Scott H Young

7 Tips for Morning Alertness Without the Caffeine


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The slower you build up energy in the morning, the more painful waking up will be. What’s better, spending thirty minutes wrestling with the snooze button followed by an hour ramp up to normal mental functioning or quickly starting the day with energy?

In my recent article on morning rituals, I mentioned how I wake up at 5:30 each morning. A few readers asked how I deal with the initial grogginess that comes with waking up so early. As someone who isn’t a natural early-riser (I could easily sleep in until noon) getting over the early-morning sleepiness wasn’t easy. However, by using some of the tips I’ll describe, you can be more alert in your morning hours without having to inject yourself with a pot of coffee.

Why Go Without Caffeine?

I never drink coffee and I only occasionally drink caffeinated teas. While caffeine can be a temporary chemical solution to your drowsiness, I don’t believe it is the best strategy overall. I’ve found caffeine offers more energy, but it comes with side-effects. A few I’ve noticed:

  • Post-caffeine crashes.
  • Disrupting normal sleep.
  • Withdrawal symptoms and addiction.
  • Difficulty focusing. (Although some research suggests otherwise)

Whether caffeine is a miracle drug or junk is hard to say. However, given the side-effects, if you can boost morning alertness without the artificial stimulants, why bother drinking the stuff?

How to Build Energy Into Your Mornings

Here are a few things I’ve found helpful to reduce the transition period from being asleep to becoming fully alert. Not only does speeding up this wake-up process save time, it makes waking up less of a struggle. A few tips:

  1. Light. Your body’s natural clock is tuned to the amount of light. Turn on all the lights in your room right after waking up. Getting bright lights can help trick your body into thinking it is time to get out of bed.
  2. Exercise. Put something physical right at the start of your morning. In the summer, I did a quick morning run and found it helpful in shaking off any sleepiness. Considering the outside temperature hovers around -30 C, I’ve stuck to doing a few pushups in my room. The exercise gets your heart pumping and snaps you out of a groggy state.
  3. The 10-Minute Rule. If you want to stick with a consistent wake-up time, practice the ten-minute rule. This means you commit to staying awake for at least the next ten minutes. Once you get over that initial period, the temptation to go back to bed is usually gone.
  4. Active Work. Start your day with work that actively uses your mind. Creative activities like writing, drawing, programming or designing work better than passive activities like reading. By focusing your mind early you can stay focused and brush off any unwanted drowsiness.
  5. Don’t Skip Breakfast. Wake up early enough to get something to eat. Skipping meals throw your metabolism out of balance, causing you to gain fat and lose energy. Skipping breakfast also means your blood sugar will be low in the morning and energy levels down.
  6. Commit to a Sleep Schedule. The obvious solution to combat sleepiness is to get more rest at night. Carrying a sleep debt throughout the week with the hopes of paying it off on the weekend is a bad strategy. Instead, compress your work into the morning hours so you can get the 6-8 hours you need each night.
  7. Turn Up the Volume. I’ve found listening to music or audio books helpful in keeping myself awake during the morning. Best of all, if you put on an audio book from your favorite speaker, you can get some encouragement to start your day.

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154 Responses to “7 Tips for Morning Alertness Without the Caffeine”

  1. Sam says:

    Also, would switching to green tea help increase my water intake?

  2. Scott Young says:

    Sam,

    That’s quite a detailed schedule. If you want to make that into a ritual, I would simplify it quite a bit. That doesn’t mean you can’t do exactly that, but expecting yourself to follow all 10 steps perfectly will be tricky. When building a ritual, it’s better to get the skeleton in place before you flesh out details.

    I don’t know much about green tea, so I can’t be sure.

    -Scott

  3. kenny says:

    Cold shower = Morning alertness. It’s easier after exercise for obvious reasons but what a transformation you feel after a couple of minutes – activity or not. Having done this for a few months now i certainly feel benefits in terms of alertness, attitude & circulation. Enjoyed the article.

