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Hack Your Circadian Rhythm & Boost Productivity

April 5, 2021

If that 4 pm slump seems to hit you smack in the face every day, you might be working against yourself – and your body’s natural rhythms. Your circadian rhythm, to be precise. 

More often than not, it seems like we let this internal time clock get the better of us. But if you’re constantly fighting it, you might be missing out on crucial productivity.

Here’s the lowdown on your circadian system and how to hack your natural rhythm and boost your productivity.

How Does the Circadian Rhythm Work?

Your circadian rhythm is like your body’s internal alarm clock. It plays a significant role in regulating when you’re tired, hungry, and most focused. It’s most well-known for regulating the human sleep-wake cycle.

We all run on different ‘time zones’. Some people are wired to be most productive in the mornings. Others work better as night owls. There’s no right or wrong answer when it comes to natural rhythm.

What’s more, your circadian rhythm isn’t set in stone. Your inner time clock will vary as you age. 

For example, most people start as larks during their younger years. As you age, you might transition into more of an owl rhythm. Then, as you approach your senior years, you might regress back into the lark model.

circadian rhythm

 

Find Your Circadian Rhythm

Finding your circadian rhythm can be a matter of trial and error. Even though it might seem straightforward, different factors play into our biorhythms.

But understanding your unique circadian rhythm patterns can benefit you in many different ways. Respecting your body’s internal rhythm can help you maximize your cardiovascular fitness, improve cognition, regulate hormones, boost your immune system, and jump start weight loss.

 

– Finding Your Circadian Rhythm (Simple ways to find your own unique rhythm)

Everyone has unique circadian clocks. No two people are exactly alike – in large part due to our genetic makeup. It’s kind of like an internal fingerprint.

If you want to understand your most natural master clock, there are a few tricks you can try:

  • Let go of the alarm clock. See what time your body naturally wakes up without the help of technology.
  • Cut back on screen time so you don’t disrupt your natural circadian rhythms.
  • Keep an energy journal throughout the day to track your natural high and low energy points.

“Like any routine, you’ll eventually start to notice patterns when you’re tuned into your energy levels. ”

 

– What throws your Circadian Rhythm out of balance?

Technology. Light. Exercise. Stress. It can feel like almost everything can throw off your natural circadian rhythms – and there is some truth to that.

Our body gets signals from our environment about when to feel alert and when to relax. Light is the most significant contributing factor.

Things like blue light from technology, exercise, and increased stress can all throw off your circadian rhythm because they send off signals that now IS NOT the time to rest. From an evolutionary perspective, you need to be at your most alert during these moments because of your fight-or-flight instincts.

Warm light and darkness create signals that it’s time for your body to rest. That’s why many people who work the night shift get blackout curtains for their bedrooms. 

Sure, they’re helpful for not getting blinded by the morning sun. But the biggest role they play is telling your body to stay asleep by blocking out daylight that signals it’s time to rise and get to work.

 

How to Create an Effective Work Schedule Based on Your Chronotype

A chronotype is a simple concept that defines what part of the day you have a natural tendency to sleep. You can easily find quizzes online (like this one) that can help you discover your chronotype through a series of questions.

Once you understand your chronotype, you can start scheduling your work and life in a way that prioritizes essential tasks during your high-energy times. 

This can be a real game changer, because when you function outside of your circadian cycle you’re fighting an uphill battle. From lost productivity to lack of focus – and even a sleep disorder called shift work disorder – fighting your circadian rhythms will just leave you feeling off your game.

While this trend is changing because more of us are working at home, we probably won’t ever truly get away from the highly regulated time schedules that workplaces demand.

If you have some work/life flexibility, you can use your peak level to maximize your efficiency and productivity based on your circadian rhythm. Peak level, by definition, is when you feel your most alert, energetic, and enthusiastic to be productive. It’s your most productive time of the day.

For some, peak level starts around 6 in the morning. Others might not be fully energized until 10 am or noon. And yet, for the rest, they prefer to start their day around 5 pm – right around when most people are ending theirs.

Try keeping a journal of your energy levels. If you find that your energy hits its lowest point in a cycle mid-morning, don’t schedule any intellectually-intensive tasks during that time. 

 

Can I Learn How to Manage My Circadian Rhythm?

There are ways to trick your body into changing its daily circadian rhythms with certain habits. While you might never be that person that jumps out of bed at 5 am, there are things you can do to increase your alertness in the morning.

 

– Adjust Your Sleep Schedule

Maybe you’re not a night owl, but perhaps you’re not a morning person either. 

But if you want to be that go-getter that hits the ground running at 5 am, try slowly modifying your sleep schedule.

The key to success here is being consistent. Try changing your bedtime by 30 minutes each week. For the first week or so, you’ll probably feel something akin to jet lag, but your body will eventually adjust.

If daylight is an issue, invest in high-quality blackout curtains to keep the daylight from disrupting your biological clock.

 

– Be Mindful of Screen Time

Excessive screen time can be a quick way to disrupt your circadian rhythm. Blue light can do a number on our bodies – including inhibiting melatonin production. 

Melatonin is a hormone that signals that it’s time to relax and go to sleep. Our bodies start to release melatonin naturally as we get closer to our bedtimes. 

But blue light from screen time can mess with natural melatonin production, making falling (and staying) asleep much more difficult.

– Maintain a Healthy Lifestyle

One way to regulate your circadian rhythm is with daily routines like maintaining a balanced, healthy lifestyle.

This includes regular exercise and a balanced diet to keep your body functioning at its best.

– Manage Your Stress

When you stress, your body releases the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol increases blood pressure and puts your body in that fight-or-flight mode. 

While cortisol can help in moments of survival, continual heightened sensitivity and awareness can disrupt your circadian rhythms.

Learning how to manage your stress can lower your natural cortisol levels and promote a more steady energy level throughout the day. It can also help you sleep better at night.

Conclusion: You Can’t Change Your Natural Rhythm, But You Can Influence It

The importance of circadian rhythm cannot be understated. While it’s primarily thought of when it comes to sleep patterns, it also plays a massive role in your energy levels throughout the day. Don’t try to fight your natural biorhythms. Instead, get to know them, make adjustments, and max out your productivity by working with your body – instead of against it.

Taryn W

Author

Taryn Willis is an avid fitness junkie. Born and raised in Indiana, she grew up playing sports and continues to this day. When she’s not spoiling her three furbabies, she’s busy kickboxing, running, doing some deep downward dog yoga, or playing intramural soccer. A creative mastermind and wordsmith by nature, she graduated from Indiana University in 2020 with a degree in Communication Studies. She currently writes for several publications as a freelance blogger and copywriter.