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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  • http://bcpowersports.com bcpowersports

    Yeah I drink wayyy to much coffee so these are great… thanks

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  • Jourdan

    how do you apply it to a busy schedule.?

  • http://www.allinclusivelinks.com shawn

    I have struggled with these waking up problems forever. I always find the solutions to be like dieting not so hard to start but hard to stick to and I go right back to the snooze buttton and rushing around in the morning. Im always ttired and rarely get a good night sleep. Good suggestions though.

  • Tim

    I’ve also found that high vitamin C foods or juices help give an energy boost, it’s a healthy alternative to coffee or energy drinks.

  • http://www.barexammind.com Matt

    I was a 4-5 cup coffee drinker for years. For me, I just had to cut to coffee out cold turkey. I was drowsy for a few days, but slept like a rock. Once my body “caught up” on its sleep, drowsiness was no longer a problem, even when I didn’t get a great night’s sleep.

  • Matthew

    Something I do to force myself to wake up and not hit the snooze is I put the alarm clock on my desk on the other side of the room. This forces me to get up and I lose the temptation to go back to bed.

  • http://www.greatrelaxation.com/ Ursula

    The 10-minute rule is something I did not know. Something to try:)

  • Rohini

    – Avoid coffee
    – Have 5-6 small meals a day instead of having 3 heavy meals.
    – Have plenty of fruits and juices.

    I quit having coffee a few days ago and whenever i feel tired, i have some glucose mixed in water. Works well. Now, i can stay up late and still manage to wake up early.

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  • Melanie

    I should try this. I’m so, so, so, so tired right now, right in the middle of school. I feel like I’m about to pass out and sleep for days.
    I don’t drink coffee, I can’t stand the smell of it and its really bad for you anyways. And I don’t drink energy drinks because they’re horrible for you.

    .. I actually just fell asleep for a minute or two while writing this. O:
    I think I’ll ride my bike when I’m done with school. (I’m home schooled btw)

  • Mike

    Skipping breakfast has never scientifically been proven to alter your metabolism

  • http://www.scotthyoung.com Scott Young

    Mike,

    When I said metabolism, I should have said blood glucose. If you have lower blood glucose (which is linked to the time since your last meal and the glycemic index of the foods you’ve eaten) then you’ll have less energy. That *had* been demonstrated scientifically, and a host of studies involving willpower and motivation have showed a very strong relationship with your blood sugar levels.

    -Scott

  • http://www.rightpricesolar.co.za Paul

    These are good ideas – and the breakfast metabolism thing?
    Picky picky.
    Skipping breakfast – what can your body possibly be metabolising on an empty stomach…?

    One thing to do is down a big glass of water first thing in the morning. Before brushing your teeth, before even switching on the lights, one big glass of water. It’s been observed that animals naturally do this the moment they wake up, look for water. It’s a simple thing to do, and requires little will-power, but it really works.

    These are very good steps to take, and a person with a busy schedule not only can, but must find ways to get more umph. I live in Beijing – protecting health and finding balance is critical. Being on time means getting up, getting ready, and getting out of the building to not be late for your bus to stand for the next hour sardined into public transport. To doo this you need to be awake and full of beans.

  • Frank

    Two key tips that worked great for me:

    1. Drink 32 ounces of water as soon as you wake up.

    Your body dehydrates while you are sleeping, this will make you sluggish. The first thing in the morning gulp down the 32 oz. MMA (Mixed Martial Artist) fighters are started to pass this secret around now. It works great for me although I alternate with orange juice.

    2. Exercise

    When I first started exercising it hurt like hell. But after two weeks of dedicated working out, my energy multiplied by 3. My workout consisted of slow walking for an hour until I built my cardio where I could jog at a medium pace. I also weight lifted using embarrassing light weights. A few different lifts for each major area (chest, shoulders, back, legs, arms). 5 sets of 15 reps. I really want to emphasize the weights. They were key to building strength and energy. Yes! Women should use weights too.

