The brain, in its miraculous complexity, controls everything we do and all that we are—it’s working even in our “off” hours, when we’re down for the count. No wonder then, that it takes its sweet time to become fully awake when our alarm rings and different neural centers begin revving up for the day. It’s tempting to get in a few more z’s by hitting the snooze button, but researchers say that taking that little nap is actually putting you into a new sleep cycle—and when you’re ripped out of it minutes later, you’re setting yourself up for grogginess and “sleep inertia” that can last for the next few waking hours or even all day. In addition, when you keep hitting snooze, you’re sending mixed signals to your body, which really needs to know if you’re getting up or falling back asleep.
Instead of using that extra time to sleep, here are some better ways to start your day right.
Do your “gratitudes”
How many blessings can you count before you get out of bed? Include the big, obvious ones (“my life”) and the tiny little ones (“enough coffee left to get through the morning”). Multiple studies have shown the benefits of actively appreciating things; the University of California, Berkeley, for example, conducted a study that concluded those who practiced gratitude had improved mental health and positive changes in their brains.
Sit up in a comfortable position, straighten your back, close your eyes. You can find a guided meditation to start your day, focus on a thought or mantra, or simply pay attention to your breathing, keeping thoughts of the day at bay for now. Research has shown that meditation has many positive impacts on the body, mind and spirit.
There are some additional fat-burning perks to exercising on an empty stomach if you’re doing low-intensity exercise for less than 90 minutes. A gentle walk or run, yoga or tai-chi, or even a short interval workout of biking, running or swimming at high and low-speeds can make a difference and energize your day.
Make a better breakfast or prepare lunch
Instead of the usual dine-and-dash, take a little extra time to upgrade your breakfast and eat it at the table, or prepare yourself a healthy lunch. In addition to saving money, you’ll also be able to choose healthier foods, rein in portions and maybe even join a family member for the first meal of the day.
A little extra cuddling with a partner, child or even a pet creates more oxytocin, the love hormone, in your brain. It’s an integral ingredient to social bonding and contributes to a positive psychological state.
Walk the dog
Can your dog use an extra lap around the block? While you’re getting your own extra steps in for the day, remember that exercise is essential for a happy pet and can also mitigate destructive behaviors.
Read and write
We get it, you’re busy. But why not recreate the lost art of the letter and pen a thoughtful note to a friend or family member, just because? Do you owe anybody a thank you, condolence or birthday card? Keep the writing materials by the bed so you don’t spend time looking for them. If you’re all caught up on your correspondence, try reading for pleasure (and strengthening your people skills) while you’re at it.
The one thing you probably shouldn’t do when you wake up? Don’t check your phone—at least not first thing. Media, email and social media notifications can trigger stress, even if they’re not all negative. Put a snooze on your news, and start your day a better way.