Hey guys, Tom here again with a brand new post. I think this is something you’ll like a lot, because it combines a lot of usable information into one. I’ll give you some habits that are very easy to implement, yet are nevertheless very powerful stuff.
Most advice that is given to insomnia sufferers is often focused on things to do at night. Drink chamomille tea, meditate, avoid blue screens, take melatonin, and so on, and so on.
What a lot of people don’t know is that what you do in the morning is equally or maybe even more important to acquire great sleep. It is at this time that you set the tone for how that day is going to be.
To teach your body the distinction between day and night, it needs the right signals. These are called zeitgebers, which is basically the German word for ‘time givers’. They are biological cues that help your brain tell the time of day.
It is very important that you give the brain hints on what time of day it is. This helps the body release the right hormones at the right time. The body can only know what time of day it is if you tell it, and it will respond accordingly.
If it doesn’t know it’s 10 PM, it’s not going to release any melatonin at that time. If it does know, however, there are no need for any melatonin supplements, because you’ll make enough of it on your own.
To tell your body when it’s night, first you have to tell it when it’s daytime. So as soon as the sun comes up, you better start acting like it.
Most people have terrible morning habits…
When asking people who suffer from insomnia about what they do in the morning, often very bad habits come to light. People are mostly worried about sleep when the evening comes.
A lot of people often stay in bed in the morning, or wake up at different times, because they only finally got to sleep at 7 AM the night(?) before, so they stay in bed until 3 PM that day, and the time they wake up differs for them every day. This is a very bad way to start the day. If you have similar habits, don’t feel surprised your sleep troubles persist.
(I used to have these crappy morning habits as well, so I totally get it.)
What I’ve personally found myself is that a combination of many different factors work synergistically to improve sleep. One plus one plus one doesn’t equal three in this case, it equals ten.
So what do you have to do in the morning?
To give you some great advice to implement in daily life, here are the four habits I implement myself to ensure my sleep will be awesome that night.
When I implement these on a consistent basis, I can be sure there’s a very big chance I’m going to start feeling sleepy around 9-10 PM. On the other hand, if I don’t do them consistently, over time my sleep is going to suck again.
My martial arts obsession kind of shines through in the vocabulary I use in this post. But this is what these techniques do to insomnia: completely smack it down.
So, without much further ado, here’s my kickass Four Punch Combo To Knockout Insomnia. Enjoy!
The left straight: get up at the same time every morning
We start off with a left straight punch. This punch kind of tries to gauge the distance. When it hits, it still hurts. Insomnia already has to go in the defensive with this one.
So what do I want you to do?
Get up every morning at the same time. Now, this may be a no-brainer, you probably heard it before somewhere else, but let me explain.
First thing we do is set the circadian clock, the internal biological clock that regulates all our hormonal processes. The circadian rhythm loves and craves stability, and it is imperative that you provide it to her. Whether you slept eight hours or five, one or none at all, whether you feel great or feel like shit, you need to have a set time to start your day.
The reason it works is this: when you wake up, you start being active, how low that activity might be. This activity already signals to your brain that day has begun.
There is a behavioural and psychological aspect to this: if you create a habit, it will be much easier to get up in time. Our clock is also partly set by habits. You can see this in many different aspects of your life, even the time you feel hungry. When you start eating at three o’clock every day, for instance, even when you’re not hungry, after a while, you will automatically start feeling hungry at three. This too, is the circadian clock at work.
Getting up at the same time every day by itself isn’t enough if you’re getting up each day at noon. You need to synchronise yourself with the start of daylight.
Personally, I get up at about 6 AM each day. (having a job to go to is really helpful for these purposes)
I’ll explain why getting out of bed at a set time every day is so important.
First: getting out of bed at different times each day is the equivalent to giving yourself jetlag every day, which wrecks your energy levels, mood and overall health.
From personal experience, I’ve found, that this is the most important, yet also hardest habit to implement.
As a matter of fact, I had a bad night myself this week due to a lot of stress the day before. I couldn’t shut my eyes no matter how much I wanted to. I actually wanted to stay in bed and call in sick for work. In the end, I didn’t, I forced myself out of bed and got to work. I was miserable and tired all day, but I pulled myself through it.
When I came home from work, I went directly to bed and didn’t come out until morning after. That was this morning. So yesterday sucked really bad, but today I feel great. I’m happy I didn’t call in sick, although the temptation was definitely there.
