considerable influence on our sleep quality. Let’s unpack how both our day and our evening can influence sleep.
“Morning Routine,” Phase One: The Day Before
The first phase of today’s morning routine actually started 24 hours ago. On Tuesday morning, you look at what you did on Monday to support and recharge your body and mind. Here are six key areas you can start with:
- If you sit a lot during the day, get up and move every hour or so. Even a minute or two is a big help. You can just move about, do some air squats, take a short walk or climb a flight of stairs. It can also be helpful to alternate between a sitting and standing desk if your work involves being at a desk for much of the day.
- Consume at least 80% of your food in the form of whole, nutrient-dense foods, as close to their original state as possible.
- Engage in some intentional movement/exercise each day. This can be as simple as a 1-2 mile walk or moderate intensity yoga…or as intense as HIIT, running or resistance training.
- Drink 64-80 oz. of water during the day, preferably finishing by 7pm.
- If you drink caffeinated beverages, enjoy them before 2pm, latest (assuming a 10pm-ish bedtime).
- If your typical day or your job requires continual movement, be sure to take breaks. (More on that in the oxymoron section below.)
In summary, you’re well-served to nourish and hydrate your body during the day, while allowing adequate balance of activity and recovery. Develop stress management habits and promote stress resilience to support enjoyable, productive days and good sleep.
“Morning Routine,” Phase Two: The Bedtime Window
What you do in the 2-3 hours before bedtime—the bedtime window—is pivotal in your sleep quality. Let’s explore best practices that can support restorative sleep:
- Avoid heavy dinners or consuming food late into the evening.
- If drinking alcohol, keep it moderate and finish 3 hours before bedtime. Follow with 16 oz. of water.
- Consume caffeine before 2pm.
- Avoid blue light from electronics within 2 hours before bed. Ideally shut electronics use down an hour before you go to bed.
- Avoid violent or upsetting TV/videos before bed.
- Don’t watch TV in bed.
- Go to bed in the same 90-minute period each night. Follow a consistent sleep window that allows 7.5+ hours of sleep.
- Keep your bedroom cool. Ideal temperature is between 60-65 F.
The bedtime window deeply influences our sleep. Even rectifying a few of these factors will move you closer to a good sleep experience.
“Morning Routine,” Phase Three: This Morning
Setting yourself up for good sleep is the big kahuna of health. But there IS a place for a morning routine to support health and promote a great day. We’ve come full circle back to the basics of a healthy morning routine: Start your day with 16 oz of water, break your fast with nutrient-dense foods, exercise, and intentionally inhabit the creator mindset. You set yourself up for success by promoting optimal hydration (water), nourishment (food) and oxygenation (via exercise). Why are these three so important?
Water, food and oxygen are the building blocks of every cell in your body. You build 300 million new cells, every minute of every day, with these three building blocks. Add on consistent restorative sleep, and you’ll be a force to reckoned with! Keep in mind though, even dynamos need a break, which brings us to an important oxymoron: taking breaks supports success.
An important oxymoron
Sometimes the best way to optimize is to take a break. This is true in all areas of our life: work, marriage, parenting, strength training, cardiovascular training, moving a big project forward, or hiking a literal mountain.
Sometimes, we decide to “push through” even though our body, mind or emotions are signaling that we need a break. And we often can do that, because the human organism is resilient and continually works to regain homeostasis. However, you can only call in favors to your body-mind-spirit for so long before the white flag goes up. Often in unwelcome ways.
The truth is that taking breaks most often makes things BETTER. Any frazzled parent who escapes for a weekend away can attest to this. The oxymoronic truth is that taking a break actually helps us reenergize, regroup, recharge and recommit. We come back with new focus and energy. Time off supports progress, success and health. A balance of activity and restorative time during the day supports good sleep. The key is to allow yourself the space to honor this important and undervalued break time.
Good sleep, revisited
We live in a culture that loves hacks. Productivity hacks, success hacks, fashion hacks, health hacks and more. What I hope you take away from this blog post is that you can’t hack a good night’s sleep.
In the same way that a multivitamin doesn’t make up for unhealthy food choices, a rockstar morning routine can’t make up for a lousy night’s sleep or for unsupportive pre-bed choices. Especially if it’s night after night.
There’s much that your body-mind-spirit needs to accomplish at night. Restorative sleep is key to your health and wellbeing. Support and protect sound sleep to optimize health, promote happiness and feel GOOD.
To your empowered well-being,