A good morning routine is a foundational part of self-care, affecting everything from your energy levels and productivity to the state of your skin.
But it is easy to fall into less-than-ideal habits without even realizing it ― particularly during a global pandemic when we are collectively coping with much bigger issues and routines have long gone out the window.
Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to get back on track. We asked experts for some of the most common morning routine mistakes and easy fixes to try instead.
Mistake #1: Hitting The Snooze Button
More than half of Americans say they hit the snooze button daily, so know that if you do too, you’re in good company. Also, it’s really not your fault. Growing research suggests that workdays and school days start too early, causing millions of kids and adults to lose out on the hours of sleep their brains and bodies need. So trying to sneak in a few last-minute ZZZs might seem like your only recourse. But alas, it doesn’t work.
“It’s so tempting to keep hitting snooze,” said Niket Sonpal, a New York City-based internist and faculty member with the Touro College of Medicine. “But it’s not beneficial.”
That’s because the extra minutes you eke out at that point aren’t actually restorative, even if they feel good at the time.
Plus, you could be disrupting the longer periods of REM sleep that tend to happen early in the morning. And frequent interruptions to the natural sleep cycle have been linked to range of both mental effects (like cognitive issues and depression) as well as physical ones (like metabolic problems).
“If you want some extra time in the morning, a better idea would be to set your clock ahead 15 minutes and wake up the minute it goes off,” Sonpal said. “If you have to set a really annoying alarm tone, then do so.”
Mistake #2: Letting Your Mind Be ‘Directed’ By Your Phone
Another big morning mistake people make is reaching for their phones while they’re still under the covers, said Naomi Parrella, a primary care physician with Rush University Medical Group.
If the very first thing you do in the morning is check email, look at social media or scan the day’s headlines, you’re essentially letting things outside of your control “hijack” your very first thoughts and feelings, Parrella said.
You’re giving your mind “inputs that are effectively somebody else deciding for you what goes in your brain,” she said. And she is worried that people have become almost “addicted” to the up-and-down news cycle.
So now is the time to be diligent about boundaries. It’s OK if you reach for your phone first thing in the morning because it’s your alarm; it’s not great if you’re picking it up to immediately connect to the outside world.
Take a few deep breaths instead. Do some stretches. Say “hi” to your partner or kids. Drink some water.
Mistake #3: Filling Up On Sugar Right Away
“Sugar and super, ultra-processed breakfast foods cause a hormonal shift in the body,” Parella said. “Now you’re going to be on this roller coaster of being hungry, being moody, possibly having a sugar crash.”
The average American consumes 77 grams of sugar a day, according to the American Heart Association, which is about three times the recommended daily amount for women. (The recommended amount is slightly higher for men.) And experts tend to warn that breakfast is the most problematic meal of the day when it comes to added sugar thanks to common offerings like sweetened coffee and tea, cereals, syrup, breakfast bars, sugary smoothies and yogurts, and on and on.
So what does “too much” actually mean? Public health guidelines are a good starting point, but Parella doesn’t like to be too prescriptive or harsh. Basically, the more sugar you can cut out of your morning routine, the better.
“If you want to really start the day strong and solid and anchored, it’s really helpful if you can cut out the sugar completely,” she urged — but that’s not necessary.
Sugar isn’t the devil, it’s just recommended that you choose wisely when to enjoy it. And if you do have a sugar-heavy morning, try incorporating some movement into your routine right after.
“You might go for a little walk, you might do some sun salutations or a few yoga moves, but the worst would be to go from [eating sugar] to sitting at your chair or in the car for hours on end,” Parella said.
Mistake #4: Not Washing Your face Properly Or Using SPF
One morning mishap that really bothers some skin care experts? Not washing your face because you did it the night before, said Stacy Chimento, a Miami-based dermatologist with Riverchase Dermatology.
There is a chance your skin can pick up yucky stuff at night, like dead skin cells that collect on your pillowcase or dust that might be circulating in your sleep space while you get those ZZZs. (One stomach-churning investigation suggested that our pillows have as many microbes as our toilet seats.)
We must note that this tip is a little contentious: Some dermatologists say it’s not strictly necessary to wash your face with products in the morning if you’ve done a thorough job the night before. Using soap or cleansers multiple times might dry out your skin.
If you do go that route, take note of the water temp. “Although it might be tempting to wash your face with very cold water to wake yourself up, the temperature of the water should not be extreme,” Chimento said. “Wash with lukewarm water. Most people are rushing in the morning. Take care not to tug at your skin or be overzealous if you are exfoliating your face.”
Whatever you choose, make sure to slather on plenty of SPF. “You need at least a teaspoon to cover your whole face,” Chimento said — as well as your neck and chest.
Mistake #5: Completely Overlooking Your Mental Well-Being
The mornings can be rough: You’re tired, you’re often rushing or balancing walking pets, getting kids out the door and catching up on last-minute deadlines.
However, “if you don’t start the day right, you can spend the next few hours trying to work your way out of a ‘funk,’” Sonpal said — and she urges everyone to make sure they find even a few moments to tend to their well-being.
The strategies you use can be quite simple. “Open the blinds or shades wherever you can in your home to let in natural light,” Sonpal said. Then find a few moments to stretch, to meditate, to write in a gratitude journal or just connect, in a positive way, with a loved one.
One recent research paper that offered brief, actionable steps people can take every day to boost well-being pointed to the potential benefits of just taking a few deep breaths or spending a few moments focusing on the qualities you admire about a friend or loved one. Those kinds of quick and easy exercises can set you up for the day and train your brain over time.
“Not everyone is a ‘morning person,’” Sonpal said. But “if you establish the right routine, you can help yourself to function better.”