Ultradian Rhythm: The Key to Optimizing Your Performance

Data from the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) indicates nearly half of employee turnover in the U.S. results from work-related stress and burnout. While taking breaks from work is crucial for your health and productivity, most companies in the U.S. only allow their employees to break for lunch, especially when working on a complex project. Fortunately, if you work in a stressful environment, you can leverage your ultradian rhythm to avoid work-related stress and burnout and improve your performance in the workplace. Read on to learn more about this phenomenon.

Ultradian Rhythm – An Overview

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), an ultradian rhythm is a recurrent biological cycle that occurs within a 24-hour period. Examples of ultradian rhythms include temperature regulation, energy production, appetite, attention, arousal, blood circulation, and blinking, among others. While a typical adult can concentrate on one task for cycles lasting 10 to 20 minutes, this focus significantly reduces after about 90 minutes due to mental fatigue.

How to Use Ultradian Rhythm to Optimize Performance

Ultradian rhythms can help boost your performance in the workplace. For instance, taking a break every 90 minutes can be a good way to rejuvenate your brain, enabling you to continue working. This is because the brain can fully stay active for about 90 minutes, followed by a 20-minute rest in the Basic Rest Activity Cycle (BRAC), according to the John Hopkin’s University (JHU). The following tips will help you use ultradian rhythms to your advantage.

• Understand Your Brain Rest-Activity Cycle (BRAC) – A typical adult brain can engage in 90 minutes of intense activity and rest for 20 minutes. Although this can vary from one person to another, the secret is to understand how long you can stay on one task without losing energy or focus and maximize this time. Over time, you can also gradually train your brain to lengthen its activity time by extending your work time slightly per the Harvard Business Review.

• Start Small – If you can only concentrate on a task for 20 minutes, take this as a starting point, and work towards gradual improvement. For instance, you can work for 20 minutes and take 3-minute breaks in between the cycles. With time, you can increase to 30 minutes of activity and 5 minutes of rest as you progress.

• Record the Outcome – If you manage to work for 60 minutes straight, write down how you feel afterward to determine your level of strain. For instance, if you experience burnout at the end of the activity period, you should shorten the activity time. On the other hand, if you still feel energetic at the end of the activity time, you can extend the time up to the 90-minute mark.

• Boost Your Attention and Concentration Span – Since a healthy brain should be able to focus up to 90 minutes, aim for this length as you progress through your focus training. Over time, you should be able to work for 90 minutes straight before taking a 20-minute break without the risk of burnout, allowing you to boost your performance.

To optimize your performance, you should understand your ultradian rhythms because they control everything from sleep cycles to hormonal release to bowel movements. To get started on obtaining your health and fitness goals, contact Genesis Performance. We will help you fit in exercise and wellness practices into your current schedule and inspire you to reach optimal health. We help clients across the nation virtually, so even if you’re self-isolating during this time, we are here for you.

Jenna Dillon

Founder & CEO

Jenna is an Executive Coach committed to working with high performing individuals and companies who are up to exploring what they’re capable of achieving within their lives, careers, company culture and leadership. She is passionate about empowering her clients - standing with them and for them - so they have the tools to create extraordinary results.