  4. […] Turn on the lights: When you wake up in the morning, turn on all of the lights to trick your body out of bed. […]

  5. Fran says:

    I get up at 3am every morning to get to work by 345 and no matter what I do I can’t seem to stomach food until at least 420. I usually get lots of sleep and without about 4 ounces of an energy drink during my sleepy periods (my job is very boring and I pretty much do nothing for 8 hours) I can’t focus. I have my boyfriend coax me out of bed usually but regardless it is still painful for a good while even after going to the bathroom, doing my hair and makeup, brushing my teeth and getting my suit on. I know I would be feeling just as groggy getting up at noon so pretty much I think it is a matter of me being lazy. There’s no cure for that is there?
    Oddly enough I’m very hyper and energetic usually until I have to go sit upstairs at work and pretty much do nothing and that’s when it hits me. I try not to eat carbs and usually feel very hyper if I just don’t eat but then have to deal with hunger pains and being overly alert. I’m guessing if I actually had something to do I would stay awake but right now I’m trying really hard not to pass out. I’m even typing and still am falling asleep. And when I draw it seems to make it worse. I am hoping to find some sort of alternative to caffeine (since buying it at the coffee shop here is a waste of posh money) to wake me up right now before my last hour upstairs of near braindead boredom.

  6. Great tips Scott, I agree that eating a good breakfast and exercising in the morning is great to get your day started and keep you awake.

  7. Srinivas says:

    I am 39 yrs old. Every day i get up at 5”o clock & have 5 glasses of water and after that i complete my toilet.At 5.45 i go morning walk (brisk) for 45 mints.After completing the walk i try to do some exercises for 15 to 20 mints.IS it Ok?

  8. DelayedDreams says:

    Thanks for the tips. But What about delayed sleep phase disorder? I dream in the morning. It is extremely heavy REM sleep. I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck in the morning when I wake up from my alarm because I am in the deepest part of my sleep. It’s the worst feeling in the world.

  9. Scott Young says:

    DelayedDreams,

    I can’t really make any suggestions for a medical condition. But I often have the problem of being mid-dream when the alarm sounds. The only advice I can offer is to sleep a bit earlier so you can get enough sleep so you’re out of REM by the time your alarm hits.

    -Scott

  10. Holly Snider says:

    ahh thanks so much for this! I usually am pretty energetic throughout the day, but this really helps eliminate the days where i end up falling asleep during history, though i still find it very dull. lol i dont like coffee anyways so that really wasn’t that much of an adjustment lol

    =]]

  11. shelly says:

    good,
    i thank that i get some idea from your article

  12. […] Turn on the lights: When you wake up in the morning, turn on all of the lights to trick your body out of bed. […]

  13. Cindy says:

    do you have any suggestions for insomnia? my teenage son can never get to sleep at night. leaving him fatigued and unfocused. His days are very long with school and football so I’m not sure why he’s not able to wind down by bedtime. any ideas would help. thanks

  14. monty says:

    I wakeup to a daily party. What I have setup is every morning I have my iPod alarm go off at 6:55 AM, blasting my favorite playlist on my soundsystem. Exactly five minutes later, I have my regular alarm go off. During this 5 minutes, I’m in bed grooving to the beats and finally up and energized when the 7:00 AM alarm is beeping.

  15. monty says:

    Cindy, I would say the way to defeat insomnia would be to take melatonin supplements 30 minutes before bed. If that doesn’t work, tell him to get a girlfriend and have a nightly happy ending. That should definately take care of the insomnia, although he may not be able to wakeup in the morning.

  16. Hamza says:

    I remember my dad always admonishing me when I got my first job as a 14 year old know it all “to just get up and out of bed and drink a cold glass or bottle of water, that is the key to getting your body up and running” still to this day, my dad is 50 and never does he snooze his alarm once, rather he would jump out of bed and head straight for the kitchen to drink a COLD bottle of water.

    Well, I started doing it a few months ago, mind you I am 25 and it took my dad’s advice nearly 11 years to be accepted … but it really works! I stopped coffee, that was my way of starting the day, started drinking approximately a liter of water right after I get out of bed, it does the job (better than coffee) and i think it was a hell of a trade off.

