Know Your Chronotype

by Dr. Michael Breus, PhD

The quality of our mornings sets the tone for our entire day. The difference between an invigorating, optimistic, focused morning and one that feels like a constant struggle can come down to simple choices that activate our body’s natural inclination to be active and energized at the start of the day.

I’m going to give you a template for a morning routine to optimize your early-day energy. Before you implement these steps into your routine, there’s one critical step to take first: determine your chronotype.

Your chronotype represents your individual biological clock, which sets your natural rhythms for sleeping, waking and being productive throughout the 24-hour day. Knowing your chronotype provides a roadmap for optimizing nearly every aspect of your daily life, including your morning schedule, based on the timing of your circadian rhythms. Understanding your individual chronotype makes the difference between working with your body’s biology and fighting against it.

If you’re not setting your morning routine with your chronotype in mind, there’s a good chance your wake time, breakfast time and the timing of your first cup of coffee are all out of sync with your body’s biological rhythms.

There are four chronotypes—morning Lions, middle-of-the-road Bears, evening Wolves and short-sleeping Dolphins. Each chronotype has optimal bedtimes, wake times and schedules for activity throughout the day. Visit chronoquiz.com to determine yours and help refine your personal roadmap.

Six steps for optimizing morning energy

Before you get out of bed, take 15 deep breaths.

The ideal morning energy is calm, focused and positive. Taking a moment for some intentional deep breathing before you launch into your day oxygenates the body, regulates blood pressure and heart rate, elevates mood and lowers any spike of morning stress that may hit us when we wake up to a long, full day ahead.

Hold off on your morning coffee… just for a while.

Our bodies have a natural process for becoming alert first thing in the morning. When we wake, levels of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin are dropping to a 24-hour low. At the same time, several stimulating hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, are on the rise. (Over- production of cortisol poses significant problems for sleep and health, but our natural cortisol rhythms are an essential component of our daily sleep-wake cycles.) That immediate first cup of coffee might feel essential—and there’s no question a lot

of us are deeply attached to this ritual. But the caffeine in your coffee or tea cannot compete with the power of your body’s hormones, in helping you grow alert. Drinking coffee first thing in the morning does nothing beyond elevating your tolerance for caffeine, so you’ll need more caffeine to experience its effects, regardless of the time of day. Caffeine is also dehydrating, and we need hydration after a full night of sleep.

Tip: To maximize your morning energy, save that delicious first cup of coffee until about 90 minutes or so after your wake time, when cortisol levels take a dip and caffeine can work effectively to help boost your alertness.

Hydrate AND soak up some sunlight.

We lose about a liter of water overnight, just from breathing throughout a night of sleep. We all wake up dehydrated and remaining dehydrated makes us feel mentally and physically sluggish as we begin the day. Mild dehydration impairs a range of cognitive skills, including attention and short-term memory. The first, best nutrient you can deliver to your body upon waking is water. I recommend drinking 15 ounces of room temperature water within 15 minutes of waking up.

A dose of sunlight first thing in the morning is a powerful stimulator of energy, alertness and mood. The body’s circadian sleep-wake cycle is regulated by rising and falling levels of melatonin— and melatonin levels are suppressed by exposure to light. Morning sun exposure drives melatonin levels down, increasing alertness, and reinforcing the timing of your circadian sleep-wake cycle (helping you sleep better at night). Sunlight also boosts production of vitamin D. Low levels of vitamin D are associated with increased daytime sleepiness and can interfere with both how much and how well we sleep at night.

Tip: Make a practice of drinking a full, 15-ounce glass of water after you rise from bed—and drink your water while soaking up some sun for 15 minutes, standing at a window or stepping outdoors.

Take a cool shower.

I’m not suggesting you must subject yourself to an ice-cold soaking first thing in the morning. (Though, if you’re up for it, it can be incredibly invigorating. A cold shower in the morning is part of my daily routine.) But setting your shower on the mildly cool side, rather than taking a piping hot shower, will help you feel energized and invigorated, and stimulate mental alertness. I use my morning shower to do some simple mindfulness meditation, and it’s a practice I recommend to my patients as well.

Eat a protein-rich breakfast.

Eating a breakfast that’s loaded with carbohydrates, particularly starchy, high-glycemic carbohydrates, will make you feel sleepy just when you need to be focused and alert.

Tip: Emphasize healthy proteins at breakfast, including eggs, yogurt, nuts and avocado. Focus morning carbohydrate consumption on non- starchy carbohydrates such as fresh fruit and vegetables, and nutty, high-protein granola.

Take 5 minutes to move your body.

I’m not talking about wandering from room to room looking for your phone or trying to find a matching pair of socks for your kid. To maximize our energy in the morning, we need to spend a little time moving our bodies with intention. Five minutes of low-intensity movement as part of your daily wake-up routine will get your blood flowing, increase your flexibility, strengthen your muscles and help you feel mentally and physically alert and alive.

Stretching that focuses on the spine is ideal for morning movement. I recommend yoga poses such as child’s pose, cat cows and Sphinx for warming up your spine and elevating your energy in the a.m.

These steps are more than a template for an energizing morning routine. They’re also contributors to better sleep at the end of your day. Sleeping well is a 24-hour endeavor, and the way we start our mornings has a powerful impact on how soundly we rest when bedtime arrives.

Interested in learning how to bring more energy into your daily life, from morning to night? My book—with co-author Stacey Griffith, a founding instructor of SoulCycle—is about how to move from exhausted to energized using the science of chronotype and body type. Energize! is a step-by-step guide to creating individualized routines and habits that help you shed fatigue, stress, sleeplessness and low mood, and reclaim abundant energy and vitality in your daily life, using your body’s unique biology.

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