As the days have gotten shorter and colder, it’s been harder for me to get my day going at lightning speed. When mid-afternoon rolls around, I often find myself having accomplished less than I wanted—and that the sun is nearly setting already. If you’re also living more slowly than usual, that’s okay—it’s good to let ourselves live according to the seasons and have a “fallow time” like nature. However, if you would like just a little more help boosting your energy, waking up alert, and accomplishing more throughout your day, here’s a secret the researchers at the University of California, Berkeley recently discovered.
The researchers observed over 800 subjects during a two-week period using smartwatches, food diary, and various breakfasts. What they found is that three things impact people’s wakefulness and energy the next day: Exercising the previous day, sleeping longer and later into the morning, and eating a low-sugar high-carb breakfast with low protein. Each of these factors have a unique, substantial impact on reducing grogginess.
The best kind of breakfast for alertness turns out to be made of complex carbohydrates with limited sugar and protein. The worst kind for alertness is high in simple sugar. Senior author Matthew Walker—also the author of bestselling book, Why We Sleep—says, “We have known for some time that a diet high in sugar is harmful to sleep, not to mention being toxic for the cells in your brain and body.” But in addition, sugar also impacts your body’s ability to return to full waking state. So no matter how groggy you feel, don’t grab that vegan donut in the breakroom! It will make it worse!
Vegan Golden Milk Oatmeal is high in complex carbs, low in sugar.
Also important is sleeping enough and waking up late enough. Most people need 7–9 hours of sleep to effectively eliminate a chemical called adenosine that accumulates in the body throughout the day. If it’s impossible to get enough sleep on weekdays, consider catching up on sleep on your days off: “sleeping longer on a given day can help clear some of the adenosine sleepiness debt they are carrying,” says Walker.
Finally, exercising contributes to wakefulness the next day, although the exact mechanics are not known. I’m no neuroscientist, but based on my 35 years of experience sleeping every night, I would say that energy expenditure from exercise leads to deeper and more restful sleep, which in turn leads to happier and more vibrant waking state.
What’s the most effective exercise for sleep quality? A 2022 study by the University of Iowa researchers suggest that the type of exercise does indeed matter. Over a 12-month period, the scientists observed the sleep quality of nearly 400 adult subjects doing resistance training, aerobic training, and a combination of the two. Surprisingly, they found that the group doing resistance training and combination experienced an improved sleep quality, but not the aerobic group. Also, only the aerobic group was able to fall asleep faster—by 3 minutes.
So there you have it. If you’re struggling to fall asleep at night or wake up groggy the next day, try lifting some weights, eating complex carbs, and give yourself plenty of time to sleep!
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Photo: Unsplash; Lauren Sacerdote; Mary Hood Luttrell