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169: What's Up with "Morning People"?

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169: What's Up with "Morning People"?

Mar 18, 2024

Ever wonder why some people are chipper at dawn while you're grappling with the alarm clock? It's not all in your head—or your genes. The Who Cares Guys discuss the findings of a UC Berkeley study that could help improve your morning energy. Learn how to combat morning grogginess with three tips backed by science.

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    Scot: Guys, when you wake up in the morning, are you just rip-roaring and ready to go? Like, are you just boom, hit the world running? Mitch?

    Mitch: Never. I'm a night owl, not a morning person at all.

    Scot: Okay. How about you, Troy? When the alarm goes off in the morning, or do you even need an alarm? Do you just wake up at 4:30 with the birds?

    Troy: It's so funny. My sleep patterns have changed so dramatically. I wake up sometimes at 4:30 and I'm awake and ready to go. It used to be I would sleep until 9:00 a.m. and it was hard to wake up. Crazy change. Yeah.

    Scot: That was because you changed your job, you went off shift work, erratic schedules, that sort of stuff?

    Troy: Had a baby. Yep.

    Scot: Oh, yeah. Who needs an alarm clock when you got a baby? So I'm the same way with you Mitch. When I wake up, I am not rip-roaring and ready to go. Who are these people that are? It seems like it takes me a while to ramp up and into the day, into the morning.

    But Troy has an article here that could help us. If you're drowsy in the morning and you have a hard time kind of getting going, he's got an article that he's going to share with us with some ideas of things we can try. Now, it'll be curious to see if we've actually tried them and they've worked or not.

    So, Troy, we'll get to you in a second. I guess we need to say this. This is "Who Cares About Men's Health," with information, inspiration, and a different interpretation of men's health. My name is Scot. I bring the BS. The MD to my BS, Dr. Troy Madsen.

    Troy: Hey, Scot.

    Scot: And he's a "Who Cares About Men's Health" convert, it's Producer Mitch.

    Mitch: It'll be interesting because I am suspicious of people who are awake in the morning.

    Troy: I used to be too. I used to just think they were weird, and I thought it was genetic. I figured there has to be a genetic component and that's how they get up early and we are just the way we are. This article suggests differently. So that's why I thought it was interesting.

    Scot: All right. Well, let's talk about it. Let's dive into it, Troy.

    Troy: Yeah. So this was a study that was done at UC Berkeley, and published in the journal "Nature," which is just one of the most high-profile journals you can get published in. It was a really well-done study, and they really asked that question "What is it about people where they wake up in the morning and they're just chipper and alert and ready to go?"

    I guess I'm curious for both of you. You both said you're not that way. Are there people in your lives who are that way?

    Mitch: My father. He's an early riser. He's one of those that's like, "Well, I've been up since 5." And it's like, "Oh, okay. Good for you. You win an award."

    Scot: My dad was the same. He was a rancher. But I can't honestly tell you, and it's too late for me to ask, if that was just out of necessity or if he was . . . I mean, was it out of necessity and he was just rip-roaring, ready to go, or was it something else? Like, because you have to, so what else are you going to do? He was of that generation, right?

    Troy: Yeah. It's crazy. That's so funny. I was going to say my dad too. He's up early in the morning and he goes to bed late too. We've talked about short sleepers and how they don't actually exist. I think it exists in his case. He's a short sleeper and he's awake and ready to go. It's pretty remarkable.

    But they asked that question. Who are these people? Or in general, is it something we can become if we are not that way?

    They looked at 833 people, studied them for two weeks, and basically did all sorts of things over those two weeks just to see, number one, how are they sleeping? What kind of exercise are they doing? What's their diet like? And they used basically a watch that they wore just to record their activity, their sleep patterns. They even gave them different diets to see, "You guys are going to try this for breakfast, this group's going to try this, and let's see how that affects your sleep."