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  • Randy

    I agree with what everyone recommends, but Remember, you do NOT have to give up drinking coffee, it has tremendous proven health benefits. Just switch over to drinking decaffeinated coffee (same health benefits) and have a small cup of the caffeinated stuff when you are in real bad shape. It’s a great energy drink before a tough work out or long run too. I’m gonna start practicing what I preach any day now:) I also will mix a table spoon of honey with a 16oz glass of water for a natural energy drink.

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  • http://www.BreakingOut.NET Kevin

    Some good tips there Scott.

    In the dark winter mornings I have to have plenty of light when I wake up. So I have one of those high-intensity lights that switch themselves on at a set time. Plus I have a time switch that controls another light, plus my podcast speakers. This all helps to get me out of bed on cue.

    Also I got rid of the alarm clock. I hated the jarring bleeping sound, its not good to be jolted awake like that. Instead I use a much more gentle alarm on my smartphone.

    As for coffee.. I like coffee, but this last month Ive started limiting myself to just one cup of coffee per day. I’ve also started substituting drinking more green tea instead of coffee. Plus water of course.

  • MR T

    I AM VERY SLEEPY. MMMMM COFFEE. OK THAT HELPED A LITTLE. OK NOW I NEED MORE COFFEE. MMMMM IM AWAKE. THANK YOU
    JUAN VALDEZ YOU THE MAN

  • estella

    Even after my morning jog I feel so sleepy. Also in lectures I can just dose off and from around 19h00 I can’t even study cos I’m sleepy. I jog twice a day for atleast an hour. Please help I really don’t know what else to do. Its like my braain is always tired. Thanks

  • Chuck

    I’ve tried everything “natural” under the sun… Exercise, mental tricks, diet, schedule.

    In the end, coffee always wins.

  • Shawn

    Scott – What time do you go to bed at? How much sleep do you usually get?

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  • Jon

    I find starting the morning with sex is quite the eye opener….BUT I’ll start doing so now with all the lights on in the room. So that meets 4 of your 7 suggestions!!!!!!

  • Christin

    What if you are fasting or living an IF (intermittent fasting) lifestyle? Wouldn’t exercise initiate glycogen breakdown and cause your blood sugar to rise in the morning? Just a thought!

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  • http://www.SuccessRitualsForLife.com Michael D Walker

    Hi Scott,

    Just discovered your videos and blog today thanks to Cal Newport’s Study Hacks blog.

    The getting up right away and doing exercise is a great habit to get into (there’s a reason every branch of the military uses it in bootcamp) for shaking the cobwebs off and starting your day off with some action.

    Hadn’t heard of the 10 minute rule for those who don’t exercise right away. Will have to try that one out!

    Thanks,

    Michael

  • psych

    there are a few biological realities to consider here:
    1) Strong sunlight in the morning kicks off the production of adenosine (setting you up for a good sleep that night), and also contributes to arousal.
    2) The single most important factor in feeling refreshed on waking is ensuring that you routinely, 7 days a week, get consistent sleep. That’s 7-9 hours every night, going to bed at the same time, and getting up at the same time. This is simply because your body releases sleep related chemicals based on when you sleep and rise (and eat). So you can’t mess around having good sleep 3 nights and crappy sleep 4 nights and expect to feel well rested on any one of those nights.
    3) If getting to sleep is a problem, you need to ensure you are a) avoiding naps (which would reduce your adenosine load), b) avoiding bright light at least 30 minutes before you expect to sleep – fading light triggers melatonin release = sleepy feeling.
    Good luck.

  • John B

    Skip any hard physical exercise until out of bed and upright for about 30mins. Early Morning Activities EMA’s in military (whereby Marines who slept in their clothes, were jumping out of bed in their boots and starting running immediately) was found to be a major cause of heart attacks in young, fighting fit men.

    Moderate exercise is good, but get up and about for 30mins first which allows your body to adjust to the change in pressure loading on the heart from lying horizontal, to vertical. Then like any exercise ease into it gradually, after a good warm up, which progressively gets the heart muscle warmed up.

