Do you ever find yourself so overwhelmed by the to-do list that you struggle to stay sharp and focused? Neuroscientist and creator of meditation app, BrainTap, Patrick K. Porter, Ph.D., and neuroscientist Kristen Willeumier, Ph.D., know the feeling. They shared with Well+Good what they do every morning to maintain a clear and productive mind throughout the day.
Wake up mindfully
Both Dr. Porter and Dr. Willeumier make time for a few minutes of meditation in the morning. “Meditation alleviates stress and anxiety by reducing cortisol and epinephrine, which helps to regulate blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing patterns,” Dr. Willeumier explains. “It also serves to create a whole-brain synchronization that enhances creativity, learning, focus, and attention.”
In addition to meditation, Dr. Porter suggests trying to wake without an alarm. “One of the worst things you can do to your nervous system is wake up to a blazing alarm,” he says. To ensure that he wakes up on time, Dr. Porter recommends leaving the blinds open to let light naturally wake you or finding an alarm that slowly increases in volume to wake you calmly.
Reach for water instead of caffeine
Both brain health experts prioritize hydration at the start of their day. Dr. Porter gets three 20-ounce glasses of water in before his morning work-out and Dr. Willeumier hydrates with two eight-ounce glasses of water: the first glass is plain, filtered water, while the second glass gets a couple of slices of fresh lemon. “Given that the body has just gone through an eight-hour or longer fast during the night, we want to begin our morning with hydrating fluids,” she says.
Hydration isn’t just good for bodily function but will benefit cognitive function as well. Exercise physiologists from the Georgia Institute of Technology conducted a study that demonstrated that dehydrated individuals performing tasks that engaged their brains showed increased neuronal activity, which means that their minds had to work harder to complete the tasks.
Don’t eat breakfast right away (and choose healthy food when you do)
Once they’ve downed their water, the neuroscientists eat food that will support their intestinal microbiome because the gut impacts brain health. According to Dr. Willeumier, “the microorganisms in our gut release neurotransmitters (i.e., serotonin, dopamine, and GABA among others), vitamins, hormones, and other signaling molecules that can impact our mood, behavior, and cognitive function.”
Dr. Willeumier says that her go-to breakfast foods are plant-based: fruits, veggies, legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds.
Make time for a morning workout
Both neuroscientists agree that exercise is one of the best ways to keep your brain healthy. Even just a 15 to 20-minute walk gets you moving, exposes you to nature, and provides vitamin D.
Exercise has plenty of benefits, not just for the mind but for overall health as well. It will help you get a better night’s sleep, help you cope with stress and anxiety, and increase oxygen flow to the brain, enhancing your ability to form new connections, reducing the risk of memory loss, and increasing your capacity for mindfulness.
It’s important to note that everybody is capable of different things, so your routine may not look exactly like Dr. Porter’s or Dr. Willeumier’s. If you want to make some changes to your morning routine, talk to a doctor to see which brain-healthy habits may be most effective and accessible for you.