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Feel groggy in the mornings? Here's how to wake up refreshed

March 2, 2015


DALLAS — When Susie Phillips wakes at 5:30 a.m., before the sun rises, before cars zoom down the street bearing the bleary-eyed to work, before children stomp down the sidewalk on their way to school, it isn’t drudgery.

She slips out of bed, fills a hefty mug with coffee and listens to the birds chirping outside her Dallas home. Early morning sunlight streams through the window. For Phillips, this is the most peaceful time of day.

"It’s just nice to be up as the world wakes," she says.

She reads a few pages of a novel or inspirational blog, pauses to set an intention for her day, prepares a frozen berry smoothie and then heads out the door for either Jazzercise or yoga at 7. Energized, she returns to the rest of her smoothie and another cup of coffee before settling into her art studio for a good three hours of creative work.

Phillips, 66, is among those who enjoy early mornings. Not all of us do, but even those who don’t have to wake eventually, and a good morning can be the difference between a great, a so-so or a downright terrible day.

Many components go into having a good morning. As it turns out, Phillips’ routine, which she’s followed for more than 35 years, provides an excellent model for how to have a good morning.

Most important of all: She gets enough sleep.

The main reason some people feel groggy and others refreshed in the morning is a good night’s sleep, says Jennifer Neily, a registered dietitian and nutritionist in Dallas who’s worked with Phillips.

"Solid research indicates we need seven to nine hours of good sleep for optimal performance, health and even weight management," says Neily, adding that people who get less than seven hours of sleep per night are 30 percent more likely to be overweight.

Sleep is not the only factor contributing to whether we feel refreshed. According to Dr. Joseph Takahashi, a professor of neuroscience in the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at UT Southwestern Medical Center, there’s a genetic component as well.

In an area in the base of the brain called the hypothalamus, which regulates many basic functions of the body, there is a group of cells called the suprachiasmatic nucleus. A set of genes in each of these cells performs on roughly a 24-hour cycle, controlling the daily rhythms of basic bodily functions, including the sleep cycle.

When light hits our eyes, a signal travels down the optic nerve to the suprachiasmatic nucleus. How one’s cellular clock synchronizes to the light determines when a person is alert and when they are drowsy.

"Humans show incredibly wide variation in sleep need and in preferred wake-up time and bedtime," he says.

In other words: Whether you’re a morning person may, in part, be the result of your genetic structure.

What if you want to become more of a morning person? How can you have a good morning despite your genes?

Because the interaction of light with one’s cellular clock affects the sleep-wake cycle, Takahashi says that darkening the room when you want to sleep and letting in light in the morning will help reorient your clock.

A good nighttime routine will yield restful sleep, as well, he says, and this will lead to an invigorated morning.

Takahashi cautions against drinking caffeine after noon because caffeine stays in the body for up to 12 hours, which means that afternoon cup of Joe may be keeping you up later than you’d like.

Moderating caffeine intake during the morning may help cognition as well, adds registered dietitian and nutritionist Angela Lemond of Plano, Texas. She suggests limiting yourself to 6 ounces of coffee in the morning, which is about one regular-size mug.

Takahashi also points out that intense exercise late at night can wind you up right before you try to sleep, though Lemond says exercise in the morning — like Phillips’ Jazzercise and yoga classes — can help start your day right.

"It gets the blood flowing naturally," she says. "Any exercise is great, but to really feel the benefits for several hours after, do some vigorous exercise that really gets the heart rate up for at least 30 minutes."

She suggests going for a light jog, bike ride or morning kickboxing class.

Lemond also suggests waking up at least two hours before you need to be anywhere.

This provides time for preparing a plan for the day — something Phillips takes seriously. In fact, Phillips conscientiously avoids the Internet in the morning because it’s easy to get sucked into checking email and Facebook instead of planning her day.

"That is a morning killer," she says.

What about that timeworn advice, "Breakfast is the most important meal of the day"?

"Some experts might say don’t skip breakfast, but you know what? Contrary to everything you’ve heard, it’s not a mandate for everyone," says Neily.

If you’ve never eaten breakfast and maintain a healthy weight, there’s no reason to start, she says.

For those who choose to begin their day with a scrumptious meal, breakfast might include a protein source, some whole grains, a veggie, fruit and maybe some low-fat dairy, says Lemond.

Her suggestion: a whole wheat burrito with spinach, cheese and egg and a side of mixed berries.

It’s these seemingly mundane morning rituals, like that mug of coffee, berry smoothie and exercise class, that spark Phillips into motion.

"I feel like my energy is best in the morning," she says. "I’m more creative and focused and optimistic in the morning, and just have kind of a better attitude of the world."

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TIPS FOR A GOOD MORNING

Have a good nighttime routine. Moderate your caffeine intake after noon and refrain from intense exercise before bed.

Get between seven and nine hours of sleep at night.

Wake up at least two hours before you need to be anywhere so you can prepare for the day.

Exercise in the morning to get the blood flowing. A light jog, bike ride or morning kickboxing class are good options.

 

 


McClatchy-Tribune Information Services