If quality sleep is an ongoing challenge for you, the answer may be found in correcting or implementing a morning routine. The way we start our day influences the rest of it – including how we sleep at night. While breakfast has historically been referred to as the most important meal of the day, in more recent times this old adage seems to have been sidelined. More people are opting for quick (and often sugary) breakfasts or skipping it entirely, perhaps starting the day with a cup of coffee or fasting through until lunchtime.
Experts suggest that eating breakfast can translate to falling asleep more easily and experiencing a more restful and restorative sleep. This is because food sets off one of the peripheral clocks in the body. What is a peripheral clock? Inside our body, there are thousands of biochemical processes going on at any given time. Our body relies on our peripheral clocks to signal to each cell exactly what it should be doing at different stages of the day.
Food activates the peripheral clock in your liver which means whenever you first consume food in the day is when your body believes it is morning. There are, of course, other components that influence our biological clocks, such as getting light into your eyes in the morning. Yet it is important to set off all the signals to ensure everything remains balanced. By skipping breakfast, you risk putting your circadian clock – the internal clock that governs your sleep cycle – out of rhythm.
Why else is breakfast so important to the body?
As the name suggests, breakfast is about ‘breaking’ your overnight fast. It provides us with energy to get our day started and it gets our metabolism firing. When we skip breakfast, we are communicating to our body that food is unavailable, triggering a stress response. This is because the body is governed by ancient mechanisms that still link stress to circumstances such as famine, war and drought. Your body does not understand that you are choosing to abstain from food, it simply presumes that it must not be available. This has a dual impact.
Firstly, it signals the need to produce stress hormones – both adrenaline and cortisol – which has a flow on effect to every aspect of your health. Churning out stress hormones regularly will affect your digestive capacity, hormonal balance and your sleep – to name a few. Secondly, telling your body that no food is available will slow down your metabolism. Your body is incredibly efficient and is designed to have your best interest at heart. If it believes there isn’t enough food, it will slow everything down to preserve your energy.
When and what for breakfast?
Aim to eat your breakfast within an hour of waking as this will keep your biological clocks in rhythm. Remember too, that what you eat is just as important as when you eat. Starting the day with balanced blood sugars means that you will make better food choices throughout the day. It is essential to ensure your breakfast contains some kind of protein, healthy fats and fresh fruit or vegetables.
For example, eggs on toast with avocado and spinach or a green smoothie with some added yoghurt and nuts. Try to avoid sugary cereals or pastries as these can spike your blood sugar and lead to crashes through the day which impacts your subsequent food choices and your energy. Overnight oats, or chia pudding are simple and sustaining breakfast options that can be prepared the evening before if you are short on time in the mornings.
What else can you do in the morning to improve your sleep?
Earlier we alluded to the fact that one of your peripheral clocks is triggered by exposure to light. Opening your curtains and putting your face into the morning sun when you wake can be an excellent way to signal to your body that it’s time to wake up and consequently kick off the rhythm of your circadian clock. Waking up at the same time every day can help to maintain a balanced rhythm, too.
You may also benefit from carving out some space in your mornings to do something that feels good for you. For example, you may like to keep a gratitude journal that you write in each morning, go for a leisurely walk in nature, do some stretching or simply sit at the window with a cup of tea and watch the sun rise. While everyone will have their own unique routine, the key lies in finding a process that is sustainable for your to do that helps your stress levels. So, what’s your secret morning routine?