By Vincent Carlos, Guest Blogger
You’re probably already familiar with circadian rhythms. These are your body’s biological rhythms that form the broad structure of your individual days over 24 hours, such as your sleep/wake cycle and your body-temperature cycle.
But you also have biological cycles that are shorter than 24 hours. These are called ultradian rhythms.
In relation to productivity, the most important ultradian rhythm is known as the “basic rest-activity cycle,” which was discovered by the groundbreaking sleep researcher Nathaniel Kleitman.
When we sleep, Kleitman found, we average 90 minutes of rest (non-REM sleep) and 20 minutes of activity (REM sleep) – creating one full cycle totaling 110 minutes.
This cycle happens over and over again throughout the night. But Kleitman also discovered that our bodies operate by the same 90 minute ultradian rhythm during the day, too.
Throughout the day, our bodies generally go through alternating periods of high frequency brain activity (about 90 minutes) followed by lower frequency brain activity (about 20 minutes).
Because of this, your brain can only really focus for about 90 minutes before it needs a break.
In the book “Manage Your Day-To-Day,” Jocelyn Glei and 99U say,
“It’s possible to push yourself past 90 minutes by relying on caffeine, foods high in sugar and simple carbohydrates, and your body’s own stress hormones – adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol, but eventually, there’s a price to pay.”
If you try to push through the rest phase of your ultradian rhythm, you trigger your body’s fight-or-flight (stress) response.
When your body’s fight-or-flight (stress) response is activated, your prefrontal cortex begins to shut down, you become more reactive, you become less capable of thinking clearly and reflectively, you lose the ability to focus, and you’re hyper alert and anxious.
So don’t try to override your ultradian rhythm. Instead, work alongside it.
In the famous study of prodigious violinists, performance researcher Anders Ericsson found that the top performers all practiced the same way:
– They practiced in the morning.
– They practiced for three sessions.
– Each session was no more than 90 minutes each.
– There was a break between each session.
Ericsson found the same pattern among other musicians, athletes, chess players and writers.
Although we like to imagine ourselves as machines who can work non-stop throughout the day, we’re not. Instead, we’re organisms who can only work in cycles. So in order to be more productive, we need to work in alignment with our ultradian cycles.
By building a more rhythmic pulse into your workdays, you’ll easily triple our productivity.
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