The Best Time to Do 14 Common Healthy Habits
Learn how to use the power of your body’s daily, weekly, and seasonal cycles to improve your health without even trying.
Have a cavity filled in the afternoon
The painkilling effect of dental anesthesia lasts longer in the afternoon than it does in the morning. In one study, lidocaine kept nerves numb up to five times longer when it was injected in the early afternoon compared with early morning. Find out some more secrets to make the best of your next doctor’s appointment.
Check your blood pressure in the morning and at night
As a general rule, blood pressure fluctuates throughout the day—it hits its lowest point around bedtime and it’s highest when you wake in the morning, says J. David Glass, PhD, a circadian biologist at Kent State University. If you’re keeping an eye on your blood pressure to help your doctor decide whether you need medication, you could get an inaccurate picture by taking your reading just once a day. “If you’re measuring it yourself, it’s best to do it in the morning and evening,” Glass says. “Be sure to do it at the same times each day—don’t bounce around.” Taking the two readings could make the difference between your doctor prescribing blood pressure drugs and advising you to stick with diet and exercise, he says.
Weigh yourself on Friday and Monday
For those trying to lose weight, experts have long suggested stepping on the scale at least once a week—that’s the habit of most members of the National Weight Control Registry, every one of whom has taken off at least 30 pounds and kept it off for a year or more. Now research from the Washington University School of Medicine ratchets things up. Dieters tend to splurge on weekends, the research found—but a Friday weigh-in (especially done first thing in the morning, when your weight is lowest) provides positive feedback that can blunt the temptation to overeat, says lead study author Susan Racette, PhD. And getting back on the scale on Monday can help you correct your course quickly if you’ve strayed, she says. Also find out what the best time of day to weigh yourself is.
Eat dinner earlier
Recent research supports the folk wisdom that nighttime eating is more apt to add pounds. In one study, researchers fed one group of mice during their normal waking hours and a second group when the animals usually slept. The mice that ate at the “wrong” time gained more than twice as much weight. “If you think you’re doing everything right with your diet but you’re not losing, try having dinner an hour earlier,” says lead study author Deanna Arble, at Northwestern University. “It won’t hurt, and it might help.”
Exercise in the evening
If you want to get fit faster, a late-day workout is the most efficient way to go. Research by Michael Deschenes, PhD, an exercise physiologist at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, shows that strength and endurance climb by about 5 percent between 4 and 8 p.m., compared with morning hours, so you can push yourself harder. Your muscles are warmer, too, which will help you avoid injury.
Take preventive medicines in the evening
Research suggests that a daily aspirin is less likely to cause stomach bleeding when taken late in the day. It’s even possible that this timing could protect you better. The reason: Your risk of heart attack spikes in the morning (the danger is nearly three times higher between 6 a.m. and noon than during the rest of the day). Aspirin helps cut clot risk by reducing platelet “stickiness”—a single tablet will take care of a platelet for its entire ten-day life span. But new platelets are being made all the time. Taking your aspirin at night ensures that you’ll have plenty of the drug to defang newly minted platelets during those potentially dangerous morning hours. Learn more about the best time of day to take daily medications.
Get an extra hour of sleep next time you set the clock ahead
Nothing says spring is coming like the hour of sunlight you gain when daylight saving time begins—but your heart might pay for that pleasure. Swedish researchers have seen a 5 percent jump in heart attacks during the first week of daylight saving time, probably because of the loss of sleep and the disruption of bodily cycles. Next year, it may be beneficial to get to bed earlier on the night you switch your clock. Find out the things sleep doctors never do during daylight savings.
Get tested for asthma in the morning
Airways naturally become more constricted and inflamed in the dead of night (between 2 and 5 a.m.), so asthma attacks are most likely to strike then. “If you go to your doctor first thing in the morning, you’re likely to have a diagnostic test that’s most representative of your condition when it’s at its worst,” says Michael Smolensky, PhD, a professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Texas at Austin. (Your doctor may also ask you to use a peak flow meter at home so you can test yourself at your wheeziest.) Because women are most prone to severe asthma flare-ups on the days before their period, that’s also a good time to monitor symptoms and keep meds handy. Here are some more things healthy people do before 10 a.m.
Take allergy medication in the evening
Hay fever symptoms such as runny nose, scratchy throat, and sneezing typically are at their worst in the morning. What helps for most people: taking medication at bedtime, says Richard Martin, MD, at National Jewish Health in Denver.
Sit by a window at breakfast
Morning exposure to bright light helps sync up your body clock to the world around you. This gets you ready for the day and helps you sleep at night. Speaking of breakfast, the best time of the day to drink coffee might surprise you!
Put down your fork at least three hours before bedtime
In gastroesophageal reflux disease, also known as GERD, stomach acid frequently makes its way into the esophagus. This can cause or worsen asthma, experts say—even if you don’t experience symptoms of heartburn. Finishing dinner a few hours before bedtime can help.
Arrive in a new time zone early in the morning
That’s if you’re traveling east: Having the morning light on your face as you leave the airport can help reset your clock to the new time, says Jamie Zeitzer, PhD, a circadian biologist at Stanford University. If you’re traveling west, try to arrive in the evening. Zeitzer’s strategy for avoiding jet lag: For several days before you travel from west to east, seek strong light first thing in the morning to nudge your body clock forward. If you’re heading in the opposite direction, expose yourself to bright light in the evening for a few days before your trip to delay your internal sense that it’s bedtime. Whichever direction you’ve traveled, take a 3 mg dose of melatonin shortly before bedtime on your first night in the new time zone, suggests researcher J. David Glass—it’s a sleep aid and another way to reset your internal timekeeper. Find out some more healthy habits from every type of doctor.
Go for walks in the evening
Not only do many people with allergies experience more sneezing and itching in the morning, but many trees release their pollen at first light, and ragweed pollen tends to fly most thickly at midday—so stick to nighttime strolls.
Take a nap in the early afternoon
That familiar post-lunch fuzzy feeling doesn’t necessarily mean that you ate too much. You hit a biological soft spot in your alertness cycle in the early afternoon, so it’s a good time to snag a nap. You might feel even more refreshed if you drink a cup of tea or coffee before you lie down, suggests Zeitzer. That sounds counterintuitive, but the energizing effects of caffeine take about 45 minutes to kick in. (If you’re prone to insomnia, don’t nap after 5 p.m.) Next, find out what healthy people do during the last ten minutes of their day.