Have you heard of an Ultradian Rhythm before? Just like heart beats, blinking and appetite, an ultradian rhythm is a repeating period or cycle repeated throughout a 24-hour day. You probably know about your Circadian rhythm, which is a biological system that controls our sleep/wake cycle over 24 hours. Ultradian rhythms are cycles that are shorter than 24 hours.
You might not have heard of them but, Ultradian Rhythms are hugely important to our health and well-being. They have a role in our alertness, cognitive health, and productivity.
What is an Ultradian rhythm?
Ultradian by definition means many times a day. Much like Circadian rhythms and brain waves, ultradian rhythms are hardwired into our DNA to dictate how our body functions throughout a time period. The fundamental role of ultradian rhythm is to manage our cycles of energy output and recovery time and they have a powerful effect on our body.
Ultradian Rhythms originally came to light through the work of Nathaniel Kleitman. Kleitman realised that we go through ultradian cycles during the REM period of our sleep, he also discovered that a Basic Rest Activity Cycle (BARC) is present when people are awake.
The ultradian cycles involve alternating periods of high-frequency brain activity (around 90 minutes) followed by lower-frequency brain activity (around 20 minutes).
At the start of the day, we are full of energy and have tonnes of mental focus. Our body begins to burn through our stores of oxygen, glucose and other energy providing fuels. During 90 minutes we enter the ultradian performance peak as we reach the peak of productivity.
The metabolic waste of this mental and physical exertion starts to accumulate in our system. After 90 minutes to 2 hours, we start to experience the build-up of this debris and hit the ‘ultradian trough’ – or energy slump. We start to feel sluggish, irritable, distracted and jittery. This is the time that you might experience a carb craving or head for the coffee machine for a quick energy boost.
Scientists think the delicate balance of potassium and sodium control these cycles. The brain uses sodium and potassium ions for electrical signals, and it is these two electrolytes that are involved in the osmosis process that transports other chemicals in and out of our brain cells.
Here’s why ultradian rhythms are so important for your work
The brain places a huge demand on energy levels. It uses up more energy than any other organ in the body as it consumes 20% of available fuel. Two thirds of the fuel is taken up by firing nerve cells with the rest goes to cellular repair. The available stores of potassium and sodium are rapidly used up when we are alert and working at optimum level. This causes a disruption in the sodium/potassium balance which triggers the brain to downshift moving to lower brain wave frequencies for a rest. We see this as lethargy and brain fog, but it is our body telling us to take a break.
Once the sodium-potassium ratio is restored, we’re ready to work again. If you take H3O Hydration you may notice how quickly it can help to restore your focus and energy, this is due to the potassium and sodium electrolytes that it contains.
Now is the time to forget – Working 9.00 ‘til 5.00.
We might feel below par but the remarkable thing is that your body is working exactly as it should be. It is giving you the signal that it needs some time to process and regenerate cellular fuel, rebalance body sugars, detoxify and repair. It wants to allow our brain to process and organise the data that it has taken on board and create essential synaptic connections. These connections give us the ability to file and merge information to facilitate our creativity.
Have you ever noticed that you can be sat there trying to work through a problem, get up and have a walk around then suddenly everything becomes clear?
We’ve been conditioned into thinking that work, work, work is the mantra of modern life. But this is opposing our natural body rhythms.
What happens when you ignore ultradian rhythms?
We often feel that we should push through fatigue and energy flats. The bad news is that this triggers our body’s fight-or-flight (stress) response. The brain thinks that we are under threat and turns our focus away from the parts of the brain that handle logic. The ability to concentrate is diminished and we are on alert and anxious.
How to support your ultradian rhythms
Here’s how you can tap into your ultradian rhythm to boost health and happiness and get more out of your working day.
When you start to feel your energy levels flag due to your ultradian rhythm take a break, even a brief nap if your situation allows. 10 to 20 minutes will increase productivity and cognitive skills. If you can’t have a nap, step away from your work and shift your attention to something less demanding. Go for a brief walk or listen to some relaxing music, anything that lets you wind down for a short period.
Pay attention to your body and the benefits may surprise you.
Boost your potassium and sodium electrolytes, discover more about H3O Hydration here.