The Wake-Up RoutineThe morning is probably no one's favorite part of the day, particularly if you stayed up the night before to watch Leno orJaws for the seventeenth time. Remember: Stress and anxiety wreak havoc on your immunity. Enter your day happy and relaxed, and you greatly increase your chances of a healthy, productive day.
1. Go to sleep with your blinds or curtains halfway open. That way, the natural light of the rising sun will send a signal to your brain to slow its production of melatonin and bump up its production of adrenaline, a signal that it's time to wake up. When the alarm goes off, you'll already be half awake. Even better: Go to bed early enough so that waking up when the sun shines through your window still gives you the recommended seven hours of shut-eye. If you maintain this routine, it's likely that you can start relying on your biological clock rather than an alarm clock.
2. Set your alarm 15 minutes earlier. This way, you don't have to jump out of bed and rush through your morning. You can begin your morning by lying in bed, slowly waking up. Stretching. Listening to the news headlines. Mentally clicking off what you're going to wear, what you're going to do, what you're going to have for breakfast. It's just as important to prepare yourself mentally as physically for your day. These few minutes in bed, before anyone else is up, are all yours.
3. Stretch every extremity for 15 seconds. Try this even before you open your eyes. Lift your arm and begin by stretching each finger, then your hand, then your wrist, then your arm. Then move on to the other arm. Then your toes, feet, ankles, and legs. Finally, end with a neck and back stretch that propels you out of the bed. You've just limbered up your muscles and joints and enhanced the flow of blood through your body, providing an extra shot of oxygen to all your tissues.
4. Stick a chair in the shower and sit in it. Use one of those plastic chairs you can buy at any hardware store. Let it warm up under the spray for a minute, then sit in it and let the spray beat on your back. It's simultaneously relaxing and energizing, like getting a water massage. After a couple of minutes, you can swing the chair out of the way and commence with washing.
5. Read a motivational quote every morning. This can provide a frame for the day, a sort of self-talk that keeps you motivated in the right direction as opposed to the negative thinking of the morning news. Another option: Use a motivational mantra that provides a meditation-like burst, or read or recite a poem that helps you focus. A good one to use: Rudyard Kipling's "If."
6. Take a vitamin. Keep a multivitamin out on the kitchen counter right by the coffeepot so you remember to take one every morning. More than 20 years of research led to a major recommendation in one of the country's premier medical journals suggesting that every American take a multivitamin as part of a healthy lifestyle.
7. Eschew any decisions. For truly relaxing mornings, reduce the number of choices and decisions you make to zero. Go about this two ways: First, make your morning decisions the night before: what clothes to wear, what breakfast to eat, what route to take to work, and so on. Second, routinize as much of your morning as possible. Really, there's no need to vary your breakfast, timetable, or bathroom ritual from one morning to the next.
8. Cuddle with your kids. Few things are more stressful in the morning than waking up an overtired fifth grader or a snoring high schooler. Yet this is one of the few times you can catch your child still vulnerable. Sit on his bed and gently smooth his hair as you softly waken him. Or, if you're dealing with a very young child, lie beside him and gently hug him awake. Such a moment will send a quiet surge of joy through your entire day and will become all too rare in all too short a time.
9. Spend 5 to 10 minutes each morning listening to music or sitting on the deck or porch just thinking. This allows the creative thinking that takes place during the night to gel and form into a plan of action, grounding you for the day.
10. Wake to the smell of coffee. Really great coffee. Buy the absolute best coffee you can afford -- fresh beans are preferred -- and put twice the amount you've been using into your coffee maker, the one you bought specifically because it has an alarm that can be set to start brewing times. The strong scent of strong coffee will pull you out of bed like a fishhook in the back of your pajamas. Plus, if you're going the caffeine route, morning is the best time for it. Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant that acts in many ways like other stimulant drugs such as amphetamines, waking you up and increasing your muscular activity. Even better: A study of 18 men found that caffeine improved clear-headedness, happiness, and calmness, as well as the men's ability to perform on attention tests and to process information and solve problems.