Most of my nights aren’t like this though, I really try to manage stress, which is a key factor in sleep, as I pointed out here.
So remember: get out of bed every single day in the morning at the same time (and having a job to go to works wonders).
Right Uppercut: eat an Epic Breakfast
Once you’ve got insomnia up in the defensive, you’ve got to keep going in the offensive, and push it in the corner.
This is a bit easier to do. What I want you to do now, is eat.
And I’m not talking about a bit of cereal with milk, I’m talking about a big-ass breakfast to fill you up.
I myself cook up some seafood, eat half an avocado, a couple pieces of fruit, maybe a bit of cheese when I feel like it. All combined, this comes down to about 750 to 1000 calories each morning.(but I’m a big guy)
Let me explain to you how this could possibly help to fight insomnia.
Eating and digesting food works as a zeitgeber, a signal your body interprets that it is day, like light and activity does. Also, since you have been fasting all night, your glycogen is depleted, which means your body is running on the backup system, and therefore stress hormones like cortisol are high.
Eating in the morning acts as a buffer against stressors and gives you energy. The more you eat in the morning, the faster you’ll kickstart your metabolism and the more you’re prepared to face the stressors of the day. This means you’ll have less stress hormones in your blood at night, and more melatonin.
Now, before you start saying, “no way I’ll do that, I’ll just get fat”, there are studies that prove that the more you eat in the morning, the less calories you consume overall in a day. It also works wonders for your blood sugar stability.
That’s what I’ve been noticing too. I eat a lot in the morning, a bit more at noon, a tiny bit in the afternoon, and in the evening, I’m usually not hungry at all. This works both wonders for my stomach as well as my food budget. So combined with sleep, that’s a triple win.
Notice however, that I do say you need healthy food. Eating lots of donuts doesn’t cut it, and will probably wreck your blood sugar stability, only adding to the problem. You’ll actually sleep worse if you eat crap.
Preferably eat a source of lean protein combined with some healthy carbs like a fruit salad. Try 25% of your calories from protein, 25% from fat, and the other 50% from carbs. Don’t be too strict with this exact ratio though, it’s just a guideline.
Eating a source of protein with the carbs is important because this lowers the insulin response and stabilises blood sugar, which again, means less stress hormones. A bit more fat doesn’t necessarily hurt either, since it’s been proven your body is better at burning fat in the morning. Don’t overdo it though, I still prefer carbs and lean protein.
Now, you might not be very hungry in the morning, but that is something you can actually train. After a while of eating more, you’ll automatically start getting hungry in the morning. This didn’t happen overnight with me either.
For people who are into intermittent fasting: you can actually combine this with IF. Since you’ll automatically lower your feeding window because you’ll be less hungry later on in the day, you’ll be fasting in the evening instead of the morning. Remember though, that fasting is a stressor too, so might contribute to sleeping problems (it did with mine).
Nevertheless, I still believe intermittent fasting is good for health if your metabolic rate is doing fine and your body can take the stress. Otherwise, I’d advise against it.
Left hook: a cup of coffee
The next punch is a follow-up hook. It’s something small and something that will definitely help.
When you have your big ass breakfast, have a cup of coffee with it.
How does this possibly help? Isn’t the standard advice for people with sleeping problems to stop drining coffee?
As I said in one of my previous posts, it’s not all black and white. Coffee can be both harmful and beneficial, and like with all chemicals, the dosage makes the poison.
Coffee, for one, also acts as a circadian zeitgeber, meaning it tells your body it’s daytime. This makes it a good idea to drink coffee in the morning, but a very bad idea to do so in the evening.
When you drink coffee with food, it helps amplify the food induced resetting of circadian clocks.
The benefit is also partly psychological. People with sleep deprivation often have low energy levels, and coffee is one of the things that helps them get through the day. Normally, coffee by itself is harmful if you want to sleep, because it works by increasing the stress hormones in your body.
However, since you are eating a large breakfast, the food you just ate works as a buffer against that stress, and the meal blunts the stress response. So it’s not that big of a deal if you eat a lot of food with it.
The coffee will help tell your body it’s daytime, helping your body create that distinction between day and night, and thus strengthening your circadian rhythm. It will help you feel better, even if you just had a bad day, and it will provide you with energy to get through the day, without any downside.
Aside from this, coffee, besides caffeine, also contains lots of phytonutrients that are extremely good for you.
Now, if you don’t drink coffee, you can also drink tea, or eat a piece of chocolate (minimum 80 % cacao). Both of these contain caffeine as well.
