Your circadian rhythm causes dips and rises in your energy. Find out how to work with this cycle by doing your daily tasks at specific times of the day.

By Alice Oglethorpe
November 15, 2019

Ever notice how you feel productive, sleepy, and hungry around the same times every day? That's your circadian rhythm (the body’s internal clock) at work. Understanding your natural sleep and wake cycles will help you get in sync to function at your best. Getting all of your important things done throughout the day can become even easier if you do them at the optimal time that coincides with your circadian rhythm. Here are a few useful hacks on the best times to do everything from have your first sip of coffee to your daily workout, for your highest levels of productivity.

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6 a.m. to 7 a.m. Walk Your Dog (or Yourself)

A main factor that helps regulate your circadian rhythm is exposure to light, which sets in motion the production of hormones that impact your sleep-wake cycle. Exposing yourself to daylight first thing in the morning helps lower levels of melatonin, a hormone that promotes sleep.

9 a.m. Make Big Decisions

One of the best times to weigh the risks and rewards of a situation is soon after you wake up. This is when levels of the hormone cortisol, which makes you feel alert, are high and the sleep hormone melatonin is low. As the day goes on, fatigue can cloud your decisionmaking ability, says Satchin Panda, Ph.D., author of The Circadian Code ($19.59, Target) and a professor at Salk Institute for Biological Studies.

10 a.m. Study for a Big Presentation

Those high cortisol levels are great for feeling energized but bad for long-term memories. If you need to remember something (a speech, info for a test), it’s better to study after cortisol dips, which is closer to midmorning.

10:30 a.m. Have Your First Cup of Coffee

In the hour or two after you wake up, you’re already alert thanks to the daylight and lower levels of melatonin. So instead of having coffee first thing, wait until now, when your energy starts to dip a bit and caffeine can give you a boost. Swap your early morning coffee for water—it helps prevent dehydration, which can make you tired.

11 a.m. Get Through Your To-Do List

Thanks to a peak in core body temp (which experts think signals your brain to focus and energize), late morning is when you’re the most alert. Tap into that and get as much done as possible before lunch, says Matthew Edlund, M.D., director of the Center for Circadian Medicine in Florida.

1:30 p.m. Run Your Errands

The post-lunch dip is related to how your circadian rhythm affects alertness. One strategy to combat the slump may be to take a walk outside; both exercise and light can increase energy, says Kristen Knutson, Ph.D., associate professor of neurology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine.

4 p.m. Do a Workout

Because you’re naturally moving around during the day, your muscles are warm and ready for exercise about now. This is also why your athletic performance peaks from late morning to late afternoon, says Christopher S. Colwell, Ph.D., a neuroscientist at the UCLA School of Medicine.

8 p.m. Problem Solve

Got a hard-to-solve situation? Spend time thinking about it in the evening. “Creative problem-solving is better done when you’re a little sleepy because you’re less able to stop your mind from wandering, which is often how we come up with out-of-the-box ideas,” says Mareike Wieth, Ph.D., professor of psychological science at Albion College.

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