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.

  • Dan

    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!

  • Eder Santana

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

  • Tay

    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!

  • shreevidya

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

  • Jason D

    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.

  • ZeroNexus

    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.

  • Juan Pablo

    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.

  • Copywriter

    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!

  • Son of Sam

    Listen to chris brown in the morning… and dance too

  • Dioexe

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

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

    ——————–

  • My Opinion

    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.

  • kbp

    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.

  • Elanor

    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?

  • Scott Young

    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.

  • Lynsea

    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?

  • Diana

    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!

  • hykerob

    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?

  • Vici

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

  • Joe

    Self Help Charlatan

  • bcpowersports

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

  • Jourdan

    how do you apply it to a busy schedule.?

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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

  • 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

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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?

  • 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!

  • 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.

  • lanie

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

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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!

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