Sleep Better

Beat a bad night’s sleep with a great morning routine

14 Mar 202415 min read

Find out how a positive morning can change your day for the better and take advantage of the routines outlined in this article.

Women sitting cross legged by plant with book and mug.

Health experts often talk about the benefits of a good night’s sleep. Those who suffer from poor sleep will certainly tell you how it can ruin the whole day, leaving you struggling over the simplest of tasks.

A lot has been written about the right way to prepare for bed to improve sleep, including when to go to bed, what to wear, what not to eat, whether to watch your phone or TV… the list goes on. Yet rarely do we consider the importance of a morning routine to the sleep that will follow in the evening.

We talked to morning routine expert, Toby Oliver, and Cavendish Cancer Care Wellbeing Manager, Chloe Angus, about some ways you can start the day as you mean to go on.

Poor sleep can impact your whole day

Sleep is easy to take for granted until it doesn’t come easily. A bad night’s sleep can leave you in a fog - with poor concentration, slow reactions and a bad mood.

Sleep disorders have even been linked to several medical and mental health issues, including a higher risk of cardiovascular diseases, dementia, anxiety and depression.

Many factors can impact your sleep. Here are just a few of them:

  • Stress and  anxiety
  • A bad sleep routine
  • Medical conditions
  • Eating too late

While there is no quick and easy fix for some of these issues, there are things you can do to lay the foundations for a calmer and more productive day.

A simple morning routine is one way to centre yourself and stay focused. By mentally preparing for the day, you can more easily achieve your goals and banish those worries that may plague your mind as you try to sleep.

Why not start the day as you mean to go on.

The power of a good morning

Piece of toast with a sad face cut out.

A bad morning can have just as much of an impact on your day as a disrupted night. You might wake up and lay in bed with your mind racing over the events of the previous day, or maybe find that you simply can’t face the morning and try your hardest to spend every last second in bed. 

It’s clear that avoiding the day ahead is not going to leave you at your most productive. This behaviour can create a cycle of daytime dread and nighttime anxiety.

But you can break the cycle.

In the book Rise and Shine: How to Transform Your Life, Morning by Morning, sibling authors Kate and Toby Oliver outline a series of morning techniques and routines that can help you be the person you want to be throughout the day.

The techniques bring together elements of psychology, mindfulness and yoga, backed by solid scientific research.

Routines to keep your day on track

There are 30 techniques in all that make up the SHINE method, grouped into the following sections:

SilenceFind some stillness, peace and reflection to centre you over the day
HappinessBoost your resilience by starting the day feeling positive and uplifted
IntentionKnow what you want to achieve for the day to stay focused
NourishmentSustain both your body and mind with a healthy morning diet
ExerciseGet moving to give yourself energy for the day ahead

Just by including some activities in the morning that incorporate one or all of the SHINE techniques, you give yourself the best chance to start the day positively.

Author Toby, a yoga teacher and registered therapist working with organisations such as Cavendish Cancer Care, says many of the exercises are very much rooted in the mindfulness tradition. The routines help to calm the mind by focusing on the present moment. They encourage you not to worry over past or future events.

“You can’t change the past, and you can’t rush the future, so it is best to focus on the present and not waste energy,” he says.

In Toby’s experience, many people feel like they spend most of the day just trying to feel grounded. If you can achieve this in the morning, it’ll change how you approach the rest of the day.

The morning happens to everyone. Either consciously or subconsciously, we all have a morning routine. However, Toby suggests that If we actively choose a routine that resonates with us, and perform that every day, it will save the time spent feeling out of control and directionless.

And the beauty of these techniques is that the exercises can be done almost anywhere and only take minutes.

On the train or in the kitchen, you choose

Women meditating at desk.

Flexibility is key to the success of these routines. Each one is no more than 10-15 minutes long (but can be much shorter, if you prefer) and you can choose to do as many or as few as fits in with your schedule. The routines can be scaled up or scaled down to suit your individual day and commitments.

Think about when is best, and easiest, for you to add some SHINE techniques to your morning. It may be straight after you rise, or just as you’re about to leave the house. A lot of people like to use their commute time to prepare for the day, so you could use your train journey or morning walk to the office as an opportunity to ground and centre yourself for the day. 

We lead busy lives, and sometimes you might miss your morning window to complete these exercises - and that’s completely fine! The beauty of these routines is that they can be done almost anywhere. Simply find five or 10 minutes later in the day and fit them in when you can.

Toby says it’s important not to be hard on yourself about these routines. Rigid schedules don’t work for everyone and not everyone has the same time or resources in their day-to-day life. Try not to let yourself feel guilty or frustrated if you miss them, building a routine takes time, so be kind to yourself. 

