Morning Routines – How to Hack Your Mood Every Day
March 02, 2021
Everyone wakes up “on the wrong side of the bed” from time to time. Rolling over, you can barely open your eyes. You’re groggy, foggy, slow-moving and irritable. And the bed seems to have a magnetic pull on you, as you greet the day with dread rather than hope and excitement.
Mornings are like the tuning session before a concert; they set the tone for what’s to come. If you do it wrong, the whole rest of the day seems out of tune. Your mood suffers, your concentration lags and that general feeling of present-ness in the world never fully forms. But if you nail it – if you wake up right and prepare yourself mentally, physically and emotionally – the rest of the day is smooth sailing.
We all want to be in that latter camp. We want our mornings to be bright-eyed and optimistic so that we can move through the day with clarity and confidence. It's especially important nowadays with most of us working from home – we can no longer count on the office's bright lights to jolt us awake.
To do so, you need to optimize and automate your morning routine. It may sound overly clinical at first, but it’s actually a pretty intuitive and self-reflective process. It involves understanding your mind and body’s basic needs and working to satisfy them before you jump out into the big, wide world.
At Unbound Merino, we do our part to make your mornings better by offering fresh, comfortable clothes for a variety of circumstances – from work to leisure, travel and transit. We also try to provide value on this blog by sharing thoughts on how to make life better, from our tips for working from home to advice on how to boost productivity with minimalism.
In this post, we’re tackling morning routines. Below, we’ve listed some apps, practices and products that help you hack your mood and get off to a great start.
The Apps That Make Mornings Easier
We'll start on the technological end of things. Apps have facilitated many daily improvements, so it's no surprise that there are scores of applications dedicated to optimizing your morning routine. In this section, we'll list a few apps to help you wake up well and get the day started healthily and happily.
Wake Up at the Ideal Time with a Sleep-Tracking App
During a sleep cycle, you experience periods of deep sleep – characterized by slow brain waves called “delta waves” – and periods of lighter sleep. If you attempt to wake up during a period of deep sleep or REM (Rapid Eye Movement), your body still produces high levels of melatonin, making you groggy and sleep-like, even as you start the day. Therefore, the key is to wake up during light sleep.
Unfortunately, you don’t personally have much control over that, and an alarm clock doesn’t discriminate between deep and light sleep. Enter a slew of sleep-tracking apps: apps that monitor your sleep patterns, measuring movement, sound and sometimes heart rate to sound an alarm when you’re in a state of shallow sleep.
There are several sleep-tracking apps on the market, but the ones we’re partial to are Sleep Tracker, Pillow and Sleep Cycle.
Avoid Smashing ‘Snooze’ Repeatedly with a Better Alarm Clock App
If you’re a serial ‘snooze’ button masher, you always run the risk of oversleeping, which can leave you feeling paradoxically more tired. Sometimes, you don’t really have control over it. Your sleep brain flings an arm over to the bedside and hits ‘snooze’ before your rational brain can do anything about it.
To counteract this phenomenon, a number of app companies have devised creative solutions. Alarm Clock Xtreme has you complete a puzzle in order to stop the alarm from ringing. The simple brain activity forces you into a state of alertness.
Other apps like Morning Routine and Barcode Alarm make you scan a barcode somewhere in your home to make the ringing stop. In doing so, they force you to get out of bed. Finally, apps like Alarmy make you take a picture of something in your home.
Start the Day on the Right Foot with a Fitness App
Let’s say you’ve woken up right. You opened your eyes during light sleep and abstained from snoozing. Are you guaranteed a good day ahead? Well, not exactly.
To seal the deal, give yourself an old-fashioned rush of endorphins first thing in the morning. Endorphins, along with serotonin and dopamine, are the body’s feel-good chemicals, producing analgesic (pain-relieving), mood-regulating and reward-signalling effects. In plain terms, they make you feel relieved, happy and confident.
The app store is awash with fitness apps of varying quality. If you have an app that you’re already loyal to, consider using it first thing in the morning. If not, here are a few that we like.
Alo Moves features a diversity of workouts, from High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) to meditation. Aaptiv has a load of at-home exercises (which are perfect for pandemic times). And Training Peaks is fantastic if you’re an outdoor runner. In any case, grab an item from our merino wool t-shirt collection to help you stay cool, dry and fresh while you work out.
For More Mindful Mornings, Try a Meditation App
The apps above prepare you physically to greet the day. But for mental and spiritual preparation, reach for a more mindful app.
Understandably, not everyone can meditate first thing in the morning. If you close your eyes for ten minutes, you run the distinct risk of falling back asleep. For those comfortable with a little quiet introspection in the AM, these apps are excellent guides.
Headspace is a meditation app designed specifically with sleep in mind. They have pre-sleep meditation guides and wake-up mindfulness routines to help you on both ends of your shut-eye. Insight Timer, another popular meditation app, boasts a roster of experienced, credentialed mindfulness teachers (plus, it’s free). You could also go for the aforementioned Alo Moves app, whose yoga classes meld fitness and mindfulness.
Apps can solve a lot, but they come up shy in solving everything. There are certain pre- and post-bed practices that you need to undertake on your own. In this section, we’ll discuss a few healthy start routines to help you get quality rest and start the day physically and mentally poised for success.