    And they really drew some interesting conclusions. They basically found three different things really factored in. And I'm going to let you . . . Mitch, did you read the article? I'm going to let you guess what the three things were.

    Mitch: No, I haven't read it.

    Troy: I think Scot read ahead.

    Scot: Yeah. I did browse it.

    Troy: Yeah. So, Mitch, three things really jumped out. If you were to guess what helps people become more alert when they wake up in the morning, what would you say?

    Mitch: So, from our Baron episodes and my own personal experience, having consistent sleeping habits might be helpful, exercise in the evenings maybe to kind of get you tired, and then a really healthy breakfast.

    Troy: Interesting. How would you describe a healthy breakfast? What's a healthy breakfast for you?

    Mitch: Oh, maybe there's lots of protein, maybe oatmeal.

    Troy: Oatmeal, yeah. So maybe a little higher in carbs.

    Mitch: Maybe it's like the '90s balanced breakfast where it's toast and milk and orange juice. No, it's healthier than that.

    Troy: Yeah. And you're exactly right on all three of those, and that's where it . . .

    Mitch: Yes!

    Troy: I will say you're exactly right on the topics, but . . .

    Mitch: Oh.

    Troy: . . . it was interesting within those kind of what really came out there.

    So, in terms of sleep, you're right. I think there's value in terms of just having the same habits. We've talked about that before. But they said that when people slept longer, they were more alert. Like, if they slept in a little bit.

    That surprised me. I don't know if you feel that way, but oftentimes I feel like if I'm sleeping in past when I would normally get up, I feel kind of sluggish. But in this study, they found that it seemed like when people slept a little bit on the longer side, they seemed to do better.

    But then they concluded it's because we're all so sleep deprived anyway, that when they actually did sleep longer, they were getting that seven to nine hours that we really need. So that was their conclusion. If we're already getting 7 to 9 hours, it's not about getting 8 to 10 hours. It was more people are probably kind of sleep deprived, so getting that little extra sleep made a big difference.

    Scot: That's interesting. I find that to be true for me. My alarm goes off at 6, but whenever we have times where I don't have to go to work and I don't set an alarm, I just kind of naturally wake up at 7. So I wonder if I just need an extra hour of sleep. I wonder if I need to go to bed a little bit earlier. Huh. Interesting.

    Troy: Yeah, maybe so. How much are you sleeping, Scot, at night?

    Scot: That's a loaded question, because I went down this path . . . I mean, I used to think I was real religious about going to bed at 10 and waking up at 6, so that put me at eight hours, right? But then I got a Fitbit and I learned, "No, you're not going to bed at 10. You're not going to bed until maybe 10:45 some nights."

    Troy: Oh, yeah.

    Scot: I think where I was telling myself the story is I start heading to bed at 10, right? By the time I'm actually in bed, etc., I think I need to really look again honestly at what's going on in my life. I think I'm close to at least seven probably.

    Troy: Okay. So maybe on the lower end of that recommended amount. And it's tough too because, yeah, you've got to have lights out at 10 and then ideally falling asleep pretty quickly, which most people don't do, to really hit that eight hours if you're doing 10 to 6.

    What do you usually sleep, Mitch?

    Mitch: I've been doing better lately where it's more about having the consistency to it all. But I'm around seven hours a night. I feel pretty good about that.

    Troy: Seven?

    Mitch: Yeah.

    Troy: Interesting.

    Mitch: Yeah. I go to bed around 11 or midnight. Trying to get to bed early, I'm not tired. That's not the way my rhythms work. And so get to bed around 11, midnight, wake up at 6, 7. Yeah, I'm okay.

    Troy: Interesting.

    Mitch: Not great, but I'm okay.

    Troy: Yeah. It's funny. I've gone through kind of this work transition recently where I now actually sleep at night, which is nice. But I've kind of found I get into this interesting pattern. After I do a long run, that night I'll sleep nine hours and I hear the alarm go off and it's hard to get up. And then the next morning kind of the same thing. But then as the week progresses, I'm usually asleep by 9. Some mornings I'm awake by 4 or 4:30 and I'm good to go.

