How do you feel when you wake up in the morning? Are the first words that come to your mind X-rated curses against your alarm? Do you drag yourself out of bed and brew a large pot of coffee in the hope of drowning your sluggishness? If you fancy staying more awake throughout the day and getting stuff done, here are good news: you have it in you, you just need the right stimuli, such as the five below.
- Green tea
Although it is coffee we associate with energy boosts, tea contains just as much caffeine, which acts as a stimulus that improves your focus and attention. However, coffee is a much stronger depressant (lowering your energy levels, not your mood) than tea. Tea also releases caffeine more gradually instead of all at once, like coffee. If you want to avoid the energy slump, choose tea over coffee. And why green tea specifically? Green tea has been shown to benefit almost every organ in the human body, including the brain. It is cardio-protective, neuroprotective, anti-carcinogenic, anti-diabetic and may help with weight loss. A study from the University of San Francisco found that the polyphenols responsible for the bitter taste in green tea can increase dopamine concentration, the “feel-good” hormone with amazing effects such as high attention, improved short-term memory and elation. In another study published in the journal Molecular Nutrition & Food Research Chinese researchers found green tea affects the generation of brain cells that can provide benefits for memory and spatial learning. So, anyone fancy a cup of tea?
- Keep your blood sugar levels stable
The brain requires a constant supply of energy, in other words, sugar, to function as it cannot store sugar. Balanced blood sugar (insulin) levels therefore translate to balanced energy levels. Hence, it is essential to avoid insulin spikes and crashes if you want to keep going throughout the day. This can be achieved by a low glycaemic load diet. Basically, this means that you want to eat food that will release its energy slowly once it enters your bloodstream and supply your brain with energy gradually rather than in one go. Keeping two principles in mind, following a low glycaemic load diet becomes easy: firstly, choose intact, little processed food like whole grains over refined grains and whole fruits over fruit juice. Secondly, all fibre-rich foods, like beans, nuts, fruit, vegetables paired with protein, such as lean chicken, eggs, peas, lentils or soya, are low on the glycaemic index. Et voilà; done.
- Improve your sleep
Don’t tell me better sleep equates feeling well rested in the morning? This might be a no-brainer. However, improved sleep means more than just more sleep (for most of us). If you have trouble falling asleep, abandon screens as bedtime approaches as the blue light can keep you awake. Only go to bed once you’re feeling really tired and don’t do anything else in your bed other than sleeping, especially not studying or working so that you grow accustomed to associating your bed with sleep. We sleep in 90-minute cycles. This means it is much easier to get out of bed if your alarm goes off at the end of one cycle rather than in the middle of deeper levels of sleep. For example, if you go to bed at 11 pm, set your alarm for 6:30 am. How many hours of sleep are ideal? This will vary from person to person, however the answer will be a multiple of 90 minutes. So either 6 hours (four cycles), seven hours and thirty minutes (five cycles) or nine hours (six cycles). In the morning, place your alarm so far away that you will have to physically get up to switch it off, and drop that habit of hitting the snooze-button as this will only end up making you even more tired. Open the window and let yourself be wakened naturally by sunlight and a breath of fresh air.
Research going back to the 1970s shows that Buddhist monks who have regularly practised meditation for years perform better than most of us at concentration tests. Yet, more recent research suggests anyone can reap the benefits of meditation with significantly less devotion. One recent study by scientists at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte found that students performed significantly better on cognitive skill tests after just four days of meditating twenty minutes a day. On one especially challenging computer test of sustained attention, they outperformed the control group who did not meditate by ten times. In addition, they coped much better with timed exercises that were designed to put them under time pressure. If you want to get started with meditation, all you need is a quiet place where you can sit or lie down for a few minutes at a time. Set a timer, and just draw your attention to your breath, observing how your body reacts to the rise and fall of your breathing pattern. It is impossible to think of nothing and meditation does not aspire to thinking of nothing, either. Instead, meditation aims at mindfulness. Try to detach yourself from your thoughts and observe them like an outsider. Whenever you catch yourself drifting off, gently redirect your focus on your breathing.
- Energy management
Time management is key, we all know that. However, energy management deserves just as much attention. The tasks on your daily To-do list will probably vary in the amount of energy and time they require and the enjoyment they’ll bring to you. So be your own detective and observe when you feel the most energetic. Are you an early bird or a night owl? Use that time to tackle whatever is urgent, high on your priority list and demands both your attention and time. At other times of the day, when you are feeling less motivated you can swallow your daily frog and tick off the mundane chores that are neither challenging nor urgent but still need to be done, like household chores or checking your e-mails.
Everyone can wake up their inner productive badass without downing coffee or swallowing Adderall. So, galvanise yours, and watch what happens!