Waking up sometimes feels like slogging through a swamp, and coffee as the beacon of energy just button-clicks or credit card swipes away.
Having a piping hot cup of coffee in the morning is one of my rituals. I enjoy the taste, the warmth, the build of energy as I start the rest of my day, and I especially enjoy the routine of doing something for myself each morning. But recently when I started to feel some negative effects at the hands of caffeine, I knew I needed to expand on how I start my day.
The two o’clock energy crash, the unconsciously jumping knee, late-night insomnia after one too many trips to the percolator… none of these are desired effects of my favorite beverages.
Too often, I hear my friends agonizing over their addiction to caffeine. How they can’t start a day without coffee, how they’d rather people not talk to them before they’ve had their coffee. Jokingly of course…right? There are times when I feel similarly and this worried me – I don’t want to be addicted to caffeine. I certainly don’t want to be beholden to a substance to be my best self.
In the past three months, I’ve taken a deeper look at how I’m waking up and what contributes to the best mornings. I read a ton of articles, spoke with friends, suffered through more than one morning where, without coffee, I was lucky to remember my own name, but ultimately came to a breakthrough.
After research, experimentation, and journaling, I found a selection of activities that truly boost my morning. Now, I can enjoy coffee when I want to and wake up in new ways if I choose. I hope this article will help you do that too.
Here are the top 5 alternatives to coffee that I discovered for a truly bright, energized morning.
1. Waking up rested starts the night before
On the mornings when I was most groggy, I found that I had usually either been up late, extra technologically active, or was eating heavily the night before. This pushed me to experiment with crafting my evenings and nights differently, prioritizing going to sleep soundly and relaxed.
While we sleep, our bodies are still working to close out the previous day and prepare for the new morning. We’re digesting our last foods and our brains are processing our day and emotions, and so much more.
By limiting my last meal to two hours before bedtime, I found that my body was nearly finished digesting by the time I went to bed but that I wasn’t hungry. And, by limiting myself to only one cup of bedtime tea no closer than an hour before bed, I wasn’t up halfway through the night for a trip down the hall.
What impacted my sleep and waking most profoundly were the activities I engaged in right before bed. Certain activities did not positively impact my morning freshness:
- Staying on my phone or laptop up until bedtime, even with my computer glasses, and especially in the dark.
- Watching jarring, stressful shows or a movie up until I stumbled into bed.
- Complaining to my partner about the disappointing that happened today and/or negative things I worried would happen the following day.
- Stressing about my work or upcoming commitments
I began staying away from screens up to an hour before bedtime, choosing a book or my notebook with which to wind down. I watched slightly fewer movies and shows, and over time found that starting them earlier (and watching fewer episodes) made the whole experience more enjoyable.
I turned to journaling, rather than complaining and commiserating, as an outlet for my day and my hopes for tomorrow. That way, I could get my feelings out without starting a conversation that would delve deeper and deeper into my stress.
And, I try to prepare myself to wake up, set up.
No matter if I have coffee, tea, or if there’s a cheetah running after me – thinking clearly in the morning is difficult. Try to think about every little thing you need to have each morning:
- Work clothes and shoes
- Bag or purse packed for the day
- Important items in an easy-access place
- Lunch packed
- To-do list or calendar open to the right page
- Devices charged
- Traffic and weather details handy
- Everything your partner or kids rely on you for
- Keys ready to grab and go
By having your morning set up, you move more smoothly through your morning with far less intellectual demand. You can wake up more slowly, move somewhat on autopilot, and give your brain the time is naturally needs to wake up.
Tip: Consider experimenting with alarm tones that are less jarring than an air horn. Whether this means purchasing an alarm clock, investing in a daylight waking alarm, or have a gentle sound play loudly, you’re more likely to wake up feeling clear and refreshed if you can wake up at a naturally slower and less-stressed pace.
2. Start with a morning playlist
Putting on a peppy playlist shortly after my feet hit the floor in the morning gets me moving better than coffee ever has.
For me, it’s a certain song that starts my morning. For you, it might be a specific genre of music or artist of-the-moment. Choose music that gets your blood pumping but that is still in that zero-stress category. Something that lifts you up without overwhelming you with energy.
