Updated: Mar 15, 2021
Family Centre CEO Bec Johnson writes about how her morning routine sets her up for a healthy, happy day.
I’ve lived with type 1 diabetes for nearly 20 years. Over that time, I’ve developed some simple rules and short practices that I use in the morning to help me to manage my blood glucose levels throughout the day, make and achieve micro-goals, and walk out the door feeling grateful and calm. Here's how I manage my mornings:
Wake up right
In the past, I have experienced dreadful ‘Foot to the Floor’ syndrome, which is a sharp blood glucose spike that happens as soon as I get up. It’s different to Dawn Phenomenon, which is generally a slow rise in glucose levels that starts early in the morning as the body releases stress hormones in order to wake up. Rather, Foot to the Floor makes my glucose levels rocket up rapidly from the moment I wake up.
I’ve found that, of all things, my choice of alarm clock has gone some way towards helping me manage this problem. I used to wake up to what I call a machine-gun alarm – a blaring, urgent, jarring noise that would jerk me awake, raise my heart rate, and have me frantically fumbling around in the dark in a panic trying to switch it off. No wonder my blood glucose levels spiked!
Now, I use a wake-up light alarm. I call it my ‘sun clock’. It switches a gentle, warm light on around 15 minutes prior to the time I want to wake up that gets brighter and brighter, like the sun coming up. The light on my face brings me out of sleep gently and naturally, and when the alarm finally goes off (I’ve got it set to gentle music and forest sounds) I’m usually already awake – which in itself is miraculous, given I used to need the machine-gun to get me up! This gentle wake-up has had a big impact on my morning mindset, and while it hasn’t fixed my Foot to the Floor altogether, it has certainly helped smooth things out.
I exercise in the morning because I find it’s the easiest time of day from a diabetes perspective, because food and rapid-acting insulin are not in my system. As soon as I’ve got food and insulin onboard, exercising becomes immediately more complex – so I work out fasted, first thing in the morning, with only the long-acting insulin from the night before in my system.
As my blood glucose level tends to climb first thing in the morning, I prefer to do steady-state cardio (like swimming or riding) instead of high-intensity cardio or weights. This way, I can use my morning insulin resistance to my advantage. It protects me from going low during steady-state exercise, which at another time of day would most likely cause my levels to drop. In the morning, I can get in the water and feel confident, whereas I know I'll almost always go low if I swim after work
Exercise in the morning not only helps my levels stay stable for the rest of the day, it gets my endorphins going and I get to see my swim and gym friends (also known as accountability buddies!) – so it puts in me in a great mood, too.
Some years ago a friend gave me a Five Minute Journal, and I'm now a big fan of the simple but powerful practice it invites. The journal asks me to write down three things I’m grateful for, three things that would make today great, and an affirmation. I like it because it helps cultivate an ‘attitude of gratitude’, and set some micro-goals for the day that I’ve got in my mind when I walk out the door. These little goals might be related to work, exercise, relationships, or diabetes – I mix it up. At the end of each day, I check back in on what went well and what could have made the day even better using the journal.
Using the Five Minute Journal sets a positive tone for my day and helps me to break down big goals, like reducing my Hba1c, into actionable, daily steps that will help me achieve them, like scanning my Freestyle Libre at least eight times. I also like thumbing back through it on hard days, and reminding myself of all the awesome things I have to be grateful for.
Finally, I’ve made a conscious choice not to check social media or email until after I after I’ve done my morning workout. My bedroom is a technology-free zone (apart from my Kindle!) and my phone is now charged in the living room overnight. For years, I would roll over in the morning, and before my brain really even had time to wake up I’d check news, social media, messages and email straight away. Being bombarded with lots of information so early stressed me out, and I was often late to swim squad or my ride because I’d been down a rabbithole replying to something online. Now, I don’t open my phone until after I’ve finished my swim, had a coffee and feel wide awake and ready to tackle the world. It takes discipline to not peek at my phone, but it's a habit that's made me happier.
A friend of mind recently taught me his ‘square breathing’ technique, which works anytime my mind is racing. It's good first thing in the morning if I’ve had a bad night’s sleep and feel scattered and wrung out. I close my eyes and take a big, slow breath while counting to five, hold it for a count of five, exhale for a count of five, and count to five before I start again. I try and do this for five minutes – I put my phone on 'do not disturb' and use the free Calm app, which has a timed meditation function with a simple bell that rings at the end.
Mindfulness has been linked to lower stress, lower blood glucose levels, better mental health, and lower blood pressure. This short, achievable practice not only benefits my body, it has helped me notice how many thoughts pop into my mind unbidden and uninvited, so I can spot unproductive trains of thought and negative thought-spirals before they take over ... and it only takes five minutes!
The old adage that ‘breakfast is the most important meal of the day’ doesn’t work for me and my diabetes. Like many people with type 1, I am insulin resistant in the morning – for me, the resistance lasts until at least 11am. If I ate eggs on toast in the morning, I’d need twice as much insulin for it as I’d need if I ate the same meal in the afternoon! I therefore choose not to eat breakfast because I’m generally already running a little high, and breakfast often spikes me much higher again; even if I land in range later on, I don’t like spending hours every morning out of range. I’m also interested in the emerging evidence on the health benefits of intermittent fasting, which include reduced inflammation, improved insulin sensitivity and blood glucose levels, weight loss/maintenance, and improved cardiovascular markers.
Of course, not eating breakfast isn’t for everyone. Studies show that in children, eating breakfast can have a positive influence of cognitive performance at school, and breakfast can be an important time to get vital nutrients into the body, especially if you have a tendency to eat light or miss meals later in the day. It's also important to have basal insulin dialled in correctly (your diabetes educator can help with basal testing) so that it's set to maintain stable glucose levels. Nowadays, I always break my fast with a balanced meal of protein and vegetables at a time closer to lunch than to breakfast, and it works for me. Coffee in the morning, however, is definitely NOT optional!
Setting up positive practices for both my mind and body each morning helps me feel motivated, set and achieve goals, and keep my blood glucose on track. The few simple rules and short practices I've described above help me walk out the door to work with a smile - I hope they’re useful to you, too.
We’d love to hear what helps you get going in the morning - share your helpful morning practices in the Family Centre’s online communities!