According to communication pathologist and cognitive neuroscientist Caroline Leaf, Ph.D., your mind is very vulnerable the moment you wake up. “Your conscious mind is only awake when you’re awake,” she notes on the mindbodygreen podcast, but your unconscious mind works 24/7, even while you’re asleep.
When you first wake up, there’s an important sliver of mental space as your unconscious and conscious mind start to work together again. And what you do during that time can impact the rest of your day, she claims. For example, let’s say you wake up, immediately check your phone, and come across some negative or stressful news—you might unconsciously take that stress with you throughout your day.
Cognitive behavioral therapist Joanna Grover, LCSW, agrees: “It’s just like the first thing you eat in the morning, like some people start their day with a glass of water,” she says on another mindbodygreen podcast episode. “The first thing that you pick up, whether it’s your phone or your meditation mat, is significant. It will set the expectation for the day.”
She even recommends “rehearsing” what you’ll do or say in the morning, in order to commit to the healthy habit. “You’re more likely to do it if you rehearse it beforehand,” she adds. That said, planning your morning routine is far from frivolous—it may be necessary for a calm, healthy headspace.
Of course, that doesn’t mean you must commit to a 10-step wellness routine, complete with high-tech gadgets and aesthetic glassware (contrary to what TikTok might have you believe). That’s not the brain-healthy morning routine these experts are talking about. In fact, the pervasive notion that you should have a morning filled with “self-care” can cause even more stress in the long-run.
“As a working mom, there’s no time to wake up in the morning and meditate for 20 minutes, do a breathing practice, and then have the perfect coffee followed by an ice bath, sauna, a nice long walk, and a workout,” notes certified precision nutrition coach and mobility pioneer Juliet Starrett in her mbg podcast episode. “As a working mom, you wake up, and you’re lucky to power down an espresso before getting people dressed, making breakfasts and lunches, and trying to get people out the door. The notion that you would have two hours in the morning to take care of your morning routine is preposterous, and actually as a mom would make me mad.”
Say it with us: Morning routines do not have to take up a large chunk of time. We can even swap the phrase “morning routine” with a “morning moment,” since the most important time to consider is the first few minutes of waking.