As an integrative medicine doctor, I’ve gained a lot of healthy lifestyle knowledge over the years. The things I do first thing in the morning and before bed are very specific because I know they set the stage for my health that day and sleep quality that night. Lately, I’ve made some small tweaks to my morning routine to drastically increase my energy and focus and, yes, improve my metabolic function. Most of them are related in some way to the circadian rhythm, also known as your body’s internal clock, which is incredibly important to your overall health. Did you know that there’s a circadian clock in every single one of your cells? It’s true. And it means that there’s an optimal time to wake up, go to sleep, and even digest your food.
When you wake up, do these practices first thing in the morning, and you’ll notice increased energy levels, balanced hormones, and improved metabolic markers. So let’s get into it. Here are the metabolism-boosting practices I’m doing right now that have made me feel better than ever:
1. FASTING OVERNIGHT FOR 13 TO 16 HOURS
It’s no secret that intermittent fasting has become a huge breakthrough in the world of metabolic medicine. It appears that by keeping insulin levels low, we are able to improve blood pressure, heart disease markers, and fat distribution. We also know that this is optimized when you match intermittent fasting to your circadian rhythms, which means ending your meals around sundown—before 8 p.m. but ideally at more like 6 p.m.—and then fasting for 13 to 16 hours. For me, this means that most days I’m ending my meals around 6:30 p.m. and then eating again around 7:30 or 8:30 a.m. About two days a week I like to push it to 16 hours, but only if I’m feeling energetic.
2. OBSERVING AN EARLY BEDTIME
Maintaining a sleep-wake cycle that honors your circadian rhythm is one of the best things for your metabolism. Typically, I go to sleep at 10 p.m. and wake up around 6 a.m. (don’t worry, you get used to it). Another surprising but welcome benefit of going to bed nice and early is improved skin quality since skin repair happens primarily during the nighttime hours. In fact, about an hour after you go to sleep at 10 p.m. you get a big release of human growth hormone. In doctor circles we joke that 11 p.m. is the much-coveted “beauty sleep” hour because of this HGH boost. HGH is touted as the anti-aging and lean hormone, which is why it is often abused by athletes.
3. GETTING DIRECT SUNLIGHT IN THE MORNING
Sleeping at optimal hours and fasting are great for my health, but how do I take it to the next level? I make sure that I get direct sunlight for a few minutes every morning, prior to 10 a.m. This means right when I wake up around 6 a.m., weather permitting, I go out into my backyard, do some stretches, and practice one minute of mindfulness and catch some sun rays. Getting direct sunlight sends signals through the retina in your eye to reset melatonin. Not only does that help your sleep that evening, but it improves your energy levels that very day.
The benefits of forest bathing and living near greenery or a great park have been praised for years. Without a doubt, nature is good for your health. So as a bonus, I like to go out barefoot on the grass every single morning when I do my stretches and mindful minute. This is not only for grounding purposes but to obtain some good skin bacteria to potentially improve my microbiome.
This entire sequence I’ve described to you takes less than five minutes of your day. Try it for a week and see how good you feel; your long-term health will thank you!
Amy Shah, M.D. is a double board certified MD with training from Cornell, Columbia and Harvard Universities. She was named one of mindbodygreen’s Top 100 Women In Wellness to Watch in 2015 and has been a guest on many national and local media shows. She helps busy people transform their health by reducing inflammation and eating more plants. As an immunologist she realizes the power of the microbiome to help digestion, natural hormone balance and food sensitivities.