For anyone who’s ever had any problems with sleep, you’ve no doubt heard of Circadian rhythms? This is a natural biological process, otherwise known as our ‘internal clock’ as it regulates our sleep-wake cycle, going through 1 cycle approximately every 24 hours. When the sun is up, we’re awake and active, then once it sets and night falls, our bodies naturally go through a calming process ready for sleep…and it starts all over again when the sun rises once more.
However, did you know that our minds and bodies are also governed by something called ULTRADIAN rhythms? These occur throughout a 24hr period and by understanding how these work and their influence upon us, we can improve our performance and productivity without burning ourselves out.
Do you notice that you’re slumping after lunch, wishing you lived in Spain so you could stick your ‘gone for siesta’ sign on your desk without feeling guilty? Or perhaps there are times where you feel like your brain really just can’t have any more information squeezed into it? If so, you’ll probably find that you’re not following your natural rhythms! And whilst I’m the first to jump up and bust out a bit of salsa when a good tune comes over the airwaves, those aren’t the kind of rhythms I’m talking about here…
What are Ultradian Rhythms?
You’re probably most familiar with the form of ultradian rhythm which is present during our sleep; think of the REM and non-REM periods, where we go through a cycle of being in deep sleep and a more ‘active’, dream-filled form of sleep, and back again. This continues through the night, approximately every 100-120 minutes. This is one of the reasons we typically feel better when left to wake naturally, once a complete cycle has finished and we gradually come out of the light sleep period towards the end of one of these cycles. However, if we’re jarred awake by an alarm, going off in the middle of a deep sleep, we can feel literally shocked out of sleep and be left reeling for a while afterwards – not a great start to anyone’s day!
There’s also a ‘wake time’ form of Ultradian rhythms, whereby the body naturally goes through similar cycles of activity and rest. Typically, we’ll have periods of activity over 90 minutes, where we’ll find our peak performance, followed by a period of rest for about 20 minutes.
Rest and Regenerate
During these rest periods, in both the sleep and wake forms, our minds and bodies go through a natural rest, recharge and regenerate process. During this time, many vital processes are taking place; from sifting through thoughts and memories to determine which need to be retained and those that can be deleted, to getting rid of waste products built up in our tissues during the preceding period of performance.
Understanding how these chronobiological rhythms work (biological processes in accordance with time) can help us to optimise our performance and productivity whilst avoiding burnout!
As a Transformation Coach working primarily with entrepreneurs and small business owners, a common problem I see my clients facing is juggling their responsibilities in their professional and personal lives; trying to manage their time and energy without feeling overwhelmed or guilty about spending more time in one than the other. Part of my work with them is helping them to understand how their energy levels function and so I thought I’d share some of the tips I give them with you here:
How to apply ULTRADIAN rhythms to your life to help increase your productivity…
…without feeling like your brain’s going to explode!
- Start your day by reviewing your To Do list. Prioritise the tasks you need to complete that day; this could be in order of importance, or getting the ‘worst’ ones out of the way first (eating those frogs!), whichever works best for you. Depending on how long this takes you, you may want to take a small break once done.
- Next, set an alarm for 90 minutes and focus on your highest priority.
- When the alarm goes off, wherever you’ve got to, down tools and take a break for 20 minutes. Whether that’s making a cuppa, going for a walk or phoning a friend, it doesn’t matter. The crucial part is ensuring you’re giving your mind a rest from the activity and having some ‘down time’.
- After your break, continue with the job where you left off, or start on your next task if you’ve completed that, for the next 90 minutes.
- Once again, when the alarm goes off, take a break for 20 minutes.
- Continue through the day in this way and you should notice you’ll be using your time and energy most effectively.
Try this out and let me know how you find it, I’d love to hear!