We all know about ‘circadian rhythm’ a 24 hour cycle in the physiological processes of us human beings, these are affected by light, temperature, etc from the environment.
I bet you haven’t heard of ‘ultradian rhythms’ – which are recurrent periods or cycles that could occur through a 24 hour day every day. While most times in a day I assume you are all there ‘present’ to the task you are involved in full of energy; however when you go through a ‘lull’ in energy, concentration, focus and need to get out of a task at hand or the mind generally wanders off. The time that you feel energized, focused and all there is when you are riding an ‘ultradian rhythm.’
Researchers have divided sleep into three distinct stages: Stage 1 when your muscles begin to relax, your eyes twitch behind your eyelids, and you are sleeping lightly. Stage 2 your brain waves begin to slow down and your eyes stop moving. Stage 3 your brain produces delta waves and your muscles and eyes stop moving, you go into a deep sleep. This whole cycles takes 90 minutes to complete.
In a typical day, you would start of a task say at 9.30 (like eating breakfast) you are on the top of the ‘ultradian rhythm’ you feel energetic, focused, and ready to go in your day. But 45 minutes later you feel an energy low, lack of concentration and drowsy; you start opening Facebook, fidget with your phone, etc. Then 45 minutes later, you are again back to being focused, and not drowsy. This cycle continues at 90 minute intervals; you will find every 45 minutes your attention wanes.
These ‘ultradian rhythms’ are happening because of a mix of hormones, brain activity and processes the brain goes through. They get magnified if you are short on sleep and are tired, not well fed, consuming sugar, drinking coffee, tea and eating processed foods. In that, you run ‘lows’ more than ‘highs’ in a day.
Therefore, if I know an important meeting is coming up or I need to write, I will never eat the wrong foods. I put in the right input to elongate those in-between periods, and ride the wave of my ‘ultradian rhythm.’ Something you should be thinking about seriously.
You can also use these ‘ultradian rhythms’ to build in the tasks you can focus on at one time in isolation (rather than multi-tasking like exercise, an important presentation, time spent with your spouse/partner, sex), to get more out of that task. Learn to harness these periods of high energy to get out the best in you. It’s not the time you have set aside to accomplish a task, but the amount of energy you have to give to it that matters in the end.