    Mitch: Wow.

    Troy: So I'm sure there's some variation for all of us just depending on what we've done for activities that day or stress levels or all sorts of things.

    But anyway, like I said, in this study they at least found that people who were sleeping a little longer were a little more alert. And I don't know how that translates into trying to create a habit, but I think it probably gets back to what you said, Mitch, in terms of just consistency, and then hopefully making sure that consistency is the amount of sleep you need.

    Scot: So it sounds like the takeaway from this point is that probably most of us are sleep deprived, probably not getting enough sleep. As a result, in this study, they discovered when people do actually sleep in later, they're getting closer to the amount that they really need.

    Troy: Yeah. That was my takeaway. And it sounds like that's what they were concluding. I don't think they were telling everyone, "You need to sleep in every day," because it's just not practical. And then it's not sleeping in anymore because you've got a new habit.

    Scot: Got it. Okay.

    Troy: And then they noted the breakfast piece. You mentioned that, Mitch. You mentioned a high-protein breakfast, and then you mentioned, "Well, what about oatmeal?"

    And in this study, yeah, they actually found . . . So they had people try three different breakfasts. One was your classic kind of high-sugar cereal.

    Mitch: Love it.

    Troy: You can imagine how that went.

    Mitch: Amazing. It was part of the complete breakfast. Apple Jacks.

    Troy: Exactly.

    Mitch: It makes my morning go.

    Troy: Yeah, you get a good bowl of Frosted Flakes and you just feel great for the rest of the day. No, they found those people really crashed and didn't do well. So that was not the recipe for success.

    And then they did the high-protein breakfast. And you might think, "Well, maybe the high-protein breakfast is the way to go."

    Scot: Because you see on social media a lot that's what the "fitness influencers" say, is you should be eating a high-protein breakfast to minimize that insulin response.

    Troy: Exactly. And that's something I've kind of embraced also. I look at my breakfast and it's pretty high-protein. It's two protein bars, it's a protein drink, and it's a banana. That's my breakfast.

    Scot: Oh, wow. Processed food much?

    Troy: Exactly. I know. That's the downside of it. But that's the best way for me to get a decent amount of protein in my diet. I get 50 grams to start the day.

    Scot: Wow.

    Troy: I don't get a ton of protein otherwise just based on my diet. But that's probably not the best approach for alertness.

    So they actually found a breakfast that's higher in carbohydrates and complex carbohydrates was really the key to morning alertness. There, I think we're talking about oatmeal, whole grains, things like that where you get those carbs, they get you feeling good, they get you going, but they're not those simple sugars that cause that really high glucose spike and then that big drop.

    They actually looked at those glucose levels too, and they found that people that had that more even response, kind of what you'd expect with better glucose tolerance, those are the ones that were more alert in the morning, not that high spike.

    So it was interesting. It made me really rethink maybe how I should be eating breakfast.

    Scot: Yeah. I want to share my breakfast, because I'll tell you what . . . So I don't know if in this article we're talking about this notion of waking up ready to tackle the day. I don't know if the way they're defining that is as soon as your eyes open, bam, you're ready to go, or if they're defining it as there's a certain amount of time that it's going to take for anybody to be a wide awake and alert and ready to go.

    But I can tell you that the moment I start eating my breakfast in the morning, I will feel better regardless. I've told myself, "If you can make it to that point, you're going to be good."

    And this is such a goofy breakfast I eat. I take broccoli, cauliflower, red bell pepper, zucchini, mushrooms, and I kind of stir-fry that in a pan.

    Troy: You stir-fry your breakfast?

    Scot: Yeah. I just put olive oil in there. I mean, I don't have to stir-fry it. I put olive oil in there, and throw it in there. You can flip it a couple times. You're good.

    Mitch: Do you crack an egg into it?

    Scot: No.

