Ofosu recently made a commitment to have more productive mornings, but it's been difficult for him to become a "morning person." So he talks with Leah and Greg Hammer, MD, about the benefits of waking up early, the science behind sleep and your circadian rhythm, and the strategies for incorporating meditation into a morning routine. They also share other practical tips for creating a sustainable morning routine that sets the tone for a productive, fulfilling day ahead.
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🎧 What's in this episode:
📚 More about Greg Hammer, MD:
Dr. Hammer is a professor at Stanford University School of Medicine, pediatric intensive care physician, pediatric anesthesiologist, mindfulness expert, and the author of GAIN without Pain: The Happiness Handbook for Health Care Professionals, which you can order here: https://www.amazon.com/GAIN-Without-Pain-Happiness-Professionals/dp/1951104013/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=
🩺 You can also learn more about Dr. Hammer and his work here: https://greghammermd.com/
🧘 About Balance
Well Balanced is co-hosted by meditation experts Ofosu and Leah, Balance’s Co-Heads of Meditation. Balance is a highly personalized meditation and sleep app that's been named Google's App of the Year and Apple's App of the Day. Completely free for the entire first year, Balance is helping 5 million+ people around the world improve their stress, sleep, focus, and mood.
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Ofosu: How can I become a morning person? So I've recently made a commitment to myself to just try to increase the, the, the goodness. So like, I wanna wake up earlier, meditate longer, I want to read more books, Instagram less, exercise more, eat healthier, all of those things. And I, I kind of have at my North Star waking up earlier, um, and being a morning person is, it's not I can be, but it's not really natural to me. So I think it's a little bit difficult and I, and I want to talk about how we can make the switch if we don't think that we're morning people. How can we become morning people? What do you think?
Leah: Yeah, I mean I've, I've considered myself a morning person, but I can definitely relate to times in my life when I wasn't and I was more staying up later. And I think it's a good question though. And I would like to know like how do you change your biological clock? How do you change and shift these things around?
So yeah, let's talk about it.
Ofosu: What's up y'all? My name is Ofosu Jones Quartey.
Leah: And I'm Leah Santa Cruz.
Ofosu: And we are the meditation experts from the Balance app.
Leah: And this is our podcast, Well-Balanced. We explore ways to live a healthier and a happier and more relaxed and focused life.
Ofosu: And today we're gonna dig into how to become a morning person and if that's even possible, and we're gonna talk about the changes that you have to make to lifestyle, sleep, exercise, and nutrition that can support us while we're doing that.
And we've got a special guest, Dr. Greg Hammer, who is a professor at Stanford University School of Medicine, uh, a pediatric intensive care physician, pediatric anesthesiologist, mindfulness expert, and the author of Gain Without Pain, the Happiness Handbook for Healthcare Professionals.
He's all about creating healthy habits through a combination of exercise, diet and mindfulness, and he's got a lot to say about how to become a morning person. So welcome, Dr. Hammer.
Greg: Ofosu, and Leah, wonderful to be with you. Please call me Greg if you'd like. Those are really good questions. I, you know, we don't really have a lot of scientific data.
I, I'm not aware of any, what we call randomized controlled trials looking at mourning versus not morning people and can they be changed? And what method would be most efficacious or effective, if that were possible?
Ofosu: Do you consider yourself a morning person?
Greg: Um, I would say that I have not traditionally been a morning person, but I do often have to get up very early in the morning and find myself in the intensive care unit running a resuscitation or in the operating room, starting a big cardiac operation at quarter to seven in the morning.
I better well be a morning person, even though I wouldn't say if I had it, you know, anyway, I want, I'd probably sleep in a little bit, but you know, you mentioned the, the three legs of the tripod that support our physical wellbeing, sleep, exercise, and nutrition. So we're talking a little bit about sleep when we talk about are you a morning person or not?
And there's a lot of things that are very important for sleep hygiene, and one of them is going to bed around the same time and waking up around the same time every day. And I think if we do that, even if it's not our nature, largely because we've talked ourselves into the fact that we like to stay up late and we're not a morning person if we tend to go to sleep at a certain time and wake up at a certain time, I don't think it really matters.
As long as we're getting seven to eight hours of sleep, I don't think it matters what times those are. I think that could be 11 and 7:00 AM. Um, the good news is that our brains have this amazing property called neuroplasticity. Uh, it's amazing what the brain can do, how the brain can change.
And how some parts of the brain can take over the functions that were attributed to an entirely different part of the brain when that part of the brain is injured. Um, I've seen a baby that bled into the left side of its brain, so that controls the movement on the right and a lot of cognitive function.
And five years later, that baby looked almost completely normal, that child. So the, the right side of the brain had completely taken over the function of the left. So the brain is an amazing organ. And if we have intention or purpose, we can rewire it. So that means that we can actually change the way we think.
