You naturally have your own body rhythm that determines how much sleep you need and when your body prefers sleep. One of the best things you can do for your health is to get enough sleep. Lack of sleep contributes to many health issues and also tends to lower your Heart Rate Variability scores.
By recognizing your natural rhythms, you may be able to plan your day to capitalize on your strengths. In addition, timing your rest and workouts may even help improve your heart rate variability (HRV).
What is Circadian Rhythm?
According to the National Sleep Foundation, your circadian rhythms reflect your cycle of alertness, drowsiness, and sleep. Do you feel drowsy between 1 pm and 3 pm? If so, this is part of an average circadian rhythm. The exact time varies depending on whether you are a morning lark or a night owl. If you are well rested you might not feel as drowsy as you would if sleep deprived.
Your brain's hypothalamus controls your circadian rhythm. Usually natural day and night patterns influence this resulting in people craving more sleep during darker winter months than they do during the long summer days. The modern lifestyle disrupts natural circadian rhythms.
Finding Your Circadian Rhythm
In addition to day and night patterns, lifestyle and personal preferences may come into play. Dr. Michael Breus wrote "The Power of When" about individual variations in circadian rhythms. He classes people into four sleep chronotypes types: bear, lion, dolphin, and wolf.
According to Dr. Breus, your chronotype determines when you are most energetic. You can live your best life by planning to work, exercise, make decisions, or sleep at the "right" times for your natural rhythm.
He developed a sleep rhythm quiz to help people determine which type best describes them.
The wolf is the proverbial night owl. If you are a wolf you tend to be drowsy if you need to wake up early in the morning. Wolves peak from noon to 2pm and again in the evening.
The lion is the early bird that gets the worm. If you are a lion then you are likely ready to seize the day early in the morning. Your most productive hours are in the early morning. You tend to feel exhausted at night and go to bed early.
The dolphin is harder to categorize than the bear, lion, and wolf. If you are a dolphin, you may be a light sleeper and often feel sleep deprived. Dolphins tend to be most productive mid morning to early afternoon.
The bear is the most common chronotype. If you are a bear, then your waking and sleeping rhythms follow the sun and moon. You sleep well and are most alert mid-morning. You may feel a big energy dip during the mid-afternoon.
We can't always control which hours we need to be awake. Work schedules, family obligations, travel, and our social lives sometimes require us to be awake during less ideal times. Try these tips to make the best use of your natural rhythms:
- Try to avoid accumulating sleep debt. If you are caught up on your sleep then staying up later one night or getting up too early doesn't affect you as much.
- Plan your day to prioritize getting 7-8 hours of sleep most nights.
- Try to plan your challenging projects or meetings during your peak alertness and productivity hours as much as possible.
- Pay attention to how you feel and to your daily HRV readings.
- Be physically active or exercise daily, for many people outdoor activity helps balance their circadian rhythms.
Working with your body's rhythm helps you stay productive while looking and feeling your best.
Sources and Resources
- What is Circadian Rhythm - The Sleep Foundation
- Sleep Chronotypes and Circadian Rhythms - Rhythm Bulletproof
- The Power of When Quiz to Determine Sleep Chronotype