We all know the body runs by rhythm—our metabolic rhythm, our wake-sleep cycle (otherwise known as our circadian rhythm), but there's one important yet lesser-known rhythm that's affecting our lives more than we even realize: ultradian rhythm. Aviva Romm, MD, an integrative women and children’s physician, told MindBodyGreen that our ultradian rhythm is our “balance of activity and rest” throughout the day. And as it turns out, most of our ultradian rhythms are way off.
The word “balance” is key in understanding (and achieving) the ideal ultradian rhythm. Romm notes that, as a society, we’ve trained ourselves to “push through” fatigue and distraction in order to work more. But there’s a huge difference between working more and working efficiently. “We love to pat ourselves on the back for staying up until 2 a.m. or being so busy we forget to eat, but it’s just because that’s what our culture has come to value," she says. “It’s not making us healthier, happier, or more productive.”
In fact, ignoring your body’s natural rest cues results in “overdrive or exhaustion.” On the flipside, listening and actually responding to your body results in a more productive, energized day.
Keep reading to learn how to tune in to your ultradian rhythm!
Your body’s natural work/break rhythm equates to “90-to-120-minute bursts of productivity and focus, followed by 15 or so minutes of rest.” If you’re used to sitting down and working for hours at a time, try starting small by setting an alarm—every 90 to 120 minutes—to remind yourself to take a breather. For reference, Romm says this is what a healthy ultradian rhythm looks like.
- 7 a.m. Set an alarm, and get up. Take 10 minutes to yourself for deep breathing, a dry brush, a shower, stretching, a moment in the sun… Then prepare yourself and your family for the day.
- 9 a.m. The workday starts: power work session one
- 11:00 a.m.–11:15 a.m. First self-care break
- 11:15 a.m.–1 p.m. Power work session two
- 1 p.m.–1:30 p.m. Lunch (yes, another self-care break!)
- 1:30 p.m.–3 p.m. Power work session three
- 3 p.m.–3:15 p.m. And yet another self-care break. Yes, yes you can!
- 3:15 p.m.–5:30 p.m. Workday home stretch! And you’re feeling good!
- 6 p.m. Head home and take another quick break for some downtime, movement, or laughter before beginning your evening.
These short breaks will “reset” your brain, allowing you to work smarter throughout your day, not necessarily longer or harder. Just make sure you’re actually taking a break. Scrolling through Instagram or reading stress-inducing news sites don’t count. Instead, Romm suggests eating a healthy snack and drinking water or tea (not coffee, as too much caffeine can backfire, artificially heightening then depleting your energy levels).
Also, try spending some time outdoors. “You don’t need to seek out a park or someplace special; simply getting out of your office building can help. Leave your earbuds at your desk and really listen to the sounds of nature surrounding you. If going outside isn’t possible, looking out a window can have similar beneficial effects.” Hey, any time we can give our eyes a rest from staring at the computer, we’ll take it.
Romm also advocates for meditating during these short breaks. “Practicing meditation, deep breathing, and other activities that create a more mindful, relaxed mood are perfect for these short breaks,” she says. “These practices also stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, relieving that sense of strain and creating more integration in the brain.”
Whether or not you stick to strict 90-to-120-minute bursts of work and 10-to-20-minute breaks, it’s a nice reminder to take time for yourself. Even during the busiest workday, indulging in self-care is always a good idea, not only for your mental and physical health but also for the quality of your work.
To read the full article, head over to MindBodyGreen. Then, take a fascinating look at what self-care means around the world.