What if there was a way to get more out of each day? While we all have the same 24 hours, how we use that time impacts what we can accomplish. Recent research suggests that one way to pack more into your day is to sync your biological clock to your daily schedule. By doing certain things at peak periods of activity and energy, you might be able to improve your productivity.
Your Biological Clock
Your biological clock controls a great deal of how you function. This works much like a program, regulating the timing of many biological functions ranging from when you sleep to when you reproduce. Circadian rhythms, for example, manage daily cycles of sleeping and waking, contributing to your energy levels at various points during the day.
You might become particularly aware of your body’s biological clock at times when your daily schedule is thrown off kilter. Shift workers, for example, must constantly adjust their daily ebb and flow to the demands of their work schedule. Travelers may experience disturbances in their sleep-wake cycles leading to feelings of jet lag.
You’ve probably noticed that there are certain times during the day when you feel more energized. At other times, you might feel drained. Research has shown, however, that your body clock is responsible for far more than just your sleep-wake cycle.
Mental alertness, hunger, stress, mood, heart function, and even immunity are also influenced by the body’s daily rhythms. By synchronizing your biological clock with your daily schedule, you can make the most of your day and feel more accomplished and motivated.
The reality is that the demands of daily life such as school, commuting, work, and social events can all throw the body’s natural cycles out of whack. The way we organize our daily activities is sometimes in direct contrast to our body’s own inclinations.
Altering your schedule might not always be easy, but there are clear benefits to doing so. In addition to making better use of your time, there are also potential health implications. Circadian rhythm disruptions have been linked to a range of negative health outcomes including depression and diabetes.
When is the best time to tackle certain tasks?
Your biological clock plays a major role in controlling your daily sleeping and waking cycle. Factors such as your schedule, bedtime routines, and even age can play a role as well.
The body’s natural sleep cycle changes as we age. Knowing this might help you adapt your own schedule to best suit your sleep needs. Young children tend to be early risers, where teens are more inclined to sleep in. As people approach later adulthood, the sleep cycle continues to shift back toward rising earlier in the morning. Teens might be better served getting longer periods of rest before tackling their day, where older adults might prefer to get up earlier and go to bed earlier.
Energy levels tend to dip in the early afternoon. This can be a great time to take a nap. Even if you are not able to take a quick power nap, a quick break from your work might be beneficial.
Could eating at the right time really be better for your health? Studies suggest that eating at certain times may have some health benefits.
Eating at the right time might help control your weight. According to one study, when certain mice had their food restricted to particular times, they were protected from excessive weight gain and metabolic diseases.
Surprisingly, research also suggests that when you eat can even play a role in resetting your biological clock. This research also suggests that if you are trying to adjust to a new schedule (such as if you are traveling or doing shift work), altering your eating schedule can also help you reset your body clock to better match your new daily schedule.
Adjusting your exercise schedule to match your biological clock may also help you get the most out of your workouts.
You might get the most out of workouts that take place in mid- to late afternoon. People tend to perform their best and are the least prone to injury between the hours of 3 p.m. and 6 p.m.
Try strength-training later in the day. Physical strength also tends to be at its highest point between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m.
Evening might be the best time for yoga and other exercises that require flexibility. This is because this is when the body is at its most relaxed and least prone to injury.
You may also want to adjust your schedule to make of the most of your mental powers.
You are probably at your sharpest in the morning. Studies suggest that cognitive abilities tend to peak during the late morning hours you might want to tackle those mentally taxing activities before lunch.
Experts also suggest that alertness and attention levels taper off following meals. This is why you might find yourself struggling to concentrate in those post-lunch work meetings.
Concentration levels tend to dip between noon and 4 p.m., which might explain why so many people feel like they need some type of energy-boosting pick-me-up during those hours.
If you are working on some sort of creative task, you might want to wait until you are feeling a bit fatigued. In a study examining how the time of day influences problem solving, researchers had participants solve analytical problems during times when they were either at their mental peak or at non-optimal times of tiredness. The researchers found that people tend to do their best creative thinking when they are tired. Because the mind is more inclined to wander when we are tired, it seems that it can lead people to think in more novel and innovative ways.
Tips for Adjusting
Of course, not everyone’s biological clock functions the same way. Some people tend to experience energy peaks earlier in the day, while others are more active during the later hours. Thanks to the demands of daily life, it may sometimes feel like your biological clock and schedule are at odds.
So what can you do if your daily schedule is out of sync with your biological clock? Early risers, for example, may burn up their best energy in the early morning hours and feel burned out by the time evening rolls around. Night owls, on the other hand, might sleep through what might be the most productive times of the day and find themselves staying up at times when they tend to be low energy.
Here are some tips for establishing a more productive daily schedule:
Establish a sleep schedule: Set an alarm and go to bed at the same time each night. Wake up when your alarm goes off—no hitting that snooze button over and over again.
Give it some time: Getting used to a new schedule may take a while, but stick with it until it starts to feel more natural.
Pay attention to your energy levels: Try to arrange certain activities around your peak energy levels. Not everyone is the same, so your own energy levels may follow a slightly different schedule.
Paying attention to how your energy levels shift throughout the day can give you a better idea of when you might be at your best. If you tend to feel more mentally alert in the mornings, try to schedule cognitively demanding activities during that time. Changing your daily schedule to better match your daily rhythms can take some time, but it can ultimately lead to greater productivity and improved motivation.
By Kendra Cherry, Medically reviewed by Steven Gans, MD