What You Need to Know About Your Ultradian Rhythm and How it Can Benefit You
Nutritional health coach Anna Chern explains how, if we focus on improving our natural ultradian rhythm, some simple, healthy adjustments need not be stressful but can bring huge benefits
In order to care for them properly you need to build up an accurate picture of what they need, when and how, and your life needs work exactly the same way.
For instance did you know that within our better known circadian rhythm, the physical, mental, and behavioural changes that follow the 24-hour cycle, there are ultradian rhythms? These are peaks and troughs in the circadian rhythm that encompass everything from your heartbeat and your blink rate, to your digestion. Everything that keeps you alive and moving.
You wake up and get ready to start the day, you begin to burn through oxygen and glucose. Twenty minutes after that you enter your ultradian ‘performance’ peak. This is usually when we grab our phone and scroll whilst getting through breakfast. Your mind will be sifting through to-do’s, you sort out the children, the schedule, work commitments, the list goes on.
In the background all the by-products of your activity start building up, including metabolic waste, bits of data and old cells, which means that by the two hour mark your productivity starts to enter what is called the ultradian ‘trough’.
This is when we start to reach for something caffeinated, sweet, biscuity; that ‘elevenses’ feeling. Have you noticed that within a work setting there is usually some form of frenzied activity around the 11 o’clock mark which then tapers off until lunch?The rest of day carries on along in the same up and down mode.
If you chart the day to be as productive as you can be then it would look like this:
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Rest periods of 15 to 20 minutes in between productive activity naturally result in that balanced feeling, when you know you are in the flow. Rest doesn’t mean napping, or asking for a sleep pod at work. It just means recuperation, hydration and some high quality snack to nibble on, like a few nuts and raisins and some down time for the mind.
Just a small thing to bear in mind, but it does pack a punch when you know how to work with it and not against it.
Although these peaks and troughs occur all through the night, the daytime ones affect us most directly. But that’s not to say that your sleep should be something you should pay less attention to.
Quality sleep means rest and recovery for your organs, tissue repair, hormone release which regulates appetite, stress and metabolism among other things. Your memory bank is tidied up, which helps to clear space to form new memories and learn new things.
Evening rituals, like daytime ones, prepare you for restorative sleep so clear all electronics out of the bedroom, pull out unnecessary plugs (especially like the one I found behind my bedside table that glowed blue to show it was storing power!) and make sure the bedroom is dark, especially if your bedroom faces a street with the new array of blinding LED lights. Use earplugs if you are sensitive to noisy environments – I did for years until I had my first child. Keep a tiny book light handy, you can clip it to things like a good travel magazine, or an uplifting issue of Living North for instance if you want to leaf through something relaxing before bed.
Pillows are so important. Invest in the best pillow you can find which comes with a return guarantee. Friends think I am weird, but I sleep on a buckwheat pillow because they are non-allergenic, stay cool, don’t collect mites and adapt to your head perfectly whatever position you sleep in.
When it comes to your bed and bedding, again, spend as much as you can afford, you’ll be spending hours and hours in and on them. I have experimented with every form of bedding and have ended up with a light wool-filled duvet (made in England, yippee!) and surprisingly excellent cotton sheets from a large online retailer which have lasted and lasted and fit the mattress perfectly. If you feel the need for super-filled toppers maybe your mattress needs looking at.
Keep drinking water handy. In the summer you lose water through sweat and in the winter through heating. If you regularly wake up with a slight headache you may be dehydrated. Try and get away from any television at least an hour before bed. Two hours if you’ve been watching Happy Valley! If you are a list maker use the last few minutes after the dishes are put away at night as a brain dump of niggly things that need doing next day.
Something I discovered quite late while snacking in the evening and feeling much too ‘buzzy’ by 11pm, was the addition of ‘natural flavourings’ in even the healthiest of snack packs. Also known as hidden MSG this will keep you awake if you are sensitive to such things, so check the back of the snack packets just in case.
A health coach’s job is to work with you and your life circumstances to highlight the parts of your routine that could do with tweak, alterations or changes that will produce lasting benefits to your wellbeing. Wouldn’t we all love a schedule that reads something like this:
5.30am: Rise and stretch out to greet the sun.
6.15am: Lemon water gently warmed up. Sip and contemplate the day.
6.45am: Yoga followed by some berries in coconut yogurt with a mug of delicious dandelion tea.
8.45am: Something that earns me a living… you think?!
When really, we know that no one lives like this outside Instagram!
Certified Nutritional Health Coach