Does your morning routine involve reaching for the snooze button before getting up, jumping into the shower, then grabbing a coffee?
This may sound typical but, if so, it could be far from ideal for your health.
By combing the latest research and speaking to experts, FIONA MACRAE has discovered what may be the timeline of the perfect day for good health — according to science.
By combing the latest research and speaking to experts, FIONA MACRAE has discovered what may be the timeline of the perfect day for good health — according to science
7am: GET UP, BRUSH TEETH
During the small hours, while we are fast asleep, the body is busy preparing for the day ahead. Levels of the hormone cortisol rise, which leads to an increase in heart rate and the release of glucose into the bloodstream for energy and a boost in alertness.
These changes are orchestrated by the body clock, the internal 24-hour clock that controls everything from our sleep pattern to our appetite. By about 7am, both body and brain should be prepared for the day ahead — making it the perfect time to wake up and brush your teeth.
‘I brush my teeth as soon as I get out of bed in the morning,’ says Dr Ben Atkins, a dentist and president of the dental charity Oral Health Foundation.
By about 7am, both body and brain should be prepared for the day ahead — making it the perfect time to wake up and brush your teeth
You may well have been taught to brush twice daily — after breakfast and before going to bed — but doing so straight after breakfast is not the best time because acidity from food and drink can soften the enamel, the hard outer layer that protects teeth from decay. Dr Atkins warns that brushing at this point can wear away the enamel.
You could wait half an hour to give the acidic substances time to wash away naturally, but that may not be convenient.
So brush before breakfast — and if you want that clean-mouth feel after eating, then chew some sugar-free gum. This will leave your mouth minty-fresh and stimulate the production of saliva, which will wash away any food debris and restore the pH in the mouth so it is less acidic.
7.30am: HAVE A DESSERT
For breakfast, consider having a sweet treat. It might seem odd, but dieters who did just that found it easier to maintain their slimline shape, according to a 2012 study by Tel Aviv University in Israel.
Around 200 volunteers were split into two groups and put on a strict low-calorie diet for four months.
They all consumed the same calories overall, but one group had a dessert-type food such as chocolate, biscuits or cake as part of their breakfast, while the others had a low-carb meal.
For breakfast, consider having a sweet treat. It might seem odd, but dieters who did just that found it easier to maintain their slimline shape, according to a 2012 study by Tel Aviv University in Israel
Both groups lost the same amount of weight, but, after another four months, when they had more freedom over their meal choices, the dessert eaters were still losing weight, while the others put the pounds back on.
Having a dessert first thing is thought to lower levels of ghrelin, the hunger hormone, so you feel less hungry throughout the day, reported the researchers in the journal Steroids. It also seems to reduce cravings for sugary foods later in the day, when the metabolism is slower.
Studies also suggest that a sweet treat early on prevents the afternoon dip in the feel-good brain chemical serotonin, which is responsible for cravings for sugary food later in the day.
Daniela Jakubowicz, a professor of medicine at Tel Aviv University, who conducted the study, says that to get the best effect, dieters should have a food they often crave for dessert as their breakfast. This will probably be something we’d normally consider unhealthy and, in good news for chocoholics, chocolate is particularly good at raising serotonin levels because it is rich in the amino acid tryptophan, which is converted to serotonin by the brain.
8.30am: GO TO THE LOO
Our bowel movements are governed by our body clock, and, after slowing down overnight (stopping us waking up for the loo), they usually need to be emptied by around 8.30am.
Healthy bowel movement frequency can range from three times a day every day, to once a day three times a week, says Julie Thompson of the charity Guts UK.
But when you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go. This is because holding in stools can lead to water in them being reabsorbed into the body — making the stool harder and leading to constipation.Ensuring you have had breakfast, however small, at the right time, will keep you regular. This is because eating first thing stimulates the gastrocolic response — a natural reflex that encourages movement in the bowel.
