Not enough hours in your day? So much to do…so little time? If you’re anything like me, these will be familiar expressions.
And in which case, you should be interested to learn that maybe, just maybe, you could pack more into each day if you did everything at the optimal time?
A growing body of research suggests that paying attention to your body clock, and its effects on energy and alertness, can help pinpoint the different times of day when it’s best to perform at specific tasks.
Most people organize their time around everything but the body’s natural rhythms.
But workday demands such as commuting, social events and kids’ schedules inevitably end up clashing with the body’s natural circadian rhythms of waking and sleeping.
And as difficult as it may be to align your schedule with your body clock, it may be worth a try, because there are significant potential health benefits.
Disruption of circadian rhythms has been linked to problems such as diabetes, depression, dementia and obesity.
When it comes to doing cognitive work, for example, most adults perform best in the late morning, says Dr. Steve Kay, a professor of molecular and computational biology at the University of Southern California. As body temperature starts to rise just before awakening in the morning and continues to increase through midday, working memory, alertness and concentration gradually improve. Taking a warm morning shower can jump-start the process.
The ability to focus and concentrate typically starts to slide soon thereafter. Most people are more easily distracted from noon to 4 p.m.
Alertness tends to slump after eating a meal, and sleepiness tends to peak around 2 p.m. But you may want to rethink taking a nap at your desk. It turns out, somewhat surprisingly, that fatigue may boost creative powers.
For most adults, problems that require open-ended thinking are often best tackled in the evening when they are tired. According to a 2011 study when students were asked to solve a series of two types of problems, requiring either analytical or novel thinking, their performance on the second type was best when they were tired.
Mareike Wieth, an assistant professor of psychological sciences at Albion College in Michigan who led the study says, “Fatigue may allow the mind to wander more freely to explore alternative solutions.”
Of course, not everyone’s body clock is the same. Morning people tend to wake up and go to sleep earlier and to be most productive early in the day. Evening people tend to wake up later, start more slowly and peak in the evening.
Communicating with friends and colleagues online has its own optimal cycles, research shows. Sending emails early in the day helps beat the inbox rush. 6 a.m. messages are most likely to be read.
Reading Twitter at 8 a.m. or 9 a.m. can start your day on a cheery note. That’s when users are most likely to tweet upbeat, enthusiastic messages, and least likely to send downbeat tweets steeped in fear, distress, anger or guilt.
Other social networking is better done later in the day. If you want your tweets to be re-tweeted, post them between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m., when many people lack energy to share their own tweets and turn to relaying others’ instead. And posts to Facebook at about 8 p.m. tend to get the most “likes,” after people get home from work or finish dinner.
When choosing a time of day to exercise, paying attention to your body clock can also improve results. Physical performance is usually best, and the risk of injury least, from about 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Muscle strength tends to peak between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. as does lung function which is almost 18% more efficient at 5 p.m. than at midday.
Is there a best time to eat? Experts suggest limiting food consumption to hours of peak activity to keep from packing on pounds. Perhaps we are not only what we eat, we are when we eat!