11. Brush your tongue for one minute. There's no better way to rid yourself of morning breath and begin your day minty fresh and clean. After all, more than 300 types of bacteria take up residence in your mouth every night. You think a quick brush over the teeth is going to vanquish them all?
12. Take a baby aspirin. There. You've just significantly reduced your risk of a heart attack. In one study of 220,000 doctors, those who took an aspirin every day for five years slashed their heart attack risk nearly in half. Of course, check with your doctor first to make sure this is okay for you.
Stay Organized and Healthy13. Use real sugar in your coffee, or drink a cup of orange juice. When researchers at the University of Virginia tested the memories of healthy 60- to 80-year-olds, they found those who had a small amount of sugar in the morning (the experimenters compared sweetened to unsweetened lemonade) even before breakfast had better memory recall that day on into the following day. We're talking small amounts, however, about a teaspoon or less; so put down that doughnut.
14. Check your morning calendar. This is the large calendar or white board you've hung in a prominent position in your kitchen. On it, you write everything you need to know for that particular day, from kids' activities to whether the guy is coming to service the furnace to whether it's time to pay bills. Check it out carefully while you sip that first cup of coffee or morning tea; it will help you structure your day in your mind and avoid the stressful effects of forgetting something important.
15. Swallow 500 mg of calcium citrate. Your body is better at absorbing this form of calcium than the other commonly used form, calcium carbonate, found in antacids like Tums and Rolaids. You'll need at least another 500 mg before you go to bed.
16. Drink eight ounces of water. You've been fasting all night and you wake each morning dehydrated.
17. Create a checklist for your kids. If you don't have kids, skip this one. But if you do, this is a biggie. To cut down on morning chaos, hang a white board in the hallway or kitchen and list all the things that must be done before the kids can leave: brush teeth, eat breakfast, get backpack together, make bed, and so on. Have them check off or erase each item once it's completed. You can do the same thing with lists printed out from your computer. Set aconsequence: If all items aren't checked off 5 minutes before you need to leave, there's no TV, PlayStation, dessert, or computer time that night.
18. Keep a wicker basket for yourself and each child by the front or back door. Into it go your keys, wallet, purse, and the child's backpack, papers, gloves, hats, etc. This will prevent that frantic last-minute scouring of the house as you look for lost items.
19. Split up in the morning. That means you use one bathroom and your partner uses another. Even if you are still madly in love, bathroom time should be private time. It makes for a calmer, less stressful start to your day.
20. Wash more efficiently. We spend an average of about 12 minutes in the shower. That's fine when you're preparing for date night. But in the morning, you need to get in and out quickly. If you're not into showering the night before (we do understand about bed head) try using two-in-one products like a cleanser that both cleans and moisturizes or a combination shampoo and conditioner. When you wash your body, just hit the hot spots, i.e., your groin and underarms. Everything else can just be rinsed off. The health benefit: reducing stress by saving time.
21. Prepare an emergency outfit in your closet. Include socks, jewelry, hose, etc., so on those mornings when you sleep through the alarm or simply need an extra 10 minutes, you can just pluck it off the hanger and go.
22. Dry more efficiently. Start with an oversized, 100 percent cotton bath sheet for maximum blotting. Towel-dry your hair and let it air-dry while you do your makeup or put on your underwear. Then, if you use a blow-dryer, make it a high-energy one, at least 1,600 watts. Anything else is just wasting precious time.
23. Hop on the treadmill for 30 minutes. Studies find that people who work out in the morning are more likely to stick with their exercise regimen because they get it out of the way and don't have all day to come up with diversions and excuses. Plus, you will produce endorphins that will last most of the day.
24. Kiss all the people you love in your house (including the dog and cat) before you leave. Connecting with the ones you love soothes stress and provides you with a positive start to your day, as well as keeping you focused on what's really important says therapist Barbara Bartlein, L.C.S.W., author of Why Did I Marry You Anyway? 125 Strategies for a Happy Marriage.