The only thing you really have to work on is finding that time for yourself. This is both an important necessity and a helpful consequence of these morning routines. Sometimes it’s easy to take on too many roles - partner, parent, work colleague, social organiser - that you don’t leave yourself any time. Introducing routines into your mornings, or at any time of day, ensures you dedicate some space to yourself, even if it’s just a moment. 

Start small at first to push yourself over the starting line. Once you are comfortable with what you want to do, there’s no reason you can’t even involve your family. Maybe you can devise some group exercises and fun movements, or keep your quiet time to yourself - whatever works best for you.

Plan in some outside time

Bench bathed in golden sunlight among trees in a park.

Toby and Kate are passionate about the benefits that being outdoors can provide.

Studies show that light can have a huge effect on our mood and alertness. Increased exposure to sunlight can even help with sleep.  Andrew Huberman, PhD, associate professor of neurobiology and ophthalmology at Stanford University, says that getting 10-20 minutes of sunlight close to the time you wake helps to set your internal clock for the day.  

This time outside helps your body to naturally regulate your circadian rhythm, meaning that your body will start to produce the hormone that makes you sleepy at nighttime (melatonin). This, in turn, helps you rise at the right time in the morning.

Many people feel a particular benefit if they can spend some time in green spaces or near open water.

Toby recommends that if you can’t find a chance to be outside, sit as close to a window as you can with the window open. This will still allow your brain to register increased light levels and improve your mood. However, outside provides the most benefits, so try to perform some everyday tasks in the open if you can, even if that’s simply taking a phone call.

How to get over the first hurdle

Like with so many things in life, the gap between wanting to get into a routine and actually doing it can seem like a canyon. 

One of the key messages that ‘Rise and Shine’ outlines is not to set yourself too big of a task. Overstretch yourself and your brain will rebel against the task you have set. You’ll find that you’ll soon start dreading the perceived effort it will take, and that leads to avoidance.

The following tips can help you to begin your morning routines:

  1. Know why you want to do it - Having a clear reason in your head will help to keep you on track when you begin to waver.
  2. Be realistic with what you think you can do in the time you have - Work comfortably within your limits, needs and time.
  3. Start small - Overreaching can set you up for failure and feelings of disappointment in yourself. Start with small, quicker tasks and build on that if you find yourself enjoying them.  
  4. Pick an exercise that brings you positivity - It doesn’t have to be earth shattering, just enough to increase your feelings of positivity.
  5. Just start - Taking that first step is all you need to do to begin your morning routine.
  6. Go with the flow - Try to do one activity every day, but be flexible with your needs and schedule.

Another effective motivation is visualising the benefits of your routine. A great morning routine doesn’t just improve your night’s sleep, it can affect your day-to-day life in a variety of ways. Both Kate and Toby outline some of the benefits that a great morning routine can bring.

CalmnessFinding a moment for yourself in the morning to reflect and prepare can help you avoid turbulence and feel calmer. This provides a degree of control over how your day turns out. 
FocusBy preparing for the day, you gain clarity and what you want to achieve, allowing you to focus on upcoming tasks.
EnergyFeeling more organised and in control stops you from wasting mental energy on things you would otherwise stress about throughout the day.
ProductivityHaving the strength and confidence to tackle your biggest challenges allows you to be more productive and achieve more.
WellbeingTaking stock in the morning can help you find a greater sense of meaning and purpose. This goes a long way to help tackle stress, anxiety and a restless mind.

Some morning routine examples to try out

One piece of advice that Toby gives for changing your morning routine is simply to take that first step. No matter how small the amount of time you can commit, just get started and see how it goes. What’s the worst that can happen?

With that in mind, here is a selection of the exercises you can try:


Silence is about taking some time for yourself and tuning out the world. Techniques around silence are a great way to gain focus and clarity.

Man with eyes closed enjoying nature.

Breathing. We breathe to send vital oxygen around our body. During times of stress, breathing quickens and we move into flight-or-fight survival mode. This can feel very unsettling and affect us both mentally and physically. However, by controlling breathing, we can actively lower anxiety and reduce stress. Controlled breathing is also said to have many other health benefits.


  1. Sit comfortably with a straight back.
  2. Relax yourself, including your eyes, and place one or both hands on your stomach.
  3. Take slow, deep breaths into your stomach, ideally through your nose. Allow each breath to flow smoothly.
  4. Repeat several times and feel your stomach rise and fall as you do.
  5. When you wish to stop, let your hands fall into your lap and take a moment to appreciate the calm.


It seems obvious to say that it is better to start the day happy than not. While it’s not always that simple, there are some things you can do to alter your mood for the better.

Woman fist pumping in mirror.

Positive affirmations. Affirming the positives in your life is not just something you do in the mirror before giving a big presentation or sitting an exam. Just as starting the morning negatively can leave you feeling drained, reminding yourself of the positives can provide a real boost to your mood.


