You have probably heard of the circadian rhythm, the biological clock inside that regulates your sleeping and eating patterns to a 24 hour cycle.
Did you realize that you have another biological rhythm? This one carries the fancy name of the ultradian rhythm. This cycle repeats every 90 to 120 minutes. Basically our mental energy runs for about one and a half to two hours (some say one to one and a half hours) and then our energy dips for about twenty minutes. In other words, you can only sustain your attention, memory, and productivity for one to two hours.
Your brain, just like your body, becomes fatigued. You are not performing at your best, likely to make mistakes, feel overwhelmed and distracted. Just like a child who needs a nap, your brain gets “cranky”.
The solution is to work in bursts -one to two hours of heavy mental work, followed by a break. (and yes there is an app for that!) The break can be physical – a walk or stretching. Other options are relaxation breathing, light reading, cleaning the bathroom, eat a healthy snack, folding clothes or even a 20 minute nap. Any activity that you find relaxing will help.
If you can plan your day based on your ultradian rhythm, you can achieve both greater productivity and less stress. It’s a win-win. If you can’t do so because of the demands of your job (mine is almost non-stop every day – maybe my boss will read this!), just being aware of this cycle can help change your attitude. It’s not that you are “loosing it”. Your brain is just experiencing fatigue and that is normal.