But remember, past noon, I highly advise against getting any caffeine in.
So, besides the food, this may be one of my more favorite morning routines to do. Hope you enjoy this one.
The Haymaker – Finish Him Off
Insomnia just got a few hard punches, but he’s still conscious. (as will you be tonight if you don’t finish him off.)
So here’s the final, and probably most powerful smackdown punch. After this one, your sleeping demons are down to the floor.
The last and final thing I need you to do, is to do a morning walk outside. Just half an hour of walking, getting some daylight in.
This is very important, and I’ll tell you way.
First of all, daylight is the primary zeitgeber, the signal that your body uses to tell day, as we said before. It’s the most powerful and important signal, and you need to get it in the morning.
The sun emits light, very powerful light, in all kinds of spectra: UV, red, infrared. The most important one for acquiring sleep is the blue spectrum. Your eyes contain receptors for this blue light, and getting light in gives the signal to your brain that day has begun.
Morning daylight shifts the internal clock earlier, so if you do this consistently, you’ll also have an easier time waking up, without the use of an alarm clock.
While other sources of light also emit blue spectrum light, it’s way less powerful than the light the Sun emits. Even without looking directly at the sun, you’ll still get about 100.000 lux (the measuring unit of light), compared to say the 50 lux of a computer screen or indoor lighting.
Even I thought for a while that looking at any screen in the morning would probably give a strong enough signal, but in reality, there is really no substitute for getting exposed to daylight in the morning.
Secondly. there’s movement. Remember that you’ve just had a big meal. More important than just eating lots of food, is that the food has to actually be able get to the cells. A big factor in this is insulin sensitivity. This is the cells’ ability to take in food to convert it into usable energy.
Being sedentary and overweight greatly reduces insulin sensitivity. This in turn causes unstable blood sugar levels and a tired feeling after meals. Unstable blood sugar also equals increased stress hormones.
Being active and moving a lot on the other hand improve insulin sensitivity, which helps stabilize blood sugar, and allows your body to better convert food into energy, in turn lowering stress hormones. If insulin sensitivity is high, it’s less likely that your food will be stored as fat either, so again it’s a double win.
So getting a half hour morning walk or bike ride, to work or to school, greatly improves your ability to turn your Epic Breakfast into energy to power your cells, this energy serving as a buffer against stress.
Movement also entrains your circadian clock. Activity is also a strong zeitgeber, and moving, in addition to light, tells your brain that day has begun.
You don’t have to do exercise in the morning, or two hour walks. Half an hour is enough to have good light exposure and enough movement.
Aftermath – What Did We Learn Today?
To sum everything up, here’s what I want you to do:
- Get up every morning at the same time
- Eat an epic, big-ass breakfast
- Have a cup of coffee
- Go for a morning walk
I can imagine that anyone has already tried light therapy, or exercise for sleep, or tried eating healthy. The synergy between all these different habits matters.
But what’s most important here is context. How and when to implement these habits, and most importantly, why.
All these different habits work in conjunction with each other. Having a set morning routine will increase the chances that you’ll be able to get up every day at the same time in the morning.
A good reason to get up gives you psychological leverage over your mind to fight the internal lazy self, which wants to stay in bed for a few more hours. The best example of this is a steady job. Not many people think of oversleeping when something’s at stake. Getting a job greatly improved my sleep, because I had to get up at a certain time.
Having a big breakfast gives us more energy, which in turn gives you a reason to get up every morning. You’ll have less stress in the evening because and you’ll sleep better as a result. This makes getting up easier, because you’ll start to feel better in the morning.
Getting morning daylight exposure in turn makes you wake up early, without having to use a clock. All these habits start a positive feedback loop, and they strengthen each other. That’s why I said 1+1+1=10.
Some final words…
Do note that this is not something that will magically improve your sleep overnight. Setting the circadian clock, lowering stress hormone levels, improving insulin sensitivity, these are things that take time. Your hormonal rhythms don’t change overnight, and your body loves stability, so you have to give it to her.
I don’t sell miracle cures, because they don’t exist. Results will only come after some input of your own.
A week after doing this morning routine, though, you should definitely see improvements in both sleep and energy levels.
So try it out, and sleep tight.
Once you try this out, and you feel your sleep is getting better, I’d love to hear from you. So either post a comment or send me a message. There’s nothing that makes my day like hearing I’ve been able to help someone get over their insomnia.