‘The Morning Mind’: UMUC Professor Offers Formula for Mastering the Day

Consider rehydrating each morning by drinking water spiked with ginger, then wait until 9:30 a.m. for your first cup of coffee. Work on improving your posture. Figure out the daily task you dislike the most and get it out of the way. And don’t call your parents in the evening—earlier in the day is better—if the conversations tend to be stressful.

Those are among the many daily regimen recommendations in “The Morning Mind,” a new book by Dr. Robert Carter III, an adjunct professor of nutrition at University of Maryland University College. The title refers to the time of day when willpower is strongest and when many activities—like exercise—have the biggest impact.

“It’s about understanding the brain and the relationship of the brain to emotions and how that influences our day-to-day,” Carter said. “More than anything, it’s about time management, about creating new habits and routines that increase our efficiency.

“The audience for this book is any human who is interested in improving their physical and mental performance,” he added.

“The Morning Mind” offers an easy-to-follow roadmap for slowly building new habits that boost health, spark creative energy and make each day a little more efficient than the one before. Carter’s formula laces together wide-ranging scientific findings about eating, psychology, stress hormones, physical health, shuteye and much more.

The book was co-authored by his wife, Dr. Kirti Salwe Carter, who practiced as an intensive-care physician in India before training in public health in the U.S. It was published by the HarperCollins Leadership imprint early this year and a Spanish-language version of the book came out in early June.

Russian and French translations are scheduled for later in 2019.

The book’s pages are peppered with research-study findings, such as conclusions by Oxford University Professor Paul Kelley about the optimal times for getting up in the morning. (Spoiler alert: The results depend on age. For teenagers, it’s 10 a.m. For people in their fifties, it’s 7 a.m.)

“A lot of books have information that sound interesting but without any scientific evidence to support it,” Carter said. “I wanted to address complex topics while, at the same time, making sure the book contained information the reader could act on. I didn’t want this to be another book that tells the problems but leaves you stranded without ways to act on the information.”

Carter, a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army, brings impressive bona fides to his writing. He served in the military in Germany, France and Afghanistan and spent time in the White House as a military social aide in the Obama administration. He has a doctorate in biomedical sciences and medical physiology and a master’s degree in public health, with a specialty in chronic disease epidemiology. He holds academic appointments in emergency medicine at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio and in public health and health science at Los Angeles Pacific University.

His work at UMUC began nine years ago when he taught on the military base in Stuttgart, Germany. He is now stateside, teaching online undergraduate nutrition courses.

Maintaining that “the demands of our daily lifestyles often conflict with the rhythms with which our body works best,” “The Morning Mind is jammed with captivating factoids, from why many people cough between 3 and 5 a.m. to why most heart attacks occur mid-morning. By understanding and working with your body’s natural rhythms, Carter maintains, you can boost productivity and improve health.

Still, he acknowledges that breaking old patterns is challenging. “The brain doesn’t like you to throw away this or get rid of that. There’s going to be a natural resistance.”

To work around that, he advocates crafting routines and habits incrementally until you find patterns that match your needs.

“My schedule is not as prescriptive as my wife’s. Everything she’s going to do during the day, she knows exactly what it is. She is hour to hour, minute to minute. That’s how she’s wired,” Carter explained. “That would be stressful for me, so I have a less-structured approach. But I still have four or five things I’m going to do around a certain time of the day. I have to get them done at this particular time.

“It’s all about getting a little bit more out of your day.”

In many ways, the seeds for “The Morning Mind” were planted during Carter’s 2010 deployment to Afghanistan. He said he came back to the states in a “hypervigilant” mode marked by anxiety.

Then he said he began volunteer work for the not-for-profit Welcome Home Troops organization that dealt with more severe post-traumatic stress and anxiety using breathing and other natural techniques. “I would talk to the vets about the science behind the benefits of some of these therapies that they had suspicions about. In some ways, “The Morning Mind” is a collection of those discussions.”

Interwoven with Carter’s knowledge are contributions from Kirti Carter’s areas of expertise: yoga, meditation and wellness practices drawn from India’s Ayurveda traditions. A medical doctor, Kirti Carter met her husband when she was conducting meditation and breathing workshops for veterans.

Circadian rhythms, lighting—including from electronic devices—and the pros and cons of caffeine are tackled in “The Morning Mind”, as are hydration, the use of sugar, heart health and memory loss. Carter even delves into the neuroscience of smell. Each chapter ends with easy-to-digest takeaways; the book concludes with a quick peek at the morning routines of well-known leaders, from Barack Obama to Twitter founder Jack Dorsey to Ludwig van Beethoven.

The goal of “The Morning Mind” is to slowly introduce a full roster of new and better habits. But if a person could make only one change in their life, what would have the biggest impact?

Remove smartphones, iPads and other personal devices from the bedroom, Carter said.

“We have introduced artificial means to get stressed out and reduce our sleep hygiene,” Carter explained. “There is an impact from having electronic devices right next to the bed. They emit blue light and that reduces melatonin and changes our hormone profile.

“Keep them out of the bedroom, then you’re not tempted to check emails right before bed or, if you wake up in the middle of the night, to spend time looking at Facebook or Instagram.”

How does Carter handle the temptation of the screen? By charging his devices in the bathroom overnight, relying on “an old-school alarm clock” to wake up in the morning and by never reading email first thing in the morning unless he knows something urgent is on tap.