And so if we think we're not a morning person, the good news is we can become a morning person. But it takes intention or as my, one of my heroes, John Katzin put it, mindfulness or happiness for that matter, is awareness of the present moment on purpose. Non-judgmentally. And that on purpose means if we have a plan, we can rewire our brains, get up whenever it's appropriate for us in our lifestyle and be much more happy, joyous people.
Leah: I love that. It reminds me of the, the phrase you can be anything you choose to be, you know, that that intention, you can create your reality from. I am a strong believer in that. And um, it's also, it's also funny that you said it doesn't really matter what time, as long as it's more regular.
Like, I think it makes me think of, you know, people in Spain who stay up super late, they go to, they go out to dinner at 10 o'clock at night and then that's like the beginning of their night, you know? Um, and they wake up the next day, and that's kind of just part of the culture. And then here in Bali where I live, I could get up at 4:00 AM before the sun comes up and see people driving around in their scooters with big, bright smiles on like, ready to go.
Greg: Um, still awake or newly awake.
Leah: Newly awake. So, so, you know, I think it's also like the, the cultures that we grew up in, and we have life too that has some factor in it. But I, I like what you said about, you know, setting the intention and rewiring your brain. It seems like you are yourself very much, uh, an enthusiast and practitioner of meditation and mindfulness.
Uh, you mentioned John Kabat Zinn and being present. How do you feel that that plays a role in rewiring our brains to do something that we set an intention for, such as becoming a morning person?
Greg: Well, I'll tell you how it works for me, and this is what I teach, and I've, I've written about, you mentioned the first book, which starts with the acronym, GAIN.
Which stands for gratitude, acceptance, intention and non-judgment, which I think are very much interrelated pillars of emotional and spiritual wellbeing. So here's how it works. We get up in the morning at a reasonably early hour. It doesn't have to be, we're not on our scooters by 4:00 AM necessarily, but uh, we get up in the morning.
If there's light outside, it's great. We open the blind. We do our morning hygiene thing, we find a comfortable place to sit and we're gonna do the gain practice. And it is a form of meditation. Many people think that meditation means you have to sit perfectly still for 30 minutes, not scratch an itch, not necessarily sit in a comfortable position, or some other strange thing.
And also people think that we have to banish all thoughts from our head for 30 minutes at a. And I also don't think that's true. So we sit in a comfortable place, hopefully a quiet place. We close our eyes. We get in touch with the breath. As with most forms of meditation, slowing the breath down is important.
It activates what's called our parasympathetic nervous system, and that's the nervous system that keeps our sympathetic nervous system in. Check that fight, flight or freeze response where our heart rate goes up or blood pressure goes up. The amount of, uh, adrenaline in our blood goes up, the amount of cortisol and blood sugar go up.
So slowing our breath, first of all, activates our parasympathetic nervous system, and it slows our heart rate down. It lowers our blood pressure in a healthy way, lowers our blood sugar, and then we transition to a contemplation of that for which we're grateful. And then we transition to acceptance. And this is an acknowledgement that pain is as much a part of our lives as joy.
We're onto intention, let's just pay some attention for five or 10 seconds to what's happening in our body. So we, we use our intention to appreciate the present moment and the positive that we have. And then we transition finally to the end in gain, which is non-judgment because we have minds that are judging everything around us all the time.
And that's not generally useful. We need to discern, but we don't need to label everything as good or bad. So maybe we picture a beautiful NASA image of the earth to spend it in space. And this is a, a beautiful planet, but it's just a planet. It's not good or bad, it's just the planet that it is. And so it's only logical for me to think I am just a person.
I am neither good nor bad. I am just the person that I am. Doing this in the morning is so important because what happens as we rewire our brains in this gain example is that when we are being ungrateful or resisting or we're being judgemental, a little light bulb will go off in our consciousness. And remind us that we're doing this.
So I'm driving to work, let's say, and some guys in the lane to the right of me and pulls in front of me without using their turn signal. And I immediately start to make all these judgements. And then a light bulb goes off and I realize, I just did my game meditation 15 minutes ago. I pledged to be nonjudgmental.
I don't need to judge this person. They are like neither good or bad. They're just a person driving a car. And so that you have this magic with you all day when you start the day off this way and day by day, week by week, month by month, three minutes a day, we can look back a few weeks prior and realize how much happy we.
How much more calm we are, how much more able we are to be present, grateful, accepting, purposeful, and non-judgmental. It's very powerful.
Leah: I loved how you shared earlier that, you know, when we get to the intention portion of our meditation practice, that that's where the, that's the, the juice of rewiring the brain and helping us, um, become what we wanna become.
So the, the intention is crucial, and I love that. I'm curious, you know, kind of moving back to like our original, our original question of like, how do I become a morning person if I, is my intention, is it just all about willpower? Like, is there, is there something we can do to make sure that our morning routine is sustainable?
