We all know sleep is important, yet an estimated one in three American adults don’t get their fair share each night, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And when we don’t get the sleep we need, we spend our days feeling exhausted, unfocused, and less able to show up for work, family, and more.
While a solid bedtime routine that helps you unwind for sleep is important, setting yourself up for better rest actually starts in the morning.
“If you are constantly hitting the snooze button, waking up late and rushing, or checking your email or social media first thing, you start your day already feeling like you’re behind,” explains Canada-based naturopathic doctor Sarah Connors, N.D. “This feeling of playing ‘catch up’ all day increases your sense of stress, which can affect your cortisol and thus affect your sleep that night.”
The importance of starting your day off right doesn’t end there, though. “Our body’s circadian rhythm utilizes certain regular time cues to determine where we are in a 24-hour day,” says sleep specialist Chris Winter, M.D., author of The Rested Child. “Therefore, having a structured and scheduled morning can help to regulate and ‘set’ that rhythm, which not only benefits sleep but also the many other systems our brains regulate.”
So what exactly should you be doing each A.M. to set yourself up for a restful night’s sleep when the sun eventually sets? Use these expert tips to create the ideal morning routine for a healthy circadian rhythm.
Have a Consistent Wake-Up Time
Getting up at the same time every day—yes, even on the weekends—can actually enhance your sleep, according to Connors. “When we go to sleep and wake up at roughly the same times each day, it actually helps to set up a better rhythm in your body, which makes it easier to wake up in the morning, as well as get enough sleep through the night,” she says.
So, as tempting as it is to hit snooze when Saturday rolls around, try to stick to your usual wake-up time (or at least as close to it as possible) to maintain a consistent morning routine.
Swap that jarring alarm for music or light therapy
Most people use an alarm to wake up each morning and ensure that they get their day started on time, but that doesn’t mean your alarm should scare you out of bed. “Feeling ‘alarmed’ increases your heart rate, blood pressure, and stress hormones,” warns naturopathic doctor and clinical nutritionist David Friedman, N.D., D.C. These stress hormones can have detrimental effects on your sleep cycle and even lead to insomnia over time, according to research published in Natural Medicine Journal.
Read More: 4 Unexpected Ways To Manage Stress Naturally
Instead of a standard alarm sound, he recommends taking a more gentle approach and waking up to soft music or nature sounds, or to a light therapy wake-up clock that brightens gradually. “Light is what woke up our ancestors before the invention of the alarm clock,” he says. “The production of the sleep hormone melatonin is stimulated by darkness and inhibited by light; the light-sensitive nerve cells in the retina detect light and tell the brain it’s time to wake up.”
Take a Few deep breaths
Breathing might be something that we do some 22,000 times a day, but few of us do it intentionally. “Taking a couple of breaths increases oxygen to your lungs, feeds and invigorates your brain to get ready for productivity, and is the most effective remedy for stress,” Friedman says.
Before you even get out of bed, he recommends taking a few slow and intentional breaths. “Put your hands on your belly and breathe in all the way through your nose for five seconds, then exhale through your mouth for another five seconds,” he says. This brief practice gives you the opportunity to start your day stress-free—and keeping calm throughout the day ultimately sets you up for better sleep.
Delay checking your phone or computer
So many people check their email and social media feeds first thing in the morning. However, doing so is a recipe for spiking your stress hormones before you even get out of bed, according to Friedman. “When you immediately bombard your brain with too much stimulus after coming out of relaxing sleep, your body can become stressed,” he says.
The solution? Ignore your phone for as long as possible. “Shower, get dressed, and eat breakfast first,” Friedman suggests. The longer you can delay the blackhole of notifications and news, the better.
Do some light movement
You already know that exercise offers a plethora of health benefits, from reducing anxiety and depression to combatting a host of diseases—and, when done in the morning, it’s also a great way to regulate your circadian rhythm.
“Exercising—even something as simple as walking—first thing in the morning will help reset your day-night cycles so that you are wide awake during the day and ready for sleep at nighttime,” says board-certified internist Jacob Teitelbaum, M.D. Just in case you needed more motivation to finally start getting the dog out for morning walks…
Meditate or journal
The first thoughts you have in the morning set the tone for how you feel throughout the rest of the day, which is why Teitelbaum recommends adding meditation or journaling to your morning routine. “Many people do not realize that we choose the state of being we are in,” he says. Meditation and journaling give you the opportunity to do just that.
In fact, research has linked both with reduced stress, which you now know is a major hurdle to overcome if you want to sleep like a baby. Try these five easy ways to meditate if you’re not sure where to start.
Hold off on the coffee
Though no one’s telling you to ditch the java altogether, rethinking your morning cup might help you sleep. “Coffee is a major stimulant that increases your blood pressure and heart rate and stimulates the release of the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol,” warns Friedman. “Coffee has also been shown to increase anxiety and tension.”
Read More: 5 Signs You Need A Break From Caffeine
Rather than downing a cup of Joe first thing, he recommends holding off until you get to the office or begin your workday. “This way, you have allowed your body to wake up naturally and, who knows, you may not even need the assistance of caffeine,” he says. “If you must have a cup of coffee first thing in the morning, try decaf.”