Efficiency and Wellbeing through Ultradian Rhythms

A little background

Many of us are familiar with circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythms are normally known as our 24 hr biological clock, our sleep cycle clock. During circadian rhythm, we function well for about 12 hours related to the Earth’s rotation around the sun. Our brain and body stay awake when the sun is out, and when the darkness comes, we go to sleep.  However, science has found that there are other biological rhythms on which we are also dependant upon. One of the most important ones, to which little attention has been given, is the ultradian rhythm.   

What does ultradian mean?

Ultradian means several times a day. So, essentially, our bodies go through this pattern of awareness and sharper senses several times during the day. Ultradian rhythms hold an important aspect of our self-awareness and optimization. Ultradian rhythms are essential to tackle when attempting to increase our productivity and work on our time management. Ultradian rhythms are built upon the notion that our brain works best and more efficiently on cycles of 90 min, after which a 20 min rest is required to get back into another 90 min cycle. 

How do I use this concept? 

The basic idea that about every hour and a half, our brain needs a break is easy to understand but sometimes difficult to apply into our daily life. The issue with working non-stop all day is that our bodies go into what is called an “Ultradian Stress Syndrome.”  Ernest Rossi, author of ” The 20 min Break,” describes ultradian stress syndrome as the moment of the day when you get tired, lose mental focus, tend to make mistakes, get irritable, and have accidents. Rossi mentions that one must learn to recognize when our bodies are going into stress mode. Once we see the signs, we must enter into ” Ultradian Healing Response”. The healing response is the necessary 20 min break our mind and body need at that moment. Essentially we would be aiming for at least three-four 20 min breaks in our 8 hr workday. Easier said than done… But remember, we are looking to work smarter, not harder.    

How can this cycle affect people?

The Ultradian rhythm and its negative effects on each individual’s performance have now been widely studied. Rossi discusses many catastrophes of our time in his book ” The 20-minute Break”. He mentions how many of these incidences, such as Chernobyl and the Union Carbide Explosion in India, were attributed to human error. And, how does the human error happen? It happens due to fatigue. According to our ultradian cycle, this means not getting enough sleep at night or even avoiding taking breaks during the day. Many inventors have also reported that after thinking about a certain problem and trying to solve it for hours without any positive result,  the solution came to their heads after taking a break! Rossi goes on to say that ultradian rhythms have been a topic of research within the U.S Armed Services as a technique to decrease the human error factor.

A little more about “ultradian stress syndrome”

The ultradian stress syndrome might also be the cause of many of our ailments. It is widely known that stress can be the cause of many psychosomatic symptoms and depression and anxiety. It is also widely known that chronic depression and anxiety can lead to hypertension, headaches, stomach ulcers, and it can even worsen diabetic symptoms. The importance of learning how to recognize the signs of an “ultradian stress syndrome” is that we can then work on healing our bodies and potentially helping to disappear all of those symptoms. When the stress builds up, we may feel fatigued, groggy, distracted; we may even feel hungry and start having a strong urge for a sugar rush. If this is the case: time to take our 20 min break.    

What should I do during my break?

Now let’s say we manage to take this 20 min break. The question is: What should we do then? Well, we are trying to give our brains a break. Giving our mind and body a break means changing what we are doing. During this break, we are trying to avoid any more stimulation. The goal is to relax our brains completely. Don’t do anything stimulating, such as watching videos or the news; this will only add to your worries. During these 20 minutes, we are looking to find a quiet place with little stimulation where we can either sit, lay down or walk. A calm environment without distractions where we can focus on what we are feeling: listening to our breathing, listening to our heart, thinking positive thoughts. Now, if we cannot walk away from our desks, for some reason,  we should try to create an environment for it. For instance, we can put some headphones on with relaxing music, close our eyes and listen to ourselves. Be creative!    

Some ideas for your break time.

Final thoughts

The concept of chronobiology has proven to be a fascinating topic. The stress-driven and addictive society we live in gives little importance to this area of science, perhaps because we have thought it could be counterproductive to a rich and high-performance economy. However, our current ways are counterproductive and are leading to many mistakes. Above all, our current ways are affecting family relationships, which is the building block of society. Have we ever thought about how a 20 min break could help our family and personal relationships? Families are out of sync from the moment we get out of the door in the morning, all in separate ways. We should take charge of our time: make sure we give our families time to sync in after a busy workday, make sure we are giving ourselves time to show our best performance at everything we do.