Hey sleep enthusiast, did you know that the energy levels in your body fluctuate on a daily, monthly and even hourly basis? This is because there are different circadian rhythms that play out according to their cycles.
So whilst you might feel like you are always on the go, with high energy as you move from one commitment to the next, your body is actually moving at its own pace. Sometimes you may be in flow with your body's energy, other times you could be working against it. This can bring extra stress, which means it takes longer to wind down at the end of the day and makes sleep a struggle.
As a sleep coach, I help clients to consider all aspects of their lifestyle and daily choices to get clear on what is supporting and blocking their Restful Sleep. By looking at the different types of processes that run in the body with circadian rhythms, we can identify where it may be possible to make more informed choices to support an individual’s lifestyle and their consistent sleep. So let’s get into it.
Fluctuating energy levels in an ‘always on’ world
A key concept from my work with embodiment is how our bodies respond to both external and inner conditions to create whatever state we may find ourselves in. So whilst externally we may have demanding schedules and feel pressure to be always on from technology, that may contrast with what’s going on in the body and reduce efficiency.
Even when you may not have much choice over how your schedule is structured, there may be considerations you can take for bringing in small moments to bring you extra energy or that support your rest. As per the intention set in the book Atomic Habits, making lifestyle change is all about getting 1% better every day. This is a central principle to what I support clients with exploring in their sleep coaching journey and can share some insights from in this blog article.
What are the different types of circadian rhythms?
Circadian rhythms, diurnal rhythms, ultradian rhythms, and infradian rhythms are all interconnected. They work together within the broader framework of biological rhythms, with each type of rhythm having specific characteristics and influences over a person’s, or any form of organism's, physiology and behaviour.
Circadian rhythms are the overarching rhythms that govern various physiological and behavioural processes over a 24-hour cycle, regulating sleep-wake patterns, hormone production, body temperature, metabolism, and other vital functions. They are primarily influenced by external cues, such as light and darkness, even synchronising with the Earth's rotation!
Diurnal rhythms are a subset of circadian rhythms and specifically refer to patterns and variations that occur within a 24-hour period. They are closely tied to the Earth's day-night cycle and affect processes like sleep, wakefulness, body temperature fluctuations, hormone secretion, and cognitive and physical performance throughout the day.
Infradian rhythms extend beyond the 24-hour cycle and tend to run at intervals longer than a day, typically spanning over days, weeks, months, or even years. Infradian rhythms are influenced by factors such as seasonal changes, hormonal fluctuations, and other biological processes. Examples include the menstrual cycle, hibernation patterns in certain animals, and the migration patterns of birds.
Ultradian rhythms are shorter cycles that typically last for between 90 to 120 minutes with each cycle followed by a 30-minute phase of being more restful. By paying attention to these patterns, you can structure your day to accommodate periods of rest and bursts of productivity.
What can disrupt circadian rhythms?
The natural processes of the body can get thrown off by factors such as:
Not getting enough sleep (read about how much sleep you really need),
Changes to your sleep schedules or travelling across time zones,
Lack of exposure to sunlight, even when it’s cloudy
When you get to exercise,
Long-term drug use (caffeine, melatonin, marijuana),
Illness and medication.
These topics are explored more in the Restful Sleep guide to caring for factors related to your body.
Aligning your habits with circadian rhythms
Considering how you structure your day and align your habits with your circadian rhythms can bring greater ease and efficiency. So you know when you can push a bit harder with getting that work completed, as well as the times when it may be more constructive to take a break.
This involves adapting your behaviors to better fit the natural rhythms of your body. Some questions to consider for better understanding how your circadian rhythms affect your body and how you may be able to make choices that tie in with them are below.
When is your optimal time of day for getting things done?
With awareness of when you have the most alertness during your day, you can determine the optimal time to engage in mentally or physically demanding tasks. Some ‘early birds’ find their energy in the morning is their most productive. Whilst others may find the ‘night owl’ energy of an evening when they can best focus.
Knowing this enables you to make informed choices about scheduling your day for maximum productivity and effectiveness. Suppose you aren’t sure, because each day is as busy as the next and it’s more like ongoing busyness. In that case, you may be living with overstimulation and be simultaneously tired and wired, aka t’wired.
Where might there be flexibility for making choices during the day?
A lot of the working day can be determined by external factors, for example: a teacher in a school will fit their work into the wider schedule of the school timings. The question is can you find micro-moments where there is a space for choice?
With the teacher’s day, the usual choice during the morning break may be to get a coffee in the staff room with the other teachers. Even with limited time and options, this is a moment in the day where there is a possibility to experiment with alternatives, depending on what your body may need in the moment.
It could be that a brisk, energising walk may be what's needed one day, whilst going to the staff room to find a spot on your own and listen to a guided meditation with headphones could bring some calm on another. Or you may choose to join in with the usual routine of getting a cup of tea with the other teachers for some connection with your colleagues on a different day.
Each choice serves a different purpose and by bringing conscious choice to how small decisions like these and support your overall well-being, you can make an impact on your body's restfulness when it comes to bedtime.
Interval training your brain with set times for focus
With the ultradian rhythms giving increased energy for between 90 and 120 minutes before going into a 30-minute rest period throughout each day, you can manage your energy by organising your tasks around this. By creating a series of sprints, you can focus on getting things done, followed by mini rests throughout the day. That way, you can work with your ultradian rhythms and train your brain to improve concentration.
An example of breaking it down even further could be adding in the Pomodoro technique: working on a task for 25 minutes, then taking a 5-minute break. These blocks of time can be used within the wider 90 or 120-minute cycle for focused time before taking more of a break to build concentration and avoid mental exhaustion.
If you have a menstrual cycle affecting your energy through the month
The different phases of a menstrual cycle affect energy levels and rest, so aligning important tasks to your most productive weeks can be a great way to work with the energy of your body. As well as having days for rest during days when your body most needs it.
Even if it’s not possible to shift a deadline to what’s known as the follicular phase of a menstrual cycle, when there is rising energy, by being aware of your body's energy levels, you can be kinder to yourself by adding in more or longer breaks, for example.
These are some considerations for where to start when making the most of your energy resources by aligning your behaviours and choices with your body's natural rhythms. It's about understanding and working with your body, rather than going against it. As well as appreciating that different approaches will work for different people and their lifestyles, needs and preferences.
This gives a flavour of what we explore with sleep coaching - assessing the different habits and choices an individual has in their days, along with exploring the possibilities for what can be experimented with. If you’d like to explore where you could experiment with your days to create more Restful Sleep, you’d be welcome to book a discovery call where you can find out more and ask any specific questions you may have about your sleep struggles.