Ultradian Rhythms: Take a break and stay whole

You know how it goes. You’re working really well, everything is running smooth as silk, and then you begin to notice that you’re making little mistakes or your mind has suddenly switched to something different – what to cook for dinner, or what you’re going to do at the weekend.

This is not a sign of a lazy mind or a lack of application. It is in fact a natural process. We are designed to work with good concentration for about 75-90 minutes and then to “switch off” for about 15-20 minutes. Taking a break every 90 minutes keeps you in line with the 90 minute ultradian rhythm, something which is important for mental clarity and well-being..

This cycle occurs in sleep, as well as during our waking hours, and is marked by the cycling of light sleep, deep sleep and REM (dreaming sleep). During the day the feeling of switching off marks a switch from left brain dominance to right brain dominance. The shorter right-brain phase is a time when we become more creative, but also when we “file away data,” processing memory and logging what we have done and said.

ultradian rhythms: take a break

It’s possible to over-ride the right-brain phase. We all do it: drink some coffee or eat something sugary. And this is ok, if we only do it now and again. However if we constantly over-ride it, we start to become forgetful; we find it harder to think clearly and of course we become stressed.

It is not unreasonable to expect to take a break about once every 90 minutes. During this time you can step away from your work, perhaps go for a short walk or do some stretching, or just gaze out of the window and let your mind wander. The sort of insights you get when you are in the shower or doing the washing up occur because you have nothing on your mind. So this slightly dozy 15-20 minutes is actually the perfect opportunity to let those insights arise in your mind as it wanders apparently aimlessly, without you making any attempt to keep it on-task.

Ignoring signals from your mind and body is never good for your health. It can lead to anything from high blood pressure to IBS to chronic fatigue syndrome. This is a pattern I see every week in clinic.

If you prefer to over-ride your body’s need to rest and recharge, over and over and over again, then prepare for health problems in the future. You may wish to purchase medical insurance seeing as the NHS is in such dire straits. Personally I prefer to listen to my body and take a break when it needs me to.

Categories: Health and Wellbeing.


  1. Marian

    I have heard this theory before, I also live my life very much to that tune (my friends even call me the chilled one) which is probably why I have no illness, fatigue or stress. I recommend everyone to try it!

  2. jennie Desmond

    That makes a lot of sense. With having fibromyalgia and CFS it has taken many years to learn to do something very similar.
    I still do to some extent ignore what my body is telling me and I do suffer the consequences. I think the key is listen to my body.

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