Tune Into Your Internal Clock to Get More Out of Your Day

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What time are you most alert? When is your memory sharpest? Listen up and you'll get more done, burn more calories, and sleep better.

Ever wonder why you’re hyper-alert in the late morning hours and sluggish by the afternoon? You might blame the midnight monster movie marathon and three cups of coffee, but there may be more at work, because your body follows its own internal clock – a 24-hour schedule set by your circadian rhythms.

These circadian rhythms control your mood, physical ability, and mental state throughout the day. Basically, your body has alarms set to go off at certain points at the day that tell you how to feel. (You can see a visual of the circadian rhythms here.)

You can’t easily reset your internal clock to fit your schedule, but you can work with your body clock to get the most out of your day. It is all about doing the right thing at the right time. Just keep in mind that everyone’s internal clock varies slightly and if you wake up earlier or later, the pattern shifts accordingly. Check out our cheat sheet below to see how the typical person can beat the afternoon slump and get more done.

7:30 to 8:30 a.m. – Eat breakfast

Around 7:30 a.m. your body stops producing melatonin, the hormone that regulates sleep, and ramps up production of cortisol, a hormone that boosts your metabolism. Wake up and eat a healthy breakfast during this peak hour and you’ll not only feel better throughout the day, you’ll burn those calories off faster.

10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. – Tackle work projects

You’re highly alert between 10:00 a.m. and 12:00 p.m. This is a good time to tackle difficult to-do list items or work on math problems. For example, I update my Mint budget and plan out my monthly bills in the late morning hours. I make fewer mistakes than when I try to use a calculator in the evenings.

2:00 to 3:00 p.m. – Nap

The mid-afternoon slump isn’t just a myth. Your body goes through highly alert peaks and restful slumps throughout the day. Around 2:00 p.m. your alertness starts to fade, making it an ideal time for a power nap if you can swing it.

3:30 to 5:00 p.m. – Memorize text

Your reaction time is at its fastest at 3:30 p.m. This is also the time when your long-term memory retention is at a peak, making 3:30 to 5:00 p.m. a good time to review information you want to retain – like studying for a test, learning a new language, or memorizing a speech for work.

 5:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. – Work out

Between 5:00 and 6:00 p.m. your muscles are at their strongest, your pain tolerance is high, and your cardiovascular system is working great. This is a great time to go for a run, lift some weights, or take a cardio class at a gym.

6:30 to 8:00 p.m. – Take it easy

Your blood pressure reaches its highest point at 6:30 p.m. Since your stroke and heart attack risks are higher when your blood pressure rises, it’s a good excuse to kick back and watch some TV or read a book.

8:00 to 10:00 p.m. – Make use of your second wind

The famous “second wind” isn’t a myth either. Your mental alertness returns every night between 8:00 and 10:00 p.m. Get the most out of it and use this time to do light work around the house. For example, I do the dinner dishes and write out a to-do list for the next day when I get my second wind.

10:00 p.m. to 12:00 a.m. – Get to bed

Your circadian rhythms are partly controlled by light and dark. After it has been dark out for a few hours, your body starts producing melatonin, telling you it’s time to head to bed. Listen to your body and get a good night’s sleep.

Do you take cues from your internal clock? Has following a body schedule helped you get more done in a day or sleep better at night? Sound off on our Facebook page and tell us about it.

Stacy Johnson

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