    I only use a shot of coffee before a long swim or run, which works wonders! Meditating for 15mins before bed helps me get a deeper sleep.

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  • lanie

    … sadly, these don’t work when you’re on a graveyard shift.

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  • http://lagarciniacambogia.com/ John

    I have recently find out that my blood pressure is a little bit high. Last few days I have throw out the morning and all coffee throug the day, only take coffeein free and my blood pressure come to normal. I am not sure for the reason but will keep without coffeeine in the future.

  • http://vemma.com Ty

    Well to all of you that are busy and have trouble waking up in the morning, and trouble staying awake and focused, theres and energy drink id like to introduce to you. It’s verve energy by vemma. It’s the only healthy energy drink on the market right now, and let me tell you, it does wonders. Gives you a natural energy, like a good nights sleep energy, and its one of the healthiest drinks you consume. Were any of you aware of the energy drink ban in new york? Well this is the only energy drink that wasn’t banned, because its actually good for you! And works! So deffinetly.worth checking out at Vemma.com , and if you decide to order, my referral id is 374602906.

  • http://yahoo.co.uk nicola short

    hi ive been doin quite alot recently,ive been doin a lot off meeting and gym and i no my bodys not used 2 all of this,but im trying to eat healthy foods. I was jus wondering if you cud help me in trying to gt the proper diet in my lifestyle. ant sugestions would b gratefull thanx x

  • Lucy

    Any research on the effects of meditation in the morning (i.e. mental alertness)? I have a coworker who meditates for 30 minutes every morning and says this helps her become focused.

  • http://bestacnetreatmenttips.org Laura

    Thanks for writing and sharing this amazing article because you have given very good advice to people on how to get more healthy life without affected by caffeine every morning which it’s very good for us to just focus to our goal of success in this life. It’s correct and I very appreciate it.

    Many thanks,
    Laura

  • Ted Goode

    Great article. Getting motivated without caffeine sure is tough! I will give these excellent suggestions a try!

  • andrew

    Easiest way is to make your alarm clock really loud and put it in another room. So you will have to get up and walk all the way to get it.
    Maybe you can put it in the bathroom and splash cold water on your face once you turn it off

  • Pankaj lucknow

    da 10 min rule is somthng unique which demands for a try….

  • Niv
  • http://www.modernmanfitness.com/ Trevor

    I’m guilty of the caffeine myself, but I find if you get some exercise early in the day it will energize you for the rest of it.

    Great read,

    – Trevor

  • http://www.overthinkersadvice.com Wan

    I love the 10-minute rule. Something I can use tomorrow morning.

    Thanks Scott.

  • Rolf

    Hi all slumber crackers.
    I have found that the following things are helpful in waking up in the morning: 1. Get enough sleep. 2. Use a loud alarm clock, at the other side of the room. 3. Put a large pillow under your head, when the alarm wakes you up (the blood will flow out of your head, helping you to wake up). 4. Switch on the bed light and stare into it. 5. When you are tired of staring into the light, drink a small bottle of water (600 ml). 6. When you feel for getting up to turn off the alarm clock pop out to the kitchen and get yourself an apple. 7. Return to bed and eat your apple laying down with your head on the high pillow. 8. Read a page or two from a book (if you read more than two pages you may get tired again). 9. Go to the toilet and stay up.

  • http://Noahstjohn.com Sherill

    I’m a coffee lover can’t work without it. Nice to see this article. Thanks for sharing.

  • new games

    In the dark winter mornings I have to have plenty of light when I wake up. So I have one of those high-intensity lights that switch themselves on at a set time. Plus I have a time switch that controls another light, plus my podcast speakers. This all helps to get me out of bed on cue.

  • http://pg4life.com/moviestarspicturequotes/ Sebastian Aiden Daniels

    I’m going to put these to work. I have the hardest time getting up in the morning. I want to have a set sleeping schedule but it is so difficult. I appreciate these and will put them to work and see how it goes.