Just after waking, your brain needs 30 minutes to one hour for sleep inertia to wear off. Once you’re functioning at 100%, pick up the pace on your music and let it guide you all the way to the car.
If you’re more interested in podcasts or audiobooks, start one early in the morning, just after waking, and give your brain something to chew on as you get ready. I find that the news is nearly the worst thing to hear in the morning, despite it being a habit of many, many people. Commercials also tend to be rather distracting and kill my flow.
3. Start hydrating early
Can I get a show of hands for those who don’t drink enough water during the day? I was right there with you until I started hydrating early. I replaced my morning coffee, which typically came before food and water, with a liter of water to see the effects.
They were astounding.
By hydrating early, I found myself thinking more clearly, earlier. My skin started to look brighter and I looked fuller and healthier in the morning. My eyes stopped drying after long days at the computer. And, I found I was more inclined to continue hydrating throughout the day.
An added bonus was that by hydrating during the day, I wasn’t that thirsty before bedtime anymore, diminishing my nightly interruptions.
Drinking an entire liter of water in the morning took practice to implement. Having a water bottle, like a Nalgene or a Kleen Kanteen that held a liter was a game-changer, making it easy to drink a large quantity of water without needing to get up for a refill (which can sometimes end up taking hours to do with a normal glass of water). It also allows me to easily track my intake throughout the day, since every water bottle is a specific number of ounces, and you usually only need 2-3 full bottles’ worth of water a day.
4. Enjoy a high-protein breakfast
Before this experiment, I was not a breakfast person. Whoever invented the high-carb breakfast was a marketing genius, but did not have human bodies in mind.
I have always felt terrible around 10 am after having a bagel, a bowl of cereal, or a pastry to start my day. I also didn’t have time to cook a full eggs + bacon breakfast every weekday morning, so I began omitting breakfast and taking a larger, earlier lunch to compensate.
Coffee first thing in the morning → No breakfast → Eat something on-the-go around 11 am → Exhausted and crashing by 2pm, more coffee → Arrive home hungry, dehydrated, and exhausted.
Not a recipe for success!
I learned that protein is not only beneficial for post-workout body care, but is imperative for a fulfilling and sustaining breakfast. Having a high-protein breakfast sustained my hunger until a realistic lunchtime, gave my brain the blood and cell health boost it required to operate at its peak capacity, and helped me avoid the 2pm energy crash.
This did not mean I was eating eggs and bacon every morning. I still can’t do that every day. However, I found a workaround.
Crafting breakfast burritos and freezing them ahead of time, preparing bowls of protein-packed overnight oats and chia pudding the night before, and pre-portioning smoothies completely changed the breakfast game.
The prep work took an extra hour or so in my weekend but paid off in hours and hours of improved productivity and happier moods.
5. Move your body in a nourishing, appreciating way
In the morning, we wake up and expect ourselves to suddenly be functioning highly enough to get ready, create meals, ensure we have all of our day’s necessities, drive (usually in traffic) to a destination, and begin creating intellectually demanding or physically-taxing progress on a project.
That’s a lot to expect within the first couple hours of consciousness, and when we only rely on caffeine to get us started, we neglecting the vessel responsible for making those actions happen.
We’ve all heard that getting up at 6 am and doing a spin class or other cardio activity will make all the difference, but that doesn’t work for everyone, and certainly not for me. But that doesn’t mean I can’t move my body in a way that wakes it up and prepares it to do all I need it to do that day.
Physical activity that benefits your whole body, from your muscles to your tissues, your joints to your organs, brings every inch of you up to speed with your brain. It is truly one of the best ways that you can set yourself up for a better day.
A couple good options for those of us who can’t fit a pre-dawn spin class into our schedule:
- Yoga, which focuses on stretching your muscles but also on massaging internal organs, empowering the breath and mental focus, and improving blood circulation through movement
- Walking, which raises your heart rate, improves circulation, and provides a meditative pace for relaxed thinking
Take 10 – 30 minutes in the morning to move your body, combining stretching and heart-waking movement to a comfortable degree. Start slowly, but increase the intensity over the course of the activity. You’ll slowly wake up while you move, making it easier and easier to engage with the activity and feel the benefits.
With these morning boosts in your arsenal, you can enjoy your morning coffee not with dependence, but with appreciation.