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Biorhythms and Time Management
Jul 1, 2002

And We made your sleep to be rest (to you) and the night to be a covering. (Qur'an 78:9-10)

Most time management experts agree that the essence of time management is self-management. A successful time management strategy requires the setting of goals, and then assigning priorities and identifying important activities that help achieve these goals. People then will organize their time into a 'time map' (just like a floor map), writes Morgenstern, and place important activities in fixed blocks of time.

This general strategy, which has worked for many, requires strong willpower. According to Taylor, it is 'self-management with respect to time.' We can achieve more important goals by increasing the time we spend on them and/or by increasing our productivity. To use our mind and body in the most effective manner, we need to understand the psychological and physiological aspects of our selves and act accordingly. This article considers the relationship of hormones, our body's biorhythms, and self-management with respect to time.


Hormones, which are produced in certain parts of the body, are chemical signaling molecules that travel to another site to have an effect. Many researchers believe that these messenger molecules are the basic channels of mind-body communication. The periodic release of messenger molecules regulates our mind-body activities, but this does not mean that we are controlled by our hormones. We know that our thoughts, attitudes, and emotions can influence the release and flow of these messenger molecules just as they can influence our thinking, feeling, and behavior. By focusing on positive thoughts, we can induce the secretion of hormones associated with calmness and serenity, and vice versa (the mind-body communication flows both ways). Let's examine several important hormones that regulate our energy, stress, activity, and rest.

Energy and stress hormones. Energy is crucial for performance. Two important hormones, among others, are secreted to provide a steady level of energy for the brain and other organs: insulin and glucagon. Insulin, released when the blood sugar level increases, helps various organs consume sugar and hence decreases the blood sugar level. Glucagon, the other pancreatic hormone, tends to raise the blood sugar level.

Both hormones work together to help maintain the blood's normal level of glucose so that this critical energy source's supply is always constant and even. While different bodily organs can use other forms of sugar for energy with the help of insulin, the brain's only energy source is glucose. Therefore, it is vital to maintain a steady level of glucose in the bloodstream for the brain's healthy functioning.

Insulin is important because its excessive release causes large fluctuations in the blood sugar level, which affects our mental performance. High glycemic index foods, such as high-carbohydrate and sugar-loaded processed foods (e.g., cookies, cakes, sweet carbonated drinks etc.) raise the blood sugar level too quickly when they are digested. The body responds by releasing insulin, which causes the blood sugar level to drop too much.

Normally, various bodily mechanisms collaborate to ensure that the glucose level remains within certain limits. But if the brain cannot get enough glucose, it first may reduce its activity in the form of sleepiness or unconsciousness. Continued deprivation may cause brain damage and even death. To achieve maximum mental performance, high glycemic index foods should be avoided, and steady blood sugar levels should be maintained.

The adrenals glands, located just above the kidneys, often are referred to as the stress glands, because we could not survive stress without them. Cortisol, DHEA, and adrenaline are the three adrenal stress hormones that raise blood pressure and heartbeat. Under their influence, glycogen is converted to glucose for additional energy. A normal adrenal rhythm will produce correct amounts of these adrenal stress hormones at appropriate times during the day.

Occasional surges of stress hormones temporarily raise the heart rate, blood pressure, and mental acuity so that the task at hand can be accomplished. They give us the energy to escape danger, fight (verbally, psychologically, or physically), and generally survive the pressures of our lives. The downside is that too much of this activity erodes our health in insidious but serious ways. An excess of stress hormones compromises health, from damaging blood vessels to weakening the immune system. Some physicians blame stress for most disease.

Stress hormones play an important role in time management. Natural stress hormone secretion is at its peak during the early morning so that it can awaken the body and prepare it for the day. Cortisol and insulin secretions reach their maximum around 6:00 am, and we awaken. Lubeck states that German researchers have discovered that two hormones, ACTH and cortisol, send a message that alerts the brain. Even the blood's contents are enriched to get ready for the day. The early morning increase in stress hormones is part of our circadian biorhythm, and we can take advantage of it by scheduling demanding activities at this time.