  1. Write down between one and three positive affirmations about the upcoming day.
  2. Make these about positive outcomes rather than the avoidance of negative scenarios. For example - ‘I will feel confident at work today’ rather than ‘I will not feel anxious in my meeting’.
  3. Make statements in the present tense rather than wishes for the future, such as: ‘Today is a day full of opportunities.’
  4. Make it relevant to you and how you will engage with the day.
  5. Say it like you truly believe it. This may seem awkward at first, but it’s the best way to make the day turn out how you want.


If you want to achieve something, have a plan. By not actively committing to change, you make it very easy to become distracted and unmotivated. Set your intentions early and you have a goal to strive towards.

Alarm clock with woman stretching by bed.

Alarm clock. For many of us, this is the first thing we encounter when we wake, so it’s important to have a good relationship with it. Many people will know how easy it is to get into bad habits with your alarm. Rather than battling with it throughout the morning, try to create a new, healthier approach.


  1. First off, and something that may not be obvious until written down, but if you have trouble getting up when your alarm sounds, it might be because you need more sleep. Consider going to bed earlier or rearranging your day to get more free time in the morning, if possible.
  2. Try to set your alarm for close to when you need to be up. This means you’re not disrupting your sleep until you need to wake. Avoid wrestling with your alarm all morning, it will only leave you exhausted from the fight.
  3. Choose an alarm that is not too jarring. This may not always be possible, especially if you are a heavy sleeper or hard of hearing. Nonetheless, happy music that you like will put you in a better mood than a harsh claxon blasting you awake.
  4. Place the alarm across the room. This will make you leave the bed and start to become energised.
  5. Consider leaving your curtains open and allowing the sunlight to prompt you awake. If that is too early for you, there are alarm clocks that contain lamps which gradually brighten as the morning begins.


There are certain things we require to function properly - food and water are the obvious examples. Mental stimulation and a connection to nature might be less obvious, but they are no less important. Keeping your mind, body and soul sustained will help to improve your attitude and wellbeing.

Table of breakfast things including croissants, bread, fruit, cake and drinks

Breakfast. Our bodies need fuel to function. Our brains require the glucose our bodies convert from food. If we don’t eat properly in the morning, we’re not setting our bodies up for success in the day. Don’t be tempted to skip it, your body will regret it.


  1. Make breakfast pleasurable. Try not to get stuck in a rut. Most people don’t eat the same evening meal every day so try to switch your breakfast up and make it a treat. If a bit of prep is needed, try to do it the night before, if possible.
  2. Aim to give yourself some time to enjoy and savour your breakfast. Make breakfast as important as your other meals.
  3. If you don’t usually have much breakfast but want to try having more, increase your meal sizes gradually. Don’t launch into a huge meal straight away or you might feel overfull and put off by the experience. Perhaps try adding fruit to your mornings until your appetite grows.


It’s well known that exercise is good for both your body and mind. It gets the blood moving and wakes up your muscles. 

Equally, a daily life without exercise can leave you feeling low in mood and energy. The positive feelings of a little exercise in the morning last throughout the day, helping you feel strong and prepared for all eventualities.

Fit older man with grey beard jogging.

Movement. There’s obviously a lot you can do around the concept of ‘movement’. In Rise & Shine, you can find instructions on anything from morning dancing to simply making the bed. When introducing some new daily activity, it’s important to keep in mind a few key points.


  1. Start slow. If you’re not used to exercise and you set yourself a huge task, you run the risk of potentially injuring yourself and not enjoying it, which can lead to avoidance.
  2. As with a lot of things mentioned here, one of the hardest parts of consciously introducing extra movement into your mornings is getting started. If you’re finding it hard, leave yourself some prompts. It could be a note on the fridge, a voice alarm or a post-it on the bathroom mirror. You could try leaving out some exercise clothes for yourself the night before to both save time and cement the process in your mind.
  3. Fit your movements into the time you have. If you can free extra space in your schedule, great. But remember to be realistic. A quick morning walk to a park and back can be just the thing to clear the mind. Equally, running, cycling or some pilates will bring great benefits.
  4. Listen to your body when choosing your exercise. You’ll know what your body can and can’t handle. And you’ll soon start feeling that you can go a little bit further. Welcome the increased fitness you feel and let it spur you on. Take care to warm up before you try anything you haven’t done before.

Mornings don’t have to be a time of hangovers, grey skies and dread for the day ahead. By performing some simple routines, you can use this time of day to align your goals, energise your body and prepare yourself for the tasks facing you. Don’t start your morning under a cloud, shine and light up the whole day.

Rise and Shine - How to transform your life, morning by morning by Kate Oliver & Toby Oliver is published by Piatkus and costs £9.99 from all good book retailers.

Buy your copy of Rise and Shine now.