    Would I have listened to pops though, I probably would have not gotten fired from my first job for constantly showing up “a little late” 10 years ago :)

  17. Kevin says:

    Hey guys,
    I constantly had trouble waking up early in the morning until I discovered this little trick: Set up lights with an automatic timer to turn on 15 minutes before your alarm clock. I consider it the next best thing to being woken up by natural sunlight when camping.

  18. Phil says:

    Hey Scott, nice write up. You would be surprised how many people I personally come in contact with that complain of poor sleep and lack in energy (even myself was once a victim). like you, I am also a young college student, full-time employee and father of 2 young boys and sleep was a serious issue of mines as well. From babysitting, to late night cram sessions, starting up a business and occasional partying, sleep sometimes was not an option. It affected me physically and mentally and being the organic type a guy I am, medications or anything non-natural is an absolute No-No! My problem got so bad that my sleep cycles became out of whack and even on my less hectic days, getting good sleep seemed impossible.

    Since my father is a practicing pharmacist (God bless his soul) I told him about my sleep issue and he gave me this holographic chip to try. He told me it contained no drugs or chemicals and that I should use it for 3 days during bedtime. Even though it was my Dad’s prescription, I was still skeptical that it would work considering it looks like a transparent sticker with a hologram in the middle. Well least to say, IT WORKED!
    For the first time in many months I slept through the night and i felt amazingly refreshed and ready to go when i woke up. I can’t explain enough how much this has changed my life forever and I now sleep like my pillows do. Seriously this works!

    For the Kim’s and Monty’s out there, believe me its worth a try. Plus there are energy chips that give you that balanced natural energy that last all day without the use of sugars, drugs or chemicals. Its works wonderfully along with the sleep chip if you still need that extra umph without buckets of coffee, monster or 5-hour energy shot. In fact, you can email me if you would like a sample and i will gladly send you some. I’m just spreading the news and helping others sleep better and improve their lifestyle. Visit http//:philwell.cieaura.com to learn how this chip works ~peace~

  19. Nina says:

    I just can’t get myself to wake up. I hit the snooze 100 times and still fall back into a deep sleep. What to do?

  20. Scott Young says:

    Nina,

    My best advice is habit, get to sleep a bit earlier, and train yourself to wake up on the first ring of your alarm. For the last, you can actually practice by taking a short nap and getting out of bed as soon as the alarm rings instead of hitting the snooze.

    -Scott

  21. Heather says:

    You know, I miss getting up early. Since getting to second year of my course and only being in college two days a week, I’ve fallen out of the habit of actually being mobile before 9-10am!

    Not ideal for a whole host of reasons. Think I’ll implement some of your tricks to get started again. Thanks!

  22. Avery says:

    I loved the tips, but is there any more? Thanks.

  23. Dan says:

    How about tips for staying awake at night? I can get up in the morning, no problem. But after working all day I find it hard to study or stay up past 10PM. Thanks!

  24. Eder Santana says:

    Good advices. Also, I do some (usually 5) deep and fast respirations and avoid long morning prays.

  25. […] Turn on the lights. By turning on the lights or opening the shades in the morning you can help your body get into the morning gear. Keeping things dark may be kind to your eyes, but it will only make you sleepier. […]

  26. […] Turn on the lights. By turning on the lights or opening the shades in the morning you can help your body get into the morning gear. Keeping things dark may be kind to your eyes, but it will only make you sleepier. […]

  27. Tay says:

    thank you so much for these tips! I normally drink a couple big cups of coffee, no breakfast and by lunchtime I’m dozing from lack of food. Think I’ll grab a quick bite of porridge before I have to leave this morning. Again, Thanks!

  28. shreevidya says:

    really a good line of instruction for waking up with activeness.

  29. Jason D says:

    have to disagree about breakfast.

    When I was in High School and college I never ate breakfast except maybe on the weekends. It wasn’t a matter of not having the time, I just wasn’t hungry.