Greg: Well, you know, I would invoke the tripod of sleep, exercise, and nutrition. The first one is sleep. So if you wanna be a morning person, if you wanna set your intention to be a morning person. Have good sleep hygiene that is conducive to that. So plan on getting, you know, I would say as close to eight hours of sleep as you can.
So let's say you wanna really go to sleep at 1130 and you wanna wake up at 7 30, so you have to plan for that because otherwise you'll lapse into your old habits and do things that will interfere with your ability to go to sleep at 1130. I'll give you an couple example. Caffeine. Caffeine is a very potent chemical, at least it is for me.
And caffeine has a very long half-life. And what that means is that that 150 milligrams of caffeine that you consume at eight o'clock in the morning, at two o'clock in the afternoon, half of that caffeine is still in your bloodstream. So it's like you just had a half a cup of coffee at two o'clock.
And it's like at 8:00 PM you just had a quarter of a cup of coffee. Now you might metabolize caffeine a little faster, or caffeine may not interact with your wake up receptors the way they do mine. You might be able to have a cup of coffee and then go to sleep, but again, being a morning person starts with good sleep hygiene, and if you're sensitive to caffeine be aware of that. There was just a study in The Lancet, which is a very well-known British, peer-reviewed publication. Coffee's actually very healthy for you. Even decaf. So I started making my coffee with my favorite Pete's roast, and half of it is our decaf beans. So transition to, to more decaf.
So caffeine. Alcohol. Alcohol, like anesthetics and, and drugs that we use in the intensive care unit to sedate people on ventilators, like in the Valium family, for example, interacts with a receptor that I know you'll wanna know what it's called. It's called the gamma aminobutyric acid receptor or GABA to its friends alcohol interacts with a GABA receptor.
And when you have a GABA induced state of unconsciousness, so you have two glasses of wine before you go to bed at night and you fall asleep, you're not really sleeping, you're in a state of what we call hypnosis. And that hypnosis is just. An induced state of unconsciousness. It's not a natural state of unconsciousness.
Alcohol or even Benadryl over the counter sleeping meds.
Ofosu: Wait, I'm not really, I'm not really asleep. If I take an Advil pm?
Leah: Yeah, you just open the can of worms here. I'm like, wait a minute.
Ofosu: If I take an Advil pm I'm not really sleeping. I'm just anesthetized.
Greg: It's all a matter of degree. If you take an Advil PM and has a little bit of diphenhydramine or Benadryl in it, fine.
But I'm talking about somebody who has, who takes Benadryl 50 milligrams to try to help them go to sleep every night, or who has, you know, a glass of wine before they go to sleep, cause it helps them go to sleep. So caffeine, alcohol, going to bed at the same time and waking up at about the same time.
Napping has been shown to not be particularly good unless it's like a very quick power nap. And the reason is, according to sleep experts, you build up a sleep debt during the during the day and that you cash that in when you lie down at night. And so if you've partially cashed in your sleep debt by taking an hour nap in the afternoon.
You know, so those are a number of sleep hygiene elements that if you have a plan, if you're purposeful, you will be more successful going to bed let's say at 11 or 11:30 PM and waking up at 6 30 , 7 or 730 in the morning, you have to have a plan.
Ofosu: Yeah that resonates with me. And, and, and seems like it's applicable to so many things in life, is you have to have a plan.
Um, it just goes to show, just like you're talking about, like the bell curve. Just like what, what, whatever your plan is, you know, whatever. There's a practice to support you. Whether it's going for hours and hours and hours or three minutes, one is not more valid than, than the other.
Leah: Well, thank you so much for being here with us, Greg, Dr.
Hammer, to share all your wonderful insight into, you know, not just being a morning person, but your practice and, um, how we can take on that tripod of health more effectively. Um, I definitely took away the intention piece as being a really strong component and also not having a couple glasses of wine before bed.
Greg: No wonder you stay up so late.
Leah: I don't do that all the time, like once a week.
Greg: Well, listen, it's just been terrific sitting with you two. Hit me up anytime. I really, really, really enjoyed it.
Ofosu: Well, Greg, Dr. Hammer, thank you so much and for you listening, hope you enjoyed this episode. If you wanna learn more about Dr. Hammer's work, we've got a link to his website and his book in the show notes.
Leah: And if you're feeling inspired to, you know, start incorporating meditation into your morning routine, we've got some guided meditations in the Balance app that can help you out. Um, Yours truly and Ofosu, and I recommend that you start with a Morning Brew, which is one of my favorites, cause you can take like literally a cup of tea or decaf coffee, whatever it is, and it's designed for you to do it while you're sipping your tea or whatever you're drinking in the morning.
And to be present with that.
Ofosu: And if you're not on Balance yet, we've got a link to download it in the show notes. Or you can just head over to balanceapp.com and it's free for the first entire year. Until next time, our friends take care. Don't forget to be kind to yourself and peace.