How to Start Your Day for Better Learning

Want to find out how to start your day for better learning?

Have you ever woken up groggy, almost more tired than you were when you went to sleep?

It’s pretty hard to get yourself to focus and learn in that state of mind, right?

But when you know all about the science-proven mechanisms that control your wakefulness and sleepiness, you can start off your day in the best state for learning each time.

Take a look at these neuroscience-backed steps on how to start your day for better learning.

Table of Contents

1. Watch the Sunrise

2. Time Your Morning Caffeine

3. Get Some Exercise

4. Mind What You Eat

How to Start Your Day for Better Learning

1. Watch the Sunrise

How to Start Your Day for Better Learning

Your body is naturally primed to follow a cycle aligned to the day-night cycle – these are your circadian rhythms.

When your eyes detect the specific wavelengths of early morning light, the retinal cells in them send off signals which trigger the release of the hormone cortisol.

Although higher levels of cortisol, especially later in the evening, can make you feel stressed and anxious, this early morning pulse of cortisol is actually good for you.

It wakes you up, alerts other parts of your body to start waking up, and helps you start your day ready to focus and pay attention.

This initial release of cortisol also starts the timer on your sleep clock. It sets up your body to start releasing the sleep hormone melatonin some 12-14 hours later.

This ensures you have a healthy sleep schedule. And this helps you get the rest you need during the night so you can wake up alert and well-rested the following day.

Getting direct exposure to morning sunlight works the best. It’s only half as effective when you’re exposed to light through a window or a screen.

But if you live somewhere that doesn’t receive enough morning sunlight, or it’s overcast some mornings, an artificial light source works as well.

The bright light lets your brain and body know that it’s time to get up.

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The more you expose yourself to early morning sunlight, the more the connection between your eyes and circadian clock grows to anticipate it.

As a result, you naturally start waking up earlier and feeling more alert when you do!

What About After Dark?

How to Start Your Day for Better Learning

Exposure to early morning sunlight helps you wake up earlier. And exposure to the specific quality and wavelengths of sunset helps delay your sleep schedule just a little bit.

This helps ensure you don’t wake up at three in the morning, and get plenty of rest until the beginning of the next day.

To make sure your sleep schedule works soundly, though, you need to be mindful of the types of artificial light in your environment, too.

Naturally occurring blue light is good for you during the day because it suppresses melatonin production and keeps you alert and awake. So, let in plenty of natural sunlight into your workspace!

But at night, you’re surrounded by devices and light sources that emit artificial blue light. This melatonin suppression makes it harder for you to fall asleep.

In turn, this means you have a harder time waking up the following day. And when you do, you are likely to be groggy, forgetful, and overall, not in the best state to learn.

The best solution is to cut down on blue light altogether. Avoid or reduce using your phones, laptops and TVs a couple hours before bed. Switch out your LED light bulbs for orange- or red-toned lights.

Since this might be difficult for you, because of work or lifestyle, consider blue light blockers. These could be protective screens for your devices to filter out blue light, or tinted glasses you can wear after dark when you use your devices.

2. Time Your Morning Caffeine

How to Start Your Day for Better Learning

Brewing a cup of coffee might be the first thing you do after you wake up.

But when you drink your choice of caffeine can make a big difference in timing that boost of alertness for when you need it most. It also helps you avoid that midday crash you might experience!

To understand this, you need to know how caffeine wakes you up in the first place.

Basically, caffeine interferes with the work of the molecule adenosine, by binding to adenosine receptors.

Since adenosine makes you drowsy, by blocking them from doing their thing caffeine can keep you alert and awake.

However, when the effects of caffeine wear off, all the adenosine that’s been building up finally gets to bind with its receptors. This is what causes your midday caffeine crash.

This is why timing your caffeine intake is so important – because technically, right after you wake up, your adenosine levels are already low.

Adenosine builds up the longer you stay awake.

So, rather than drinking your coffee or tea right after waking up, pour out a cup for yourself some two hours after you’ve woken up instead.

As your adenosine starts building up a little, the caffeine gives your alertness a boost to carry you through morning and even into the afternoon.

3. Get Some Exercise

How to Start Your Day for Better LearningResearch finds that early morning exercise – and really, exercise in general – is a great way of boosting your alertness.

Exercise gets you breathing in deeper and has your heart beating faster.

As a result, your brain receives a lot of oxygen-rich blood pumping through it.

This helps it create connections between its brain cells or neurons faster as you learn new things. It even helps you grow new neurons in parts of your brain involved in learning and memory, like the hippocampus.

Getting some exercise early in the day also stimulates the brain chemicals that create the perfect conditions in your brain for new learning.

Your adrenaline and acetylcholine levels increase, boosting alertness and your ability to focus.

It also gets your dopamine and serotonin levels going, helping you stay motivated and in a good mood to face your day!

4. Mind What You Eat

How to Start Your Day for Better LearningBiologically, fasting makes us more alert, while eating makes us feel calmer and sometimes even sleepier.

If you’ve ever had a full meal and found yourself feeling drowsy afterwards, this is why.

Your body diverts its resources towards digesting your meal, and this causes you to feel calm and sleepy. And of course, this is not what you want first thing in the morning to enhance your learning.

When you eat after getting some exercise or after getting your coffee, you can strike a better balance between alertness and calmness levels.

And choosing the right type of food plays a part in this as well.

Typically, carbohydrates aren’t as great earlier in the day, because they tend to make you sleepier afterwards.

You might initially experience a dopamine spike from carbs – especially sugary foods or refined cards. The “sugar rush” you experience as a result might make you feel extremely energized and alert.

But as your body clears out this sugar you then face a dopamine deficit, or a sugar crash, that leaves you feeling tired, sluggish, and unfocused.

Rather than carbs, opt for foods that boost your alertness. Foods that contain choline, such as proteins like fish, meats, dairy products, eggs, and nuts, boost your acetylcholine levels. This in turn promotes better focus, learning and memory.

These foods also contain l-tyrosine, an amino acid that helps create dopamine, while regulates your motivation. Including l-tyrosine in your diet is a better and more sustainable way of boosting dopamine compared to short-term spikes with carbs.

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On the other hand, starchy foods like rice and pasta are better in the evenings – since they leave you feeling calmer and sleepier, they can help ease you into a better night’s rest!

These simple adjustments to your daily morning routines can give you amazing, science-proven brain benefits for learning.

Which of these tips on how to start your day for better learning are you thinking of trying out first?

Pat Wyman is the CEO of and an internationally noted brain coach known as America’s Most Trusted Learning Expert.

Pat’s superpower is helping people learn, read and remember everything faster. She has helped over half a million people in schools and corporations such as Microsoft, Intel and Google improve their lives with her learning strategies, learning styles inventory and courses, inclluding Total Recall Learning™. 

Pat is the best-selling author of more than 15 books, a university instructor, mom and golden retriever lover!

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