7 Science-Backed Morning Routines to Boost Your Brain and Productivity
Whether you love ‘em or hate ‘em, mornings bring a fresh opportunity to take on the world and win.
Your morning routine sets the tone for your entire day. So why not start off on the right foot? These 7 habits can turbocharge your brain and give you a positive burst of productivity.
Don’t worry: You don’t have to wake up at 4:00 a.m. or pack all habits into your morning to see the benefits. Pick and choose the ones that make sense for you, and experiment with the mix until you hit your groove.
1. Synchronize your sleep schedule—and skip snooze
Waking up at the same time every day—yes, even weekends—puts your body’s natural sleep cycle to work for you. (Hint: You’ll want to stick to a consistent bedtime too.) That makes it easier to bounce out of bed and shake sleep inertia—that groggy feeling that leaves your brain in a foggy haze.
Regulating your sleep schedule might not sound like fun, but it can pay off in performance: 89% of US adults with excellent sleep health say they feel very effective at getting things done, compared to just 46% of poor sleepers.
Just keep in mind the snooze button is not your friend. Smacking snooze might seem like a good way to sneak in a few extra zzzs. But your brain’s wake vs. sleep signals get all mixed up, making you feel even worse when you finally do roll out of bed.
2. Leave your phone alone.
Brain performance expert Jim Kwik suggests staying away from your smartphone for the first hour of the day. Why? Because your brain is highly suggestible when you first wake up. That dopamine hit you get from diving head-first into your device trains your brain to be distracted, and it can be tough to rein it back in when it’s time to get down to work.
But that’s not the only downside. Waking up to negative news or a high-stress email can also tank your mood. Start your day with positive momentum instead by giving your brain time to build up its natural defenses before bombarding it with digital media.
Not sure you can do it? Use a real alarm clock to wake up in the morning instead of your phone to stave off temptation.
3. Make your bed
Your mama was right. Making your bed every morning is a great way to start your day.
And research backs her up: A National Sleep Foundation survey found that 67% of people with a daily (or almost daily) habit of making the bed consistently get a good night’s sleep, compared to just 15% of people who make their bed a few days a month or less.
Aside from creating a clean, welcome sleep environment, making your bed just feels good. You can greet the day with a sense of accomplishment before you even change out of your PJs. ✅
4. Practice mindful meditation
It’s easy to burst right into the morning rush without taking a moment to breathe. Meditation allows you to take a purposeful pause and soak up the stillness before busyness sets in.
Just 4 days of mindful meditation can improve your ability to sustain attention, according to one study, and the positive effects extend beyond the mindful moment. A Harvard researcher found that the brain activity in people who learned to mediate stayed steady, even when performing everyday tasks.
Not sure where to start? Try focusing on your breath for 5 minutes, or let mindfulness apps like Calm or Headspace be your guide.
5. Put pen to paper
- Write 750 words (or 3 full pages) as soon as possible after rolling out of bed. You want to harness your brain in its freshly awakened state before your inner critic is in full effect.
- Go for stream-of-consciousness over polished work. Put down whatever comes to mind—no matter how silly or mundane it might seem—and refrain from editing along the way.
- Use a pen and paper instead of a computer or typewriter. Science shows handwriting unlocks more creativity and activates regions in your brain similar to meditation.
You don’t have to consider yourself a writer to put Morning Pages to work for you. It’s not about creating a masterpiece. It’s about clearing mental clutter to make room for creativity.
I tried the Morning Pages concept for the first time last year. Instead of counting words or pages, I set a timer for 20-30 minutes and scribbled away. I can attest it was an awesome way to start my day. Emptying my brain onto the page enabled me to untangle creative roadblocks without the pressure of perfection, and I often came away ready to put new ideas into action.
Most folks know caffeine will perk your brain up in the morning. But while you’re grabbing your morning cup of joe, pour yourself a tall glass of water too.
Dehydration can suck your cognitive juices dry—and it doesn’t have to be drastic for you to feel the mental pinch.
“We find that when people are mildly dehydrated they really don't do as well on tasks that require complex processing or on tasks that require a lot of their attention,” Mindy Millard-Stafford, director of the Exercise Physiology Laboratory at Georgia Institute of Technology, told NPR.
Want to add a little extra pep to your step? Squeeze fresh lemon into your water. That sunny scent of citrus has been known to aid concentration.
7. Get your heart pumping with exercise
A healthy dose of exercise increases blood flow throughout your body, supercharging your brain with extra energy and oxygen. Want to go all out? Hit the park. Studies show green spaces give your brain a breath of fresh air, making way for calm contemplation and better concentration.
Whatever your workout style, the boost is immediate. Here’s how neuroscientist Wendy Suzuki explains it in her TEDWomen talk:
A single workout that you do will immediately increase levels of neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin and noradrenaline. That is going to increase your mood right after that workout . . . My lab showed that a single workout can improve your ability to shift and focus attention, and that focus improvement will last for at least two hours.
That’s good reason to make the most of your post-workout time. Hold off on mindless tasks, like checking Slack or email, for the first hour or two of your workday. Instead, spend a few minutes updating your to-do list, then dig into deep work while your brain’s at peak performance.
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