    Troy: Is this an omelet, or are we talking . . .

    Scot: No. See, the reason I'm doing it this way is because I couldn't make omelets, so I decided . . .

    Mitch: Oh, okay.

    Scot: So I do that, but then I also have two full eggs. And I have half a cup to three-quarters cup of cooked oatmeal. That's my breakfast every single day with a little bit of milk and a little bit of fruit and some nuts. I should say I have some seeds and nuts. I have pumpkin seeds and I have walnuts. Just a little sprinkle on top of the oatmeal.

    No matter how crappy I feel when I wake up, I always feel 100% better after I have that breakfast. And I feel really, really good.

    Troy: Wow.

    Scot: And it makes sense, right? Two eggs is decent protein. Some milk in there is decent protein. It's not protein heavy by any stretch, but there's a lot of complex carbs in there.

    Troy: Yeah, that's true. You're getting a lot of vegetables in there. You've got your oatmeal as well.

    Scot: So I understand why that makes me feel good then. This study kind of reinforces that.

    Troy: Did you find when you started doing that, that your stomach about 10:00 a.m. was just killing you? Mine would be.

    Scot: No. I have no problem with that strangely. I don't have increased gas. My stomach doesn't kill me. It doesn't bother me at all. I love it. If my stomach is upset, I'll feel better after that breakfast. That breakfast to me is a little magical in that way.

    Troy: Wow.

    Scot: Whatever is going on in my morning, if I can just eat that, I know I'm going to feel better.

    Troy: Interesting. I'm curious now. I kind of want to try your approach. Like you said, mine is very processed and it's very protein-heavy. And after seeing this, I thought, "Maybe I need a little different approach."

    But I think the prep time on your breakfast might be a big barrier for me just because it sounds like you do have to pull out a frying pan and stuff or whatever you're doing.

    Scot: Yeah, it takes a half hour to make my breakfast. Now, in that half hour, I'm not constantly doing something, right? So I take time to clean the kitchen, I take time to journal, I take time to do other things. So I am multitasking a little bit. But it definitely is a time commitment. It's not a five-minute deal.

    Troy: Yeah. And you're investing in it and it works for you.

    Scot: To me, it's worth it. To me, it's worth the half hour. Absolutely.

    Troy: It sounds like it. Are you doing anything similar, Mitch?

    Mitch: No. Interestingly I did have to reassess my regular breakfast in the last year or so as I'm trying to figure out brain chemistry meds, right? And so one of the things that I've been told is that some of these ADHD meds will work better and last longer through the day and be more effective if you have a high amount of protein start of the morning.

    So my approach has been I have three or four scrambled eggs. I have this oat/protein shake thing that I'll down. Sometimes I'll have a little bit of yogurt on the side, whatever. I'm just trying to force feed as much protein as possible hoping that my brain will have a good day.

    Troy: Wow.

    Mitch: But I don't necessarily feel particularly alert still. It's like, "Don't talk to me until I've had my coffee and Adderall." But it is interesting to hear that that was not ideal either. So I'm wondering if there's something that I can do a little in between to get more of the early alertness and also the bit of higher protein to see if the meds will work longer.

    Scot: And I think you need to ask what's the protein dose to optimize those meds.

    Mitch: Sure.

    Scot: You might be going way too far, right?

    Mitch: Probably.

    Scot: Yeah. So what is the minimum dosage? Because as you described your breakfast, I'm just like, "Ugh." That made me think I'd be sick by 10.

    Troy: Yeah. It'd be nice if they gave you a grams-of-protein target or something, because yeah, it's a little heavy on the protein.

    Scot: I think a lot of times us guys can go too overboard, right? If a little is good, then a lot is so much better.

    Troy: Oh, yeah. Exactly.

    Well, that gets us to the number three thing. Mitch, you mentioned it already as well. Exercise. It's interesting. They found it's not evening exercise. They found evening exercise is actually . . . and we've talked about it here and there before. It was actually a predictor of less morning alertness.