    Everyone and their mother told me “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day” and “oh, you can’t start the day on an empty stomach!” But every single time I attempted to eat ANYTHING in the morning, I would get sick. Didn’t matter if it was eggs, or toast, or even a granola bar. And on those rare occasions where I was able to keep from vomiting, I still got an upset stomach, and noticed no difference in my energy level.

    It’s pretty apparent to me that my body just does not accept food early in the morning. I might be thirsty, but food is out of the question.

    The way we eat is fundamentally against the way our bodies work. We’re not designed to have 3 big calories dumps into our system a day. We’re grazers, that’s the way most mammals are. Instead, we should eat 4-6 small meals a day instead of 3 big ones. You should only eat when you’re hungry, not when you’re bored, or when someone else says you should. If you don’t have an eating disorder, your body will tell you when it’s time to eat.

  30. […] his mind and body that it was actually time to get up. He’s not a caffeine person, so he relied on other cues and tactics to wake up. Filling the room with light, tricking himself into committing to “just” 10 minutes of […]

  31. […] 7 Tips for Morning Alertness Without the Caffeine (scotthyoung.com) […]

  32. […] his mind and body that it was actually time to get up. He’s not a caffeine person, so he relied on other cues and tactics to wake up. Filling the room with light, tricking himself into committing to "just" 10 minutes of […]

  33. iFeel says:

    […] his mind and body that it was actually time to get up. He’s not a caffeine person, so he relied on other cues and tactics to wake up. Filling the room with light, tricking himself into committing to “just” 10 minutes of […]

  34. ZeroNexus says:

    I too have struggled to get up in the morning for a long time. My work day starts at 8am. I love morning walks and morning writing, but I simply cannot seem to get out of bed before 7:30am. Ideally I would like to get up by 6am, speed walk, write, shower and then go to work.

    Unfortunately, I am also a night-owl. Drinking less caffeine would help me get to bed earlier and then I think your suggestions would be very helpful. I know changin gmy routine would go a long way toward helping me be more productive during the day and also help me readjust my metabolism for heart health and weight-loss. Thanks for writing this.

  35. Juan Pablo says:

    I eat my breakfast when arrive to office about 10am beacuse i get no hungry until I spend some energy at the morning. Eating breakfast before leaving the place is good, but can’t eat more than a bunch of cereal or glass of juice.

  36. Copywriter says:

    Extra tip: Hydrate!

    Drink at least one glass of water when waking up, because you lost a lot of it during your sleep. And your brain needs to be hydrated!

  37. Son of Sam says:

    Listen to chris brown in the morning… and dance too

  38. Dioexe says:

    there is only 1 trick i do to keep myself alter.

    When you wake up, quickly stand up and drink water.. lots of water…

    ——————–

  39. My Opinion says:

    Some great tips in the article and comments including Jason D saying its not always good to eat brkfast because it makes him sick. I too get sick at times when eating especially early in the am but believe brkfast is very important even only if in small portions. No brkfast, often means no energy, and for those who have lack of energy problems, brkfast is more important than ever. I’ve found acidophilus supplements or yogurt helps a lot with some water for an upset stomach at brkfast. Plain yogurt is best as fruit/sugar in yogurt isn’t always helpful with an upset stomach. I’ve had sleep and energy issues regularly for the last 6 years due to a reoccurring neck injury that’s never been diagnosed which is common for 50% of all neck injuries. Instead of taking all the prescriptions your doctor may give you to help you sleep or fix energy problems, I am a firm believer in natural remedies. It usually costs much more to go the naturalpathic route then the prescription/medical route which can cause addictions and serious side effects from the prescriptions, many which have never been tested long term. Naturalpathic and eastern medicines have been around much longer. I believe our education systems needs to be corrected to incorporate the important educational tips like this article provides and more naturalpathic routes. Thank god for the internet in this point but please be aware some articles can give harmful tips.

  40. kbp says:

    I would like to know what kind of foods or drinks are good in the morning to replace coffee, but to still get the same energy.