Peter Whorwell, a professor of medicine and gastroenterology, at the University of Manchester says: ‘The gastrocolic response is active only in the morning, typically within three hours of waking, so if you skip breakfast you might not get this reflex again that day which can gradually lead to constipation.’
9am: FIRST COFFEE
Tempting as it is to have a coffee as soon as you wake up, scientists suggest waiting for an hour or two. This is because there is an early morning surge in the hormone cortisol, to increase alertness, so you get a greater ‘buzz’ from the caffeine in your coffee if you wait a little, says James Goodwin, a visiting professor in physiology at Loughborough University.
Tempting as it is to have a coffee as soon as you wake up, scientists suggest waiting for an hour or two
‘Our cortisol level rises slowly from its lowest at midnight to its highest at 9am,’ explains Profes-sor Goodwin. ‘So, theoretically, our wakefulness is being boosted by cortisol until 9am. Strike then with a cup of coffee and it will have its biggest impact.’
11.30am: GET OUTDOORS
Morning light is linked to leanness. People who have most of their exposure to daylight before noon have a lower body mass index (BMI) than those who go outdoors later in the day, regardless of how much they eat or exercise, a 2014 study found. The U.S. researchers said the effect is due to light’s ability to calibrate our body clock, which helps regulate levels of leptin and other appetite hormones — and, therefore, how hungry we feel. If it is out of sync, we are more likely to eat at the wrong times, which affects how we process sugar and fat and, over time, our weight.
Morning light is linked to leanness. People who have most of their exposure to daylight before noon have a lower body mass index (BMI) than those who go outdoors later in the day, regardless of how much they eat or exercise, a 2014 study found
Phyllis Zee, a professor of neurology from Northwestern University in Chicago, who led the 2014 study, said: ‘If a person doesn’t get sufficient light at the appropriate time of day, it could desynchronise their internal body clock, which is known to alter metabolism and lead to weight gain.’
Since it is difficult to get the required level of light indoors, she recommends going outside before noon — 11.30am at the latest, although any point in the morning would be OK — for 20-30 minutes, and to do this most days.
2pm: LAST COFFEE
It may only be a few hours since your first coffee, but experts say the one with your lunch should be your last.
The Global Council on Brain Health (GCBH), an independent group of scientists and policy experts, which debated the latest scientific research on sleep, recommends that the over-50s avoid caffeine ‘after lunch’.
Professor Goodwin, a founder member of the GCBH, says it is good advice, whatever your age. He explains that it takes six hours for half of the caffeine in a cup of coffee to clear from the body.
A typical cup of coffee contains 100 mg caffeine, and if consumed mid-afternoon, the remaining 50mg will still be enough to disturb sleep come bedtime.
‘Not drinking coffee after 2pm is a safe way to reduce the risk of a bad night’s sleep caused by caffeine consumption,’ he says — advice which is particularly pertinent as we get older because the body’s processing of caffeine, like many other bodily processes, seems to slow down with age.
Tea, however, contains less caffeine (around 70mg per cup) and so can be enjoyed for a few hours longer, until 4pm or 5pm, without disturbing sleep. And if you are hankering after the taste of coffee, then have a decaf.
4pm: TAKE HEART PILLS
If you are prescribed diuretic tablets for high blood pressure or heart failure, try to have your last one by now, to avoid needing the loo during the night. Diuretic pills increase the amount of salt and water lost by the body, as a build-up in the blood vessels can raise blood pressure. But as a result, they make you urinate more.
Patients are advised to take their pill in the morning — and that any second dose, is taken by mid-afternoon, to avoid extra trips to the loo at night. You start wanting the loo from about half an hour after taking one and the effect lasts for about six hours.
If you are prescribed diuretic tablets for high blood pressure or heart failure, try to have your last one by now, to avoid needing the loo during the night
Decongestant tablets and liquids for colds and sinusitis should also be avoided after 4pm, says Sid Dajani, a pharmacist in Hampshire and former treasurer of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society.
