If you pop out of bed bright-eyed and bushy tailed to the twittering of the early birds, count your blessings as you lovingly prepare a handcrafted breakfast, and then settle down to contemplatively sip some tea and possibly meditate before calmly getting ready for work, this post is not for you.
But if your mornings are more along the lines of “hit snooze a couple times, stagger out of bed, forget half your stuff on the way to the car, and finally wake up around 10:30 after three cups of coffee,” you might be wondering how on earth you’re supposed to manage getting in a home-cooked breakfast and packing a lunch in all of that. Who on earth has time to cook breakfast while they’re staggering around about to be late for the bus?
Why do Mornings (Sometimes) Suck?
You can’t fix something if you don’t know what’s broken. So why do so many people hate mornings and revolt at the thought of adding even more to them in the form of cooking breakfast and packing lunch? Often it’s a combination of…
The morning headache, the grogginess, the grumpiness, the aching need to just collapse right back into bed and pull the covers up over your head – all of them just plain stink. Nobody wants to manage cooking when they feel like that, which is probably a blessing in disguise since operating knives and an oven when you can’t see straight is generally a bad plan.
Not enough time.
On top of feeling lousy, mornings are often a frantic flurry of rushing around trying to do five things at once, which is exactly what you’re least prepared to handle when the coffee is still working its way through your system. If you're stretched to grab a granola bar on the way out the door, waiting 20 minutes for a frittata to bake sounds like an impossible feat.
Crafting a Better Morning
To start making mornings less-bad, start by tackling the root causes of the morning-crud/time-crunch combo that makes mornings so unbearable and a real breakfast so impossible.
For some people, feeling lousy in the morning is just biology. Some people are wired to sleep a later – one study found that roughly 50% of people have an ideal bedtime after midnight, and an ideal wake-up time after 8:00 am. This is called an evening chronotype. If this is you, and you have to get up at 6 for work, you’re probably not going to be at your best.
But for other people, the problem isn’t their chronotype. They’re not grumpy in the mornings because they’re wired to be; they’re grumpy because they only got 6 hours of sleep, and one of those was tossing and turning because they were up on the computer until they collapsed into bed. And all of those problems are a lot easier to change than your biology.
Good mornings start the night before. Count backwards 9 hours from your wake-up call: that’s the time to turn off all the electronic screens. The blue light from computer screens, cell phones, TV screens, and other electronics looks like daylight to your brain, and it’s a signal to stay awake – you want to turn that signal off to wind down for bed.
An hour after that (8 hours before waking up), your head should be on the pillow. This gives you three things:
- More time: when you plan for enough sleep, you aren’t stealing your morning prep time 10 minutes at a time via snooze button.
- More efficient use of your time: when you’re well-rested, you’re more efficient than when you’re stumbling around in a haze.
- Better mood: if your body is done sleeping by the time you need to wake up, then waking up won’t be such an awful prospect, and you’ll feel better once you’re up.
It’s also worth reconsidering your relationship with caffeine. Coffee and other caffeinated drinks can have a place on Paleo, but they can also easily turn into a vicious cycle where you’re tired, so you drink more coffee, so you don’t sleep well, so you’re tired, so you drink even more coffee, etc.
Automate your Food Prep
The next step to making mornings a little better is to cut down on the number of things you have to cram into them – this is where the later chronotypes will really start seeing benefits. Mornings might not be your favorite time of day, but they don’t have to be a frantic rush of things to do, even if you want a home-cooked breakfast and lunch.
On Paleo, you’ll be cooking almost all of your meals from scratch. But you don’t have to cook anything in the morning if you don’t want to. The key is to get into a routine of doing food prep ahead of time, so it doesn’t take any effort to remember and becomes totally mindless.
- For breakfast: One day a week, batch-cook something that you can grab and go. Here are 8 simple recipes to get you started.
- Lunch: if you need to pack a lunch for work or school, get in the habit of cooking double for dinner and packing the leftovers when you clean up after dinner. Stick it in the fridge; you can just grab it and go in the morning.
Make these into habitual parts of the week, so there’s no need to think about them. You’ll have healthy food easily available in the mornings without scrambling to cook. Even if you’re still not quite awake until closer to lunchtime, the pre-coffee haze won’t be compromising your health goals.
Mornings from Good to Great
With enough sleep and a solid food prep routine, getting real food into your mornings should at least be tolerable. Here’s how to take it up one more notch.
Make Mornings Enjoyable
- If you don’t work out in the morning, stretch for a few minutes. Not everyone is a morning-workout person, and that’s fine. But if you’re not, take a couple minutes and stretch out to get the blood flowing. It’s a great way to feel more awake without caffeine.
- Drink a big glass of water. Again, energy minus the caffeine, and it’s good for you!
- Build in some quiet time. It’s one thing to not-rush. But even better than that is some quiet time to yourself in the morning. Whether it’s reading the paper, meditating, or just having some coffee and looking out the window, give yourself a few minutes to start the day calmly.
Set Up Your Day
If you have time to do even a little bit of food prep, you can also take a few simple steps to make the rest of your day better:
- Put something in the slow-cooker. When you get home from work, dinner will be ready.
- Put something in to marinade. This is especially good if you’re planning to grill anything for dinner.
- If you have a spare few minutes, put some dishes away or clean something fast. It can make a big difference to come home to a clean kitchen.
Summing it Up
Even if mornings will never be your favorite part of the day, at least you can make sure they aren’t any worse than they have to be. As simple as it sounds, getting enough sleep and planning ahead for meals can save you from a crazy morning rush that ends up with you skipping breakfast and caving to the lure of the vending machine at 10.