At 3:00 PM, 12 hours after the midpoint of your sleep, all your brain wants to do is nap."
-John Medina, creator of Brain Rules-
My life-time mission is to find the magic formula that will give me enough energy to work-exercise-volunteer-do-chores all day long with maximum efficiency---but at the same time, "let time go lightly " when I'm with family-friends-co-workers-acquaintances---& still have enough energy at night to stay awake when I finally flop down on the couch with a great book. Perfect Balance. Efficient & Mellow.
I keep a watch on time when I've have work to do,
I let time go lightly with you.
Harry Chapin - my favorite singer-songwriter
Is it possible? Have I just discovered the magic formula? Maybe. It just might be: Go with the Flow. The flow of hormones, like oxytocin, cortisol, melatonin, and circadian rhythms. Yes, there's always a biological component! But there's a big catch! Our energy has peaks & valleys--that's just the way it is. The trick is to know it--and PLAN YOUR DAY AROUND THOSE UPS & DOWNS.
A couple of weeks ago I came across a fascinating article in the June issue of Prevention, called "Let Your Brain Reign!" by Sara Reistad-Long. To read the entire article click here! Here's the premise:
"Your brain obeys its own rhythm, too--based largely on your sleep pattern, exposure to light, and genetic makeup--and getting in a groove with its tempo can make you healthier, happier, and more productive. For example: "Since adults over 40 are generally morning types, they would most likely score better on an IQ test at 9 AM than at 4 PM," says Lynn Hasher, PhD, a psychology professor at the University of Toronto.
If you want to maximize your energy you need to match your tasks with your body's daily ebb & flow. Simple as that.
- 7-9 am: Connect with family, friends & co-workers. Oxytocin, the "love hormone" is sky-high upon waking. Best time for intimacy at all levels. Call your friends, family, cuddle with your partner, write thank you notes. This one, in my opinion is really bad timing! But I've got to admit, morning is a great time for cuddling; and the only time I really feel like using the phone is in the morning, especially on the way to work. Maybe it's the oxytocin! I'm ready & willing to talk to all my friends & family soon after I wake-up--but no way am I going to risk waking anyone up at that hour or interrupt their morning routine. It's my favorite time to call my sister, and those friends who I know are early risers & don't mind morning calls. By evening I've lost the urge! If you get to work before 9 am, now is the time to schmooze with your co-workers.
- 9-11 am: Brain work-Creativity-Analytical work. Cortisol, the stress hormone is at "moderate levels" which gives you just the right edge to focus.Your mind is at its sharpest. If you have a presentation to write, need to brain storm new ideas, or have a task that requires a sharp brain--9-11 is the time. Don't waste it! I love 9-11. I know I'm sharpest at this time, but often I'm squandering this precious time on other activities. Time to rearrange my schedule & leave 9-11 for "brain work"!! It just seems so unfair that it only lasts 2 hours. Tip #1: sometime between 9 am-2 pm try to get a dose of sunlight. It will increase your serotonin & give you energy, not to mention that all important Vitamin D that I keep harping about.
- 11 am-2 pm: Tough tasks-errands-attacking the to do list. Melatonin, the sleep hormone has dipped from its late evening & early morning peaks, so we're ready for the day's "heavy lifting". It's the best time to get to everything on your to-do list, make that presentation, answer emails, run errands. We're still mentally sharp, but not as tip-top as at 9-11. Watch out for multi-tasking, though. All the experts warn against this. Take every task one at a time!
- 2-3 pm: Siesta time-take a break! Try to eat your lunch closer to 2 pm, if possible, because this is the time when we start to crash. But be sure to have that healthy mid-morning snack if you wait until 2 pm for lunch. Now is the time to "Eat, Take a Nap". I know that sounds crazy, but, if there's any way you can steal away for 20-30 mins., and find a quiet, dark place to do a quick meditation/nap you will be amazed at the results. Get yourself an inexpensive kitchen timer, a Back Jack , a small afghan, or pillow and go into an empty office (or your bedroom) and do a simple breath count meditation, or just lie down for 20-30 mins. I am astounded at how refreshed this makes me feel, and it really has increased my evening energy level. I have always felt a drop in energy somewhere mid-afternoon, and never considered that it was part of the body's natural rhythm. Who knew how much more energized I could feel by a simple 30 minute time-out! Tip #1: If you've slept poorly the night before, you'll experience a bigger energy dip by mid-day. Tip #2: NASA pilots who took a 26 minute nap improved performance by 34%.
- 3-6 pm: Collaborate with co-workers or exercise. The brain is still fatigued, but your cortisol level (the stress hormone) has dipped, making you mellow. This is a good time to do the routine tasks at work that don't take too much brain power, or for low pressure meetings. If you're at home, attack the easy going no-brainer chores. The other option, is to use this time to work out. Exercising before dinner is probably the best use of this slow down brain time. You'll get rejuvenated and put your body into calorie burn mode before dinner. Note to self: start work early & switch morning exercise to after work.
- 6-8 pm: Time for personal tasks. Sleep inducing melatonin is at its lowest level, putting us back into awake mode. Researchers call this the "wake maintenance" period. You've got the energy to stop at the grocery, drug store or library on the way home. If you're already home, do some straightening up before dinner and enjoy your family. Our appetites start increasing because of the circadian changes in our hormones and it's time to prepare the evening meal. I definitely get renewed energy during this time--my downfall is when I get home too close to that 8 pm witching hour. That's when I lose the energy for proper meal prep & eating late cuts into the next important time period--relaxation.
- 8-10 pm: Time to wind down & relax. Melatonin rises quickly at this time. 80% of our serotonin, our "perky hormone", comes from the sun. So when the sun fades, so do we. Suddenly we go from awake to drowsy. We're like Cinderellas approaching midnight. That's why you always feel better when you get home early from work, instead of fighting the "hormone flow" & working late or attending evening meetings. We need this time to wind down. It's true for me. Now is the time to slow down and not feel guilty about it. The brain is tired. It's time for a "mindless" activity like TV or a relaxing activity like knitting. Stay away from the computer or brain stimulating games or books. It will mess with your sleep! I guess if I'm going to flop down on the couch, I better stick to a novel, the newspaper or magazines. Tip #1: Dim the lights a little to insure that you keep your melatonin high. Tip #2: Beware of alcohol this late in the day. It will disturb your sleep.
- 10 pm or later: Get to bed! There's no way around this if you want to be sharp and in a good mood the next morning! Get your 7-9 hours without fail. This is not an option. Your brain needs the time to consolidate memories and learning. Your body needs the time to repair and rejuvenate. Lack of sleep will impair your mood, memory, logical reasoning, motor dexterity, attention, executive function, appetite, and immune system. Enough said. Nod off with a book. Keep your room dark or use eye shades (really!), to keep your melatonin high. For previous posts on sleep, click here and here!
- Final tips: You all know this already, but just in case... Keep your body fueled through-out the day. Eat a good breakfast with protein, carbs & a little healthy fat. Refuel every 3-4 hours depending upon your appetite & always with a carb/protein mix snack. This keeps the serotonin (the perky hormone) high & keeps you awake. Ditch the caffeine after 3 pm. Avoid the alcohol after dinner. Try to stop eating 3 hours before sleep. I've yet to stop eating at 7:30 pm-ever. That one's tough.
For a visual look at your own energy peaks & valleys try taking this 1 minute Natural Rhythm
test developed by Professor Jim Horne at Loughborough University in the UK. Click here.
Does anyone have their own tips to share for getting the most out of the day? Does this "energy map" ring true for any of you?