As well as clearing stuffy noses, these popular over-the-counter medicines can act as a stimulant and keep you awake. Try nasal sprays and drops, which have less of a stimulant effect, instead.
5pm: STRENGTH EXERCISES
Afternoon and evening exercise sessions build more muscle — important for strength, mobility and balance — than exercise at other times of the day, research shows. Doing squats, leg presses and common strength-building exercises with weights between 5pm and 7pm builds the quadriceps (muscles that bend and straighten the knee) more quickly than early morning sessions, a 2009 study from the University of Jyväskylä in Finland found.
The team, who confirmed the result in a 2016 follow-up study, said this is due to body clock-driven fluctuations in levels of steroid hormones, which help build muscle, and in the synthesis of protein, which is the main component of muscle.
Afternoon and evening exercise sessions build more muscle — important for strength, mobility and balance — than exercise at other times of the day, research shows
6pm: EAT EVENING MEAL
An early evening meal could have benefits ranging from reduced heartburn to a lower risk of cancer. According to a study in the American Journal of Gastroenterology in 2005, people who eat dinner within three hours of going to bed are seven times more likely to experience heartburn than those who wait four hours before turning in. Heartburn is often worse in bed because it is easier for the acid to flow back up the oesophagus when lying down, but also the extra hour may give the food, which stimulates production of the acid, time to leave the stomach. Freed from indigestion, slumber should be sounder.
Meanwhile, a 2018 study in the International Journal of Cancer found those who had supper at least two hours before bed were 20 per cent less likely to develop breast or prostate cancer.
The mechanism is unclear, although researchers said it may be because eating earlier is more in tune with our body clock. Other disruptions — such as exposure to artificial light at night — are also linked to a higher cancer risk.
7.30pm: MEET FRIENDS
There’s something ‘magical’ about meeting friends after dark, says Robin Dunbar, a professor of evolutionary psychology at the University of Oxford. A survey he did in 2017 shows we’d rather catch up with friends and family at dinner, than lunch. Plus, an analysis of telephone data he did in 2014 revealed that our phone calls get longer, the later they are.
He says our preference for evening socialising harks back to our hunter-gatherer ancestors, who bonded in the evenings around the campfire — and it could have health benefits.
There’s something ‘magical’ about meeting friends after dark, says Robin Dunbar, a professor of evolutionary psychology at the University of Oxford
‘Meeting after dark creates a frisson of excitement,’ says Professor Dunbar. This, in turn, makes it easier to maintain friendships, allowing us to reap the health benefits they provide.
Socialising triggers the release of the brain chemical dopamine, which lifts mood, and raises levels of endorphins, brain chemicals that lower heart rate and make us feel calm and relaxed. ‘Endorphins also tune the immune system, triggering the release of natural killer cells that detect and destroy viruses,’ adds Professor Dunbar.
9.30pm: HAVE A SHOWER
Jumping into the shower around an hour before bedtime could help you sleep better. The theory is that not only does a warm shower — or bath — help us relax, it also, perhaps surprisingly, given that it initially warms us up, reduces core body temperature, which helps us nod off more quickly and sleep more soundly.
A University of Texas analysis last year concluded that a water temperature of 40c to 42.4c produces the best-quality slumber, and, scheduled one to two hours before going to bed, it can hasten the onset of sleep by ten minutes, reported the journal Sleep Medicine Reviews.
Core body temperature drops naturally before we sleep, then drops further during the night, before rising again as we wake up.
Taking a warm bath or shower is thought to speed up the pre-bed drop in temperature because it brings blood to the surface of the body, from where heat can be radiated out.
Jumping into the shower around an hour before bedtime could help you sleep better (file image)
10pm: SWITCH OFF PHONE
We are told that ‘blue’ light emitted from screens keeps us awake if used in the evenings, as this wavelength of light disrupts our body clocks.
