If mornings were TV shows, most people would be actors in The Walking Dead. After all, social norms dictate that we have to start the day far earlier than science tells us makes sense--an Oxford University study states that ideal wakeup times are 6:30 and later according to age, with millennials thriving when they get up at 8:00 a.m.. You might not be able to reshape those cultural constructs all by your lonesome, but you can take the bull by the horns when it comes to giving your body cues to be up and alert.
1. Put on some music with a faster tempo.
It doesn't matter if you want to shake off your grogginess with Taylor Swift or your favorite '80s hair band. Listening to any music that has a faster speed (more beats per minute) revs your brain into a more active state. A study from New York University found that, when participants listened to music, their brain oscillations appeared to align or synchronize with the tempo of the songs, with faster music bringing them toward higher frequency beta waves. Researchers suspect that the brain uses rhythm, whether from music, speech or other auditory sources, to facilitate the transfer of other information.
2. Get some light.
Melatonin is a natural hormone that tells your body to slow down and rest. The body stops producing it, however, in response to light. Get outside for a quick walk as part of your morning routine, or enjoy your breakfast on your patio or next to a window. You can also talk to your doctor about getting a special UV lamp for light therapy.
3. Blast yourself with cold water for 2 or 3 minutes at the end of your shower.
When you expose your body to sudden cold, it tries to protect itself by redirecting blood flow away from your peripherals and to your deeper tissues and organs. At the same time, your brain gets impulses from receptors in your skin, which stimulates the production of neurotransmitters and certain stress hormones, such as noroadrenaline. The combination of increased blood flow and chemical production leaves you feeling energized and in a better mood.
4. Grab a glass of water.
As you sleep, you naturally expel some moisture from your body through respiration and, to a degree, evaporation. Now consider that the brain is about 73% water. If your brain cells don't have the water they need, they simply can't function optimally or be efficient. Everything from decision making to recalling facts can be harder as a result. Conversely, a study by the University of East London found that participants who had prepared for a series of mental tests by having a glass of water with a cereal bar, showed improved performance on those tests than those who had jut a cereal bar before taking the tests. The amount of water you should take in first thing in the morning will vary according to factors like your weight and how long you've slept, but getting in 8 to 16 ounces is a good guideline for most people.
Once you're actually with it in the morning, don't slack. Get in a balanced breakfast for sustained energy through your first critical hours at work. In the evening, make sure you're setting yourself up for success by cutting out stimulating screens (no emails, no!) and self-enforcing a bedtime that ensures 6 to 8 hours of restful sleep.