Ever wonder how you can be cranking along about a minute, productive as can be, and the next minute seem like somebody has pulled the energetic rug out from under you? Suddenly, you’re tired and foggy. You can’t focus, and also you crave coffee, sugar, or both. You are experiencing an ultradian trough. It’s the down cycle of a larger up-and-down pattern known as an ultradian rhythm.

Much like circadian rhythms, ultradian rhythms relocate cyclical, oscillating patterns: up and down. However in our culture, we tend to prefer the “up,” so we try to live there all the time.

In this installment of The Living Experiment, we’re talking about the value of respecting our bodies’ and minds’ needs for normal, recurring rest breaks and how doing so can support better health, happiness, and productivity.

Nature’s Ups and Downs

  • Everything anyway operates in recurring, rhythmic cycles: up and down, in and out, expansion and contraction. Take a look at any heartrhythm readout and you’ll check this out classic wave-form pattern. Brainwaves work this way, too. So do your hormonal and digestive systems. This is true of all animals, plants, and natural systems.
  • Your is wired up to operate in ebb-and-flow mode: Throughout the active “up” periods of ultradian cycles (typically 90 to Two hours long), your system accrues the byproducts of that activity, and it offloads many forms of pollution — metabolic waste, neurological snippets, cellular debris.
  • The stress and fatigue you have are signals your body and brain have become overloaded. They need some downtime (typically about 20 minutes) in order to organize, repair, and clean up all that detritus — a process that occurs during what is known the ultradianhealing response.

Diminishing Returns

  • When you don’t take the breaks your body demands, it responds by ratcheting down the available energy stores and lowering your cognitive capacity. You may experience a case of the blahs along with rising frustration and irritation.
  • As you fight your body’s need for ultradian-rhythm breaks (which Pilar affectionately refers to as “URBs”), it might look like you’re hard at work, but you’ll actually experience diminishing returns.
  • Focus, productivity, and mood progressively erode. Metabolic process and immunity suffer. Blood sugar, hormone, and lipid levels become dysregulated. Tension and inflammation rise. Sugar cravings surge. The potential risks of accidents and errors dramatically increase. In short, you pay a high price for the determination to keep going in the face of the body’s protests.

Heeding the Body’s Signals

  • The the easy way respect ultradian rhythms is to watch out for early signs of fatigue and distraction. Other common “pause” signals from the body–mind include hunger, thirst, fidgeting, and bathroom urges.
  • When you notice these signs, hit the pause button on all forms of work, activity, and concentration which means that your body can kick into recovery mode. Or come up with your own strategies. The more adept you become at respecting your body–mind’s need for a pause, the more powerfully those systems will perform.


Pilar suggests:
Each day this week, book two 15- to 20-minute breaks – one midmorning and one midafternoon. Set an alarm or reminder. Notice where your time is when each alert beeps. Ask: Am I tired, hungry, distracted? Even though you don't feel depleted, take a rest: Hit the bathroom, take a walk around the block, sit with your eyes closed and breathe. Stay away from your computer and smartphone. Let your mind wander, and let your body move or rest as it prefers.

Dallas suggests:
Go get a glass water and drink it – slowly – while not doing anything else. See how this simple act of self-care replenishes you.