We've all been there, groggily stumbling through finding clothes, scarfing bites of toast, and trying to find our car keys (sneaky little buggers). With a little help from neuroscience, though, you can tweak your routine so it's easier for your brain to quickly, fully come on board after you wake up, regardless of whether you get up whenever you darn well feel like it or have a 4:00 a.m. habit.

1. Drink water.

Yep, just the plain old clear stuff. After sleeping all night, your body is dehydrated. Not beef jerky dehydrated, of course, but remember, human beings are up to 60 percent water. The cells in your brain are mostly water, too--in fact, water makes up about 73 percent of your noodle. In addition to flushing away waste, regulating temperature and helping cells grow and survive, water is required for jobs like making neurotransmitters and hormones, which influence everything the brain does. Researchers assert that if you don't top off the tank, dehydration can impair both short and long-term memory, as well as attention.

Everyone's water needs are unique, but somewhere between 12 and 20 ounces is a good starting target. The best way to tell what you need is just to keep an eye on the color of your urine and drink more water the darker yellow it is. If you're running totally clear, you're probably actually getting too much and can back off. 

If you really can't deal with plain water, the good news is, coffee is an acceptable cheat. (Insert sweet fist-bump here, am I right?) It can have a mild diuretic effect, but that effect isn't enough to increase dehydration risk, especially if you opt for decaf, and the water used for the coffee still counts toward overall fluid intake.

2. Listen to fast-paced music.

Brain waves actually will synchronize somewhat to the pace of what you're listening to, meaning that more upbeat tracks help move the brain into a more active state. Genre fortunately doesn't matter one crumb here, so whether you pick Rimsky-Korsakov's Flight of the Bumblebee or Williams' Happy, your smartspeaker wake-to-music alarm can help you out.

3. Get light.

Light is critical to regulating your circadian rythym. When it hits your eyes, it stimulates a nerve pathway that connects the retina and hypothalamus in the brain. From there, a specific part of the hypothalamus, the suprachiasmatic nuleus (SCN), tells other parts of your brain to mess with body temperature, hormones and other factors that wake you up. Natural light is ideal, but since sunrise usually doesn't match when most people have to get going, and since it can be harder in urban areas to get unobstructed sun, try a light-based alarm clock. These are designed to start brightening the room a little before you have to get out of bed.

4. Do light exercise.

The idea that inverted exercises (think downward dog in Yoga) increase blood flow to the brain is a huge myth--the body has protective mechanisms to keep the brain's environment consistent. Stretching also isn't a warmup--muscles respond best to it when they're already warm, meaning it's best to do after you've already been moving a bit. But light exercise does get general circulation going better, and that does have a positive influence on the oxygen and nutrients the brain gets. So do some jumping jacks, go for a quick walk with the dog, or pop in your favorite workout video to tell your brain to pay attention.

5. Take a cold shower.

Exposing yourself to a cold shower triggers a host of biological processes in your body, such as increasing blood flow, increasing neurotransmitters, and upping your respiration. These give you a small burst of energy and can even put you in a better mood. If you still need some anecdotal evidence to be convinced, Inc. Tested tried out the cold shower routine and concluded the benefits are real.

Published on: Mar 14, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.