Making my biorhythms work for me
November 15, 2016 4:44 AM   Subscribe

Like everyone, I have certain times of day that are generally better/worse for me than others. I'd like to figure out what patterns exist and use them to help me be happier and more creative.

First, it seems like there's probably a whole field devoted to this. To not just the study of tendencies among humans but in individuals. If such a field exists, what is it called? Are there good books on it? Professionals who help?

The only way I know to do this for myself is through a very detailed diary and then adjusting to what I find. If anyone here has attempted something similar, do you have any tips on how you collected and analyzed data?

Finally, there are certain things I'm hoping to minimize/maximize in particular. Due to severe GAD/panic disorder/PTSD, I get daily adrenal dumps, and planning ahead would be good. I've noticed that if i'm sleeping around hours of roughly 6-8 AM, I tend to really enjoy it and find it very peaceful. I am also very much a night owl and love to write and paint at night, though I'm not sure what hours are best.
posted by mermaidcafe to Health & Fitness (2 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
You could look up circadian rhythms: "biological processes recurring naturally on a twenty-four-hour cycle, even in the absence of light fluctuations."

I was going to suggest paying attention to your energy levels and evaluating from there. I'm not sure a very detailed diary is required, especially if just keeping the diary would be an obstacle to you getting this done. You shared a couple of things you've observed--you already know that you should try to be asleep from 6-8 am and perhaps you could give yourself permission to paint from 9-11 pm or 1-3 am. You clearly have a base of wisdom about yourself!

For further study, I would suggest just noticing how you feel at the end of the day and maybe in the middle of the day, thinking back through how things went, whether you were productive/happy/creative/lethargic/sad, and roughly what times those things happened. You don't have to know the exact times--a rough estimate is good enough to get closer. Then try making a couple small changes, test them out for a while, see how you feel. Try not to get stuck in doing the perfect analysis.

For slightly more detailed tracking you could try making a Google form and adding a link to your phone's home screen or downloading a mood tracking app that prompts you to enter your mood at intervals.

Another way to see how you "naturally" express your energy is to go to a space where there are very few non-biological constraints or markers on how you spend your time--like a cottage retreat, hermitage or camping. You could give yourself a couple days to get into a rhythm, then start to check on what time it is when you feel yourself ready to shift from one activity or energy state to another.

From doing these things I've learned:
- My energy wanes around 3 pm (apparently pretty typical) and picks up around 6-7 pm
- I prefer to work in a burst and then take a longish break
- I need to sleep a certain number of hours
- There's a window during which if I wake up I'll feel energized and productive the rest of the day, and after which I will feel I'm behind
posted by ramenopres at 8:34 AM on November 15, 2016

I recently picked up The Body Clock Guide to Better Health, which is essentially a compilation of research findings related to chronobiology. Some of them have been useful. (I only realized after I got it that it was published in 2000, so it's not exactly up to date :/ So get it from the library, maybe.) Worth looking at the "customers who bought this also got" suggestions around it, though.

As far as applying the insights of chronobiology to individual cases - most of the books I've seen have been about encouraging night owls to adapt to larkish cycles, usually using a combination of light and dark therapy. I think that would also be the goal of sleep specialists, and the reason for that is, unfortunately, that there is usually a high cost to pay for going full owl - social isolation and economic disenfranchisement being the big ones, and the ones that motivated me to try to adapt. Even though I also really like the late hours, and absolutely relate to what you're saying about it being a time for peaceful reflection and creative work.

I think it can sometimes also be a kind of avoidance, though, to be honest. And I think, based on my own experience, that when there's anxiety that's possibly disrupting normal cycles, perhaps, those cycles aren't always to be trusted. Not meaning to moralize - at all - but veering very far off the norm isn't entirely natural or healthy... I mean, you don't see many (non grumpy) children with these idiosyncratic patterns, and some exposure to sunlight is important for vitamin D, which affects the health and function of other hormones, your musculoskeletal system, etc.

From my long experience as a sometimes happy night owl wrestling lark norms, and wanting also to participate in society and be healthy (having had that vitamin D deficiency), I think following your cues up to the hours around midnight is all right, but would maybe put a hard line under 3 am. Past that, things can get out of control. Especially if there are other health factors at play. (I am speaking as someone who has in the past had a breakfast of a burger, at a bar, at 9pm. It's just no good to get too weird.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 10:25 AM on November 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

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