    It's what they call an exercise spike, an exercise acceleration during the day, earlier in the day. And so it sounds like they were referring more to kind of a higher intensity exercise sometime during the day that was not in the evening, and that was something that seemed to help people feel more alert the next day.

    Scot: Did they define what higher intensity exercise is? What kind of things are we talking about?

    Troy: I didn't find it in there. They specifically said that. They just referred to "exercise acceleration." That was their word. And so I'm assuming that means something that's going to get your heart rate up.

    Scot: Yeah, sure.

    Troy: Maybe not just the walk around the block, but something a little more vigorous, whether that's vigorous strength training, running, biking, something like that. And again, not in the evening, but something during the day, maybe even in the morning. That was what really seemed to make a difference.

    Scot: And probably not too vigorous either, because I think if you go, again, with this notion of "if a little is good, a lot is better, guys" . . . I think if you go too vigorous, that can actually compromise your sleep at times.

    Troy: I think so. Yeah. Like I said, I kind of experience that on a weekly basis because I'll do these long runs and I'll go out for five hours. It's early in the morning, so I should have time to recover by the time I go to bed that night. But that night, it is a weird sleep. It's a different sleep. I feel kind of amped still, and I just sleep a lot warmer.

    So I think it's probably not a long, intense exercise. That 30 minutes we talk about, I think maybe 30 minutes to an hour is probably a sweet spot there.

    Scot: Yeah. And break a sweat, the Matthew McConaughey rule.

    Troy: Exactly.

    Scot: Do something that makes you sweat a little bit.

    Troy: That's right. Do something that makes you break a sweat every day. And I think that's kind of what they were referring to there.

    Scot: I found that when I used to strength train really intensely, because my goal was either body size or strength, I didn't sleep as well. Yeah, I think that intensity probably is important, but just getting some activity.

    All right. To summarize, be honest about how much sleep you're actually getting. Are you a little bit sleep deprived? Are you between that seven and nine hours? Are you closer to the nine? That might be why you're having a hard time in the morning.

    Number two, that higher protein, but not only protein. Or was it a higher carbohydrate?

    Troy: Higher carb.

    Scot: A higher complex carbohydrate diet is what it was in the morning breakfast.

    Troy: Yeah.

    Scot: So I'd imagine you still want to get a little bit of protein, but don't be afraid of some carbs in the morning as long as they're complex.

    And then three, make sure that you're getting a little bit of activity earlier in the day, not in the evening, and that can help with your morning alertness. Did I get all those?

    Troy: You did. And I have to throw in one final tidbit that gave me hope and should give everyone hope. They actually looked at twins, identical twins, and said, "Of these twins, how many of these are morning people and high morning alertness versus how many are not?" And they found that genetics seem to account for only about 25% of morning alertness.

    Mitch: Oh, interesting.

    Troy: Kind of the takeaway there is, yeah, there's a genetic component, but it's not like we're destined to be morning people just based on our genetics. And so I thought that was kind of cool.

    Scot: And I think one final thing is if you perhaps try this, if you take stock in your life and you try these three things for a period of time . . . I'd imagine a month or two. I mean, there's nothing that's going to happen overnight . . . and you don't feel things are better, then it might be worth looking, like Mitch did, at a sleep study. Are you getting good quality sleep at night? Is there some other issue that's contributing to it? Those are always possibilities.

    But this is a good place to start, it seems like. Would you say that's right, Dr. Troy Madsen?

    Troy: I would say it's a good place to start. And it gave me a lot to think about, like I said, especially on the morning breakfast piece. I do feel like I'm a lot more alert now in the morning, but it would be nice to feel more alert.

    Scot: Well, let us know what you think. Have you tried these things? Did they work for you? What are your thoughts? As always, we'd love to hear from you, and it's easy to do. Just email us at

    Thanks for listening. Thanks for caring about men's health.

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