To Start, Reconsider How You Go to Sleep
To truly hack your morning routine, you have to rewind the tape to the night before. Your body craves consistent, ample, quality sleep. If you want to reap the fruits of a clear-headed morning, you have to sew the seeds of a good night’s rest.
Experts recommend maintaining a consistent sleep schedule. That doesn’t necessarily mean going to bed early – it just means going to bed at the same time each night (yes, even on weekends) and waking up at the same time each morning. As for an amount of time, the general consensus is still around six to eight hours.
There’s also a growing body of evidence that the blue light from your phone throws your circadian rhythms out of whack, so most experts also caution that you put away the screens a couple of hours before hitting the hay.
Don’t Forget to Hydrate
On this blog, we’ve talked about how hydration affects jet lag – that woozy, groggy travel phenomenon. But getting enough water isn’t just important on the road; it’s also imperative for starting your day off right.
Six to eight hours is a long time to go without hydration, without your body and brain getting the lubrication it requires to work effectively. Water is especially important in maintaining optimal brain function.
Keep a water bottle ready at your bedside for when you awake. Try to drink a glass before you head to the kitchen to make your morning coffee. While coffee is rich in antioxidants, it's also a mild diuretic.
“Break” the “Fast”
The etymology of the word “breakfast” is really that simple: It’s a time when we “break” the “fast.” After eight-plus hours of not eating, your body is operating with low blood sugar, which can make you unfocused, tired and, frankly, cranky.
We’re not going to be pedantic about what a good breakfast should be. Whatever a breakfast looks like to you – whether it’s a berry smoothie, a bagel, leftover roast chicken, whatever – just ensure that you eat something in the morning.
Eating in the AM kickstarts your metabolism, regulates your blood sugar and starts your day with a baseline of nutrients. There’s a reason we call it the most important meal!
Make the Bed
You’ve had it ingrained in you since childhood: make your bed first thing in the morning. As it turns out, that piece of advice holds up.
According to experts, making your bed has a couple of benefits. Firstly, it promotes better sleep hygiene so you can get to sleep easier. Secondly, it sets a gentle precedent for the day ahead – you've completed this one small, self-bettering task, and you can ride that moderate sense of pride and confidence to bigger and better things.
Get Comfortable with Merino Wool
Starting your day off in stiff, itchy, uncomfortable clothing is never ideal. It sets a standard of discomfort that can carry throughout the day, as you sweat through your commute, fidget in your desk or struggle through daily chores.
It’s better to choose a fresh, breathable, soft and warm outfit to greet the day. At Unbound Merino, we have items to fit every lifestyle and circumstance. For casual work environments where you still want to look sharp, reach for our merino wool polos and shorts. For more formal occasions, check out Unbound Merino’s collection of button-down shirts. And underneath it all, go for a solid base layer of the best merino wool socks and underwear out there.
Finally, we want to list a few tried-and-true methods for boosting your morning mood that don’t fall under the previous categories. All three methods in this section share a common feature: they force you to self-reflect as you start the day. In addition to the apps and routines above, try incorporating these practices into your daybreak regimen.
Try the Five Minute Journal
Self-Talk is an important component of overall mental health. If you’re constantly criticizing, undermining and second-guessing yourself, then at a certain point, you'll start believing yourself. It’s essential for your confidence and motivation to set aside dedicated time for positivity. What better time than the morning?
The Five Minute Journal is a little book that contains daily structured exercises to get you thinking positively. The idea is to carve out just five minutes each morning (and night, if you’re so inclined) to answer simple questions and prompts. For instance, “What would make today great?” or “Daily affirmation. I am…” Answering these positively reinforcing prompts can help you reframe your relationship with yourself, bolstering your self-assurance and mood.
Especially if you’re working from home, alone each day with your thoughts, the Five Minute Journal is great practice – a sunny, self-affirming addition to the ultimate work from home set up.
Make a Morning Checklist
Elsewhere on this blog, we’ve talked about “decision fatigue,” a psychological phenomenon wherein people grow tired of making decisions as the day develops. It’s the reason many entrepreneurs wear the same outfit each day – one less morning decision means they can allocate their energy to more important matters later in the day.
To avoid eventual decision fatigue, try making a morning checklist: a list of actions and routines that you can follow by rote. For instance, if you know that you’ll need to pack a suitcase or make breakfast, write detailed steps in a checklist, so you can simply follow along in the morning. Pick your outfit the night before (or, better yet, just stock your closet with Unbound Merino clothing!) And, if you plan on incorporating the apps and routines above, work them into the checklist too.
Use the High-Performance Planner
It’s not your ordinary planner. The creators of this mega-popular planner based their design on years of research with psychologists on the habits of high performers. How do high performers set goals, prioritize activities, remain positive and increase their productivity?
The product of their research is the extremely handy High-Performance Planner. If you’re someone who has trouble conceiving of their day in concrete terms, it may work wonders for you. And if it doesn’t – well, at least you got a regular day-planner out of it.
In a way, we’re lucky to have the mornings. Each day has a built-in “new beginning,” a period when we can prime ourselves for mental, physical and emotional wellbeing. If you want to hack your morning routine to feel your best, try a few of the tips listed above. As always, if you have a morning ritual that works for you that isn’t included here, let us know in the comments.