In the precious few hours between waking and everyone else's day starting, I usually get up, open my laptop, and start working. It's quiet, I can concentrate, and I feel like I'm getting a head start.
But this week, I’ve done things a little differently. Inspired by the news that Princess Margaret used to spend two hours in bed every morning – chain-smoking, nonetheless – before taking a bath and having a vodka cocktail, I decided it was time I tried something new.
Rather than buying a bumper pack of fags and hiring a lady’s maid, I took the healthier (and cheaper) route. Every morning this week at 6am I have drawn a hot bath, lit a candle, and chilled the f*** out. It’s been wonderful. And I’ve begun to wonder: Have we been getting mornings all wrong?
Before I start sounding like Marie Antoinette, there is some science behind this. Earlier this year, a study conducted by Loughborough University found that a hot bath burns about the same amount of calories as a half-hour walk. Another study from the University of Oregon found regular baths can also reduce blood pressure.
So it would seem baths can have some proper health benefits. But what about the quality of our sleep? Could knowing that when you wake up you’re going to do something nice for yourself help you rest better? Dr Sophie Bostock is a Sleep Evangelist at Big Sleep, who works with revolutionary digital platform Sleepio. For her PhD, Sophie studied airline pilots who worked various hours.
“We looked at the early morning shift – the pilots who were getting up at 4am. Even before their alarm clocks went off they got a massive release of cortisol, which gets you out of bed in the morning,” she explains. We all know that feeling of not being able to sleep properly because we know we have to wake up early to do something – but it turns out it can have a detrimental effect on your body during the day, too.
“The level of cortisol in these pilots then stayed high throughout the day,” continues Sophie. “So the stress of doing an early shift and having to stay awake continues. We can’t say that we can link it to bad health, but it probably can be harmful for your body to be anticipating working when your body wants to be asleep.”
So starting the day with a relaxing treat could actually, after my very short, very unscientific trial, be the way forward? “Yes, it feels intuitively right that you’ll be more relaxed if you go to bed knowing that you’ll do that instead of dashing straight off to work,” says Sophie.
Turns out I’m not the only one who’s a fan of having a slow start to the day. Katie Abbott is a therapist, coach and founder of Pause Place. “They say to meditate every morning for twenty minutes,” says Katie. “And if you have a really busy day ahead, meditate for an hour! We sleep better when we know we will have space in the morning for self-care. In modern life, taking time out to pause is a necessity, not a luxury.”
The other big factor here is routine. According to Sophie, a ‘positive routine’ is the biggest contributor to healthy sleep. And taking time for ourselves is something we all need to get better at fitting into our days. So why not first thing in the morning, before everyone else starts demanding our attention?
Jessica Mason is the founder of bedding brand Piglet and therefore another trusted connoisseur of time spent horizontal. “I think for a lot of us our sleep is impacted by anxiety about what we haven't finished in the previous day and all the things we need to get done the following day,” she says. “As such, our morning routine is really about setting us up in the best possible way to be both productive and level-headed during the day.”
We’re obsessed with being productive and busy, so it’s no wonder that those of us who do get up at sparrow’s fart use that time to do extra work or exercise. But what if we could find half an hour or five minutes to do something quiet that’s just for ourselves – whether it’s sitting quietly listening to the radio, or meditating, or having a bath, or cooking something delicious, or eating chocolate ice cream (true story: I know a man who has a mini Magnum some mornings as a little treat to himself).
So let’s give it a try: Start the day doing something nice. You may not be able to measure its benefits on a Fitbit but you can sure as hell eulogise about it, all day, to anyone who will listen, in a marvellously self-satisfied way. Here’s to having a glorious morning. Cheers for the inspo, Mags.