Boost Mental Health With the Science of Morning Routines

A dad and his kid jumping up and down on bed giving high fives wearing matching PJs

Ah, mornings – the gateway to a new day, filled with endless possibilities. But if you’re like me, you feel a bit slower when starting your day. That’s not a bad thing. In fact, we can use this to our advantage. 

Better morning routines can set you up for a more successful day. 

Let’s sprinkle in a bit of science to learn more about the magic of morning routines. 

Slower Brains in the Morning Means Better Decisions 

A study of chess players found that we make slower decisions in the morning…but they’re more accurate! Later in the day our brains may feel like they’re moving at lightning speeds, but the decisions aren’t as accurate. 

But how do we shake the cobwebs out and use this to our advantage? I certainly don’t feel like making any big decisions when I’m hitting snooze on my alarm clock. 

The Power of Morning Routines

A simple routine which meets your needs can prepare you for a calm, successful day. You can build time to make decisions into your routine if that’s a priority for you. 

As I reference in my latest book on how to build your best brain, the moment right after you open your eyes, your brain is enjoying Alpha waves. Alpha waves create a relaxed and restful state, often similar to meditation. In this state, the flow between the conscious brain and the non-conscious brain is wide open.

But by reaching for our phones as soon as we wake up, we exit the Alpha stage prematurely and head straight into Beta waves, giving our systems a rude awakening! So yeah, your smart device is actually not making you smarter but, in fact, is doing the opposite!

By building better routines in the morning, we can delay our screentime slightly, allowing for a more peaceful transition. Typically, I avoid devices with screens for 30-60 minutes in the morning, except to activate my daily devotional study.

What’s in Your Routine? 

You can add any number of things that you find pleasant as a way to have a better beginning to your day. I have an extensive list in my free morning routine checklist, but here are some examples:

  • Putter with Plants: There are countless benefits to seeing and interacting with plants, whether indoors or outdoors. Now may be the ideal time to water, weed, or prune your indoor or outdoor plants….mindful moment, or take time to think about any big decisions weighing on your mind. 
  • Brainteasers: Do you love a good crossword or Sudoku? Activate alertness with these brain gains.
  • Stretching: Gentle stretches, Tai Chi, or yoga can improve blood flow and wake up your body.
  • Gratitude Journaling: Write down 3 things you’re grateful for to cultivate a positive outlook.
  • Visualization: Briefly visualize yourself achieving a goal, or doing the thing you are looking forward to, to prime your subconscious.
  • Goal Setting: Briefly review your top 3 goals for the day to prime your focus.
  • Create Comfort: Put on your fluffiest slippers, socks, or a cozy sweater
  • Declutter Your Space: Organize your home or workspace for a sense of calm and clarity.

But I’ve Got Kids!
As a grandfather, I know the reality of having my bed being used as a trampoline by a gaggle of kids before I’ve had a chance to open my eyes, let alone a peaceful transition to Beta waves. If you’re a caretaker, parent, or work in a profession where you’re on-call…the struggle is real. And we appreciate your service. 

But here’s the good news: even small tweaks can make a big difference! Instead of a rigid plan, think “micro-habits.” Here are some ideas that can fit into your existing chaos:

  • Can’t manage a morning walk? Open the curtains as soon as possible. Natural light regulates your sleep-wake cycle (circadian rhythm) and boosts energy. If you’re a shift worker who wakes up at night, try to invest in a light therapy lamp.
  • Hydration Hero: Keep a reusable water bottle by your bed. Even a few sips before tackling the day can improve alertness & brain function.
  • Express Gratitude: Write a quick “thank you” note to someone who helps you: a partner, parent, coworker. It could just be on a post-it note. Gratitude boosts happiness and strengthens relationships.
  • Mini-Meditation: Stuck waiting for the coffee to brew? Take a few slow, deep breaths and focus on the sound of your breath or the warmth of your cup.

If I sound like an early bird, the truth is I’m not! But these habits have helped me look forward to waking up earlier in the morning than I used to in the past. I write about many more ways to strengthen your brain and improve your life in Build Your Best Brain.

What’s in your morning routine? I’d love to hear from you! 

John F. Edwards, CSP

Picture of Build Your Best Brain Morning Routines Checklist Cover

PS. Don’t forget to grab the free morning routines checklist, which is full of ideas to give you the best mornings yet! 

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