Find your rhythm

Published February 10, 2024
Illustration by Ziauddin
Illustration by Ziauddin

We have all noticed that there are certain times of the day when we are very alert, active and productive, while at other times we have to drag ourselves to do anything. Some of us can easily stay up all night and study well, while others are happy to get up with the sun and are supercharged in the morning.

Ever wondered why it is so? It’s because of the rhythm in our body, called the circadian rhythm, which manifests in the physical, mental and behavioural changes and patterns in our body. Our circadian rhythm is influenced by the biological/circadian ‘clock’ inside our brain, which generally follows a 24-hour cycle, influence by external cues such as light and darkness.

Our circadian rhythm makes sure that our body functions at its best, by preparing it for the right activity at the right time. Thus by regulating our physiological and behavioural processes, the circadian clock influences our sleep-wake cycles, hormone production, metabolism and overall well-being.

When in sync with our body’s circadian rhythm, we function physically, mentally and emotionally at our best. So finding and understanding our circadian rhythm is important to make the best of our day by doing those things at those times when we are physically and mentally most capable of doing them. Just like when an orchestra or dance troupe performs in sync, they are able to present a spectacular show, we should follow our circadian clock to be more productive and healthy.

Understanding and aligning with your circadian rhythm

Let us explore the different types of circadian rhythms and the factors that influence them.

Different types of circadian rhythms

Morning chronotype: Many people have their body clock set according to the movement of the sun, waking up early in the morning and getting a lot done before others even have their breakfast.

These are the ‘early birds’, they feel alert and energetic in the early hours of the mornings. So if you are one such person, then you should do most of your intellectual work and even your physical workout in the first half of the day.

When evening comes, they want to wind down and go to bed early. For them, getting up early to study is more productive than trying to stay up late and drowsing with a book in hand.

Evening chronotype: These people have never seen the sun rise, unless they were up all night, which they often are. These ‘night owls’ have to drag themselves out of bed most mornings. They reach their peak energy levels in the later part of the day and study well in the evening and night.

Intermediate chronotype: These people fall between the morning and evening chronotypes. They can put up with different sleep-wake schedules and their performance and energy levels are somewhat uniform throughout the day.

Illustration by Aamnah Arshad
Illustration by Aamnah Arshad

Know your circadian rhythm

It is easy to know your natural circadian rhythm by observing when you naturally feel sleepy and when you naturally wake up by yourself, without the aid of an alarm.

Next, observe when you are able to focus well to study and at what times of the day you spend hours trying to do some intellectual work but can’t seem to accomplish much.

Notice your alertness and energy levels at different times of the day, this will help your identify your peak performance hours. Once you know this, you should do most of your important tasks at your peak performance hours to optimise your output.

Our mood and cognitive function also shift according to our circadian clock. Note the times of the day when your mood is more upbeat and your mind sharp.

These are some of the ways in which you can easily identify how your biologically clock is set and try to structure your day accordingly, to optimise your potential and well-being.

A study published in Scientific Reports examined the effects of irregular sleep/wake patterns in a group of undergraduate students. It was found that participants who had circadian misalignment also had lower academic performance.

One of the first signs that indicate whether you are in sync with your circadian rhythms is your regular sleeping pattern. You are doing well if you fall asleep quickly, get a full seven to nine hours of sleep, and when you wake up, you feel rested — and this happens every day. If you find falling asleep and waking up at a regular time difficult, and you don’t feel ready to take on the world when you are up, it means your body clock either needs tuning or you need to change your lifestyle to function according to it.

Align with your circadian rhythm

To fix your circadian clock, you need to fix your lifestyle.

One of the major influences on our health and productivity is that of our sleep pattern. If we do not get enough sleep, or do not sleep at a regular bedtime, we can’t really fix our circadian rhythm.

• Establish a consistent sleep pattern for a few weeks, even on weekends. Soon you will easily find yourself following that pattern and will be rested and recharged up on waking up.

• Schedule your daily activities according to your peak energy and performance hours.

• Turn off the lights in the room at night so that you send the signal to your body that it is time to sleep. Leave the curtains of your bedroom window open to let the morning sunlight in, indicating to your body that it is time to wake up.

• Limit stimulants before bedtime, such as caffeine intake, watching TV or using electronic devices. These things interfere with sleep since they keep the mind alert.

• Eat your last meal well before your bedtime.

If you want a healthy and happy life, you need to understand your circadian rhythm and structure your lifestyle around it to get the most out of your day.

Published in Dawn, Young World, February 10th, 2024

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