But while blue light does affect light receptors in the eye that are key to setting the body clock, the impact on sleep should be small, says Russell Foster, a professor of circadian neuroscience at the University of Oxford.
A 2014 Harvard University study, which compared how long people took to fall asleep after reading an e-book or printed book, found the difference was just ten minutes’ longer after using the e-book, which is ‘biologically meaningless’, says Professor Foster.
However, late-night use of phones, computers and other screens keeps the brain mentally active, which can stop us drifting off. To give the mind time to wind down, Professor Foster advises turning off all electronic devices, including TVs and smartphones, 30 minutes before bed.
10.20pm: DEODORANT (AND SOCKS)
WHEN TO HAVE SEX
The best time of day to have sex depends on how old you are, according to a body clock expert.
Dr Paul Kelley, honorary associate in sleep, circadian and memory neuroscience at the Open University, worked out the perfect time to make love, whatever your age.
His calculations show that 3pm is the magic moment for 20-somethings. They can experience desire at any time of the day but tend to be groggy in the morning, so afternoon is the prime time for passion.
By the time we get to our 30s, an age-related shift in the body clock means we wake up slightly earlier than in our 20s. This allows us to make the most of the morning sunlight, which boosts levels of the sex hormone testosterone in both men and women — and makes 8.20am a good time to get frisky.
Sleep quality deteriorates with age, and by middle age we might want to have sex around bedtime, to trigger the release of oxytocin, a hormone that promotes rest.
Dr Kelley suggests getting intimate at 10.20 pm for those in their 40s and 10pm for those in their 50s, who will have woken up earlier.
In our 60s and beyond, we should be getting up and going to sleep significantly earlier, so schedule sex for around 8pm to provide a soothing surge of oxytocin to help you drift off to sleep.
Antiperspirant may be more effective when applied before bed. A study of 60 women, cited in the journal The Dermatologist in 2009, found that those who put on the product at night for ten days sweated less overall than those who used it in the mornings. Antiperspirant works by clogging pores in the outer layer of skin, reducing the amount of sweat that can reach the surface. Putting it on at night gives it time to ‘set’ in these pores while we are sleep, allowing it to last for hours upon waking.
Bed socks, meanwhile, help us fall asleep more quickly by tricking the body into cooling down. When feet are cold, the body produces heat to warm them up; this also warms up the body as a whole. Popping on socks removes this need and allows the body temperature to drop, which is necessary to fall asleep.
Meanwhile, cotton and linen pyjamas are better than man-made fabrics such as polyester at wicking away sweat, which is also important for temperature regulation, says Neil Stanley, an independent sleep expert.
10.25pm: TAKE YOUR ASPIRIN
Taken daily by millions of Britons on the advice of their doctors to cut the risk of clots that can cause a heart attack or stroke, low-dose aspirin may be most effective if taken at night.
Aspirin prevents clots by making it harder for platelets, tiny particles in blood that make it clot, from clumping together. Platelets are most active in the morning, which is also the peak time for heart attacks. A 2013 study from Leiden University Medical Centre in the Netherlands found taking aspirin at bedtime reduced platelet activity more significantly than in the morning — possibly as it gives it time to head off the morning surge in platelet activity.
10.30pm: SET ALARM
Using an alarm can improve our sleep because waking at the same time each day helps reduce daytime tiredness and keeps our body clocks in check.
But be realistic about the time you’ll get up, says Neil Stanley.
‘If you rely on an alarm, then set it for the latest possible moment. The alarm is designed to startle you and will cause spikes in your heart rate and blood pressure, which causes stress and is the wrong way to start the day.
‘It’s far better you get additional, unbroken sleep than needlessly startle yourself by pressing the snooze button three times.’
Meanwhile, going to bed at 10.30pm gives you time to unwind, nod off and get the seven to eight hours of sleep that most of us need before waking up at 7am.