  41. Elanor says:

    I’ve never had real difficulty getting up until recently, because of several factors. 1) Moving north so its dark when I awake 2) Changing from a job where I could wake up at 9am and get to work by 9:30 to a job where I have to get up at 6 to arrive at work at 8. 3) Sharing a bed / house with someone who doesn’t wake up till 9:15.

    The third is the worst part. I can’t let my alarm snooze repeatedly I can’t listen to music in the mornings. I have to be dead silent or awake my partner. It sucks, and the winter lack of light is wreaking havoc on me waking up. I have a light set to turn on at 5:45 but some days it doesn’t even make a dent. Any suggestions for this?

  42. Scott Young says:

    Elanor,

    I’ve found it’s mostly about adjusting your sleep rhythms. This can take some time, but you can help it out by sleeping very early the first few days.

  43. Lynsea says:

    Hey that was an amazing set of tips! I can’t say I enjoy waking up early,but I have been trying this out since the beginning of the summer and it’s been working pretty well! :) Thx bunches!
    P.S. Mind making some tips for us people who can’t seem to GET to sleep?

  44. Diana says:

    Hi Scott and everyone =)

    I’m new here, I came from Study Hacks and this seemed to be the post that caught my eye.

    I have a cautionary tale so that no one has to go through the same stuff as me.

    I am 20 years old and I live in Mexico and I’m a Law student (in Mexico, Law School is an undergraduate degree). One of the trademarks of my major is the fact that we had the earliest classes of ALL. A friend told me that if you set your alarm clock for 30 minutes before you actually had to wake up then, the first time that your alarm clock rings, you wake up, look at the time and be happy that you still have time to sleep. This way, she stated, the second time it rang you knew that it was time to get up. Sounds simple, right?

    WRONG. It took me two whole weeks to realize how wrong this system is. First, you learn how to DISOBEY your alarm clock! Also, it is really hard, at 5 am, to know if it was the first or the second alarm. Similarly, you interrupt your sleep cycle. That half hour that you fell back to sleep, could have been used much better just sleeping.

    Right now I’m actually following the strategy of waking up immediately, turning on the light instantly (and turning off the air conditioner… my room gets cold, which to me means cozy, which is not what I want while getting out of bed), committing to a sleep schedule and exercising. It has worked wonders for me. Thanks, Scott for letting me know that I’m on the right track! =)

    And if ANYONE, FOR ANY REASON, gives you the horrible advice I received, WALK AWAY AND DON’T LOOK BACK. If anyone had told me that, they would’ve done me a BIG favor haha.

    Take care, everyone =) and Scott, keep up the good work!

  45. […] with plans to combat grogginess without downing buckets of caffeine. You can read the full articles Here & […]

  46. hykerob says:

    good comments. I have a night time ritual I need to follow in order to fall/stay asleep. I need to drink at least 2-3 cups of hot “sleepy tea” which isn’t tea at all but herbs like cammomile, rose hips, etc, and relax for without anything requiring thinking. Also, a regular schedule helps. bedtime the same time, wakeup the same time, exercize first then breakfast. But what about later on in the day???? If I get my first big yawn around 10am, I’m in big trouble. Caffeine kills me, speeding up my heart, making me need more caffeine, and more and more. If I can force myself to skip the caffeine, no matter how tired I get, the better I am throughout the day, but thats tough. What can I do to get through the day without sleeping at my desk or in meetings?

  47. […] his mind and body that it was actually time to get up. He’s not a caffeine person, so he relied on other cues and tactics to wake up. Filling the room with light, tricking himself into committing to “just” 10 minutes of […]

  48. Vici says:

    I sad I have no energy when I wake up, hardly can walk, how could I excercise?

  49. Joe says:

    Self Help Charlatan

Debate is fine, flaming is not. Pretend that this comment form is a discussion taking place in my house. That means I enjoy constructive criticism and polite suggestions. Personal attacks, insults and all-purpose nastiness will be removed especially if it is directed at other readers.

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