Once you've completed your Step 1 worksheet, you're ready to start creating a detailed plan for your AM/PM routines. Step 2 provides research-backed evidence for various potential components of morning and evening routines. From breakfast to caffeine, exercise to epsom salt baths, and whether using your phone before bed actually affects your sleep, my goal in Step 2 is to provide you with information that can help you determine the timing, frequency, and duration of each piece of your routine, and maybe even whether to include it at all.
what time to wake up
As someone who thinks breakfast is the best meal of the day, I was surprised to learn how few adults actually eat breakfast. Numbers have fluctuated somewhat across studies and years, but it's clear that large numbers of Americans are skipping breakfast on a regular basis.
A 2011 Kellogs poll found that only 34% of adults regularly eat breakfast. A 2015 study put that number at 47%. A 2022 analysis showed improvement - 85% of adults surveyed reported regularly eating breakfast. Even so, that 15% of breakfast skippers suggests nearly 50 million people in the United States who are missing out on the significant health benefits of eating a regular breakfast. And unless they're doing breakfast-for-dinner on the regular, they're also missing out on some of the best foods out there (that part isn't science - just the opinion of someone who could eat a breakfast sandwich 3 meals per day and be pretty happy about it).
Additional studies have supported the benefits of breakfast highlighted above. A 2014 study randonly assigned participants to eat breakfast within 2 weeks of waking up or skip breakfast entirely. During the 6-week trial, those who ate breakfast had more regular glucose levels throughtout the entire day, which helped those people have a less intense mid-afternoon energy slump.
Convinced? If so, the logical next step is to consider what to eat for breakfast. Before reaching for breakfast cereal or defaulting to a couple of scrambled eggs, consider which benefits you're hoping to extract from your breakfast.
Want a boost of mental focus for your morning? Consider a breakfast that includes leafy greens, whole grains, and blueberries.
If you're trying to lose weight, nutritionists suggest a breakfast that includes raspberries, oatmeal, yougurt, and/or eggs.
If you want to feel full until lunch, plan on a breakfast that includes eggs, oatmeal, nut butter, avocado, and/or bananas.
Notice anything missing? Coffee, of course. I dedicated an entire section of Step 2 to how caffeine can affect your morning and evening routine, so scroll down a bit if you're interested in how your morning coffee factors into your daily breakfast routine. You might be surprised by what you find.
Optimal Time to Exercise during the day
A 2013 meta analysis of 10 studies encompassing 3,899 individuals found that 46% of respondents reported that they have intentions to exercise and routinely fail to turn intentions to exercise into physical activity. An additional 21% of respondents had no intentions to exercise and did not exercise. Most interestingly, 2% of respondents had no intentions to exercise and they did exercise. These 2% are the types of people I want to know more about - I can not relate.
After recognizing that about 2/3 of us fail to exercise regularly despite our best intentions, my biggest takeaway is that finding any time to exercise during the day is an accomplishment. The conversation about the different benefits of morning vs. evening exericse should really only be entertained if you have already built a regular exercise habit and you’re looking to optimize your results. I, for one, should not worry about this until I can get myself to the gym or out for a run more consistently than my current trend of 2 months on, 2 months off.
Once you've established a regular exercise rhytym, there are distinct pros and cons of morning and evening exercise to consider. CNET provided a wonderful breakdown in a 2021 article, which I've graphically summarized here:
Once you have determined which of these benefits you want to tap into, the most important piece of the process is committing to morning or evening workouts and staying consistent.
We’re all familiar with the idea of our circadian rhythm, but until I read this 2019 study out of the Scripps Research Institute, I didn’t know that nearly every type of cell in our body has a set of “protein-based oscillators” that function as cellular clocks that use internal and external signals (light, body temperature, hormones) to anticipate daily environmental cycles such as feeding, fasting, and physical activity. This suggests that by exercising at a consistent time each day, we can effectively “set our internal clocks” to anticipate exercise and prime our body to perform at peak levels. For example, studies of athletes showed that aligning daily training with the timing of future competitions led to better performance. For the common person, this all suggests that the difference between working out in the morning or in the evening is not as important as finding a consistent time and sticking with it.