However, an artificial increase in stress hormones may sometimes hurt us. A frequent cause for excess stress is the use of such stimulants as cola drinks (e.g., Coca Cola and Pepsi) and coffee. When trying to focus on a task, mental clarity is very important. When we are under stress, we may find it hard to concentrate and thus spend a lot of time to achieve very little. Continued stress depletes our energy and prevents us from undertaking important tasks. An abnormal release of stress hormones also affects our REM sleep, which is very important for memory consolidation. People who find it hard to wake up in the morning may suffer from an abnormal stress hormone cycle.

Some neurohormones such as pinoline and DMT, which are linked to spiritual imagery, reflection, and out-of-body experiences, are secreted at their peak level around midnight. Early Islamic scholars, following Prophet Muhammad's tradition of night prayer, used to wake up at midnight for reflection, study, and prayer. The discovery of these hormones may explain why this time of day might be the best time for such activities.

The rest hormone. The pineal gland's cells secrete the hormone melatonin in a 24-hour (circadian) cycle. The amount remains low during the daylight hours but increases during the nighttime hours. Melatonin regulates the 24-hour circadian biorhythms, and its secretion is affected by light. As a biological timekeeper, melatonin is critically involved in synchronizing hormone secretion and is responsible for regulating many biorhythms, including the sleep-wake cycle.

Since it is the 'rest hormone,' it generally is more productive to rest when its secretion is high, namely, the dark hours. Trying to work or study with the help of caffeine and other stimulants despite increased melatonin levels is like fighting the body's natural rest and healing systems. Students sometimes cram on the night before the exam. While this strategy may work for short periods, continued disruption of the body's rest cycle may leave the person weak and susceptible to diseases. Melatonin secretion turns off around 8:00 am.


Each person experiences mental lows several times throughout the day. Most people attribute these to the food they have eaten, not enough sleep, or other external factors. While some of these factors may be real, Rossi informs us that there is a more fundamental factor: ultradian rhythm. Scientists have observed a number of interrelated biological rhythms of the body and the brain since the 1950s. These rhythms are named according to how much time they take to complete a cycle. Circadian rhythms occur once every day, ultradian rhythms occur several times a day, and infradian rhythms take more than a day to cycle. Originally it was thought that our circadian rhythm was simply a daily alteration between being awake and asleep. The second stage of our developing understanding began when researchers discovered, in the mid-1950s, that sleep was divided into 90-120 minute ultradian alterations of dreaming and deep sleep. While such external factors as daylight and seasons do affect us, the periods of our bodily rhythms are regulated primarily by the hormones our body secretes. When planning activities for different periods of the day, it helps to know which periods are conducive to what kinds of activity. For instance,early morning is the time of energy hormones and mental clarity.

Therefore, it is more effective to schedule our early morning hours for mentally taxing, difficult problems. Afternoons, however, are ideal for socializing, relationship building, and long-term memory building. There is a second peak of bodily energy around 5:00 pm, and a mental peak around 7:00 pm. Ultradian rhythms were observed first in military research laboratories, where the objective was to determine the effects of time on human performance. A common pattern among the ultradian rhythms was their occurrence within a period of 90-120 minutes. They consisted of a peak of heightened alertness and performance, followed by a trough /deep of fatigue and a need for a break from the current activity. Mental activities modulated by ultradian rhythms include right-left brain dominance, attention, concentration, learning, memory, sensations, dreaming, fantasy, imagination, and creativity. Although ultradian performance rhythms follow a 90-120-minute activity cycle followed by a 20-minute rejuvenation, they shift easily to help us adapt to changing demands and circumstances. Thus we can skip a rejuvenation period and keep performing if necessary.

However, repeated neglect of the need for rejuvenation and chronic overactivity lead to stress by distorting our normal ultradian/circadian rhythms of activity and rest. The 20-munite break ameliorates stress-related symptoms by enabling our natural mind-body rhythms to normalize themselves. In other words, the 20-minute trough of our rest-activity cycle is a natural period for physical and psychological rejuvenation and healing from the wear and tear of everyday life. This is why Rossi calls it the ultradian healing response (UHR). The UHR also may be the hidden common factor in most holistic approaches to mind-body healing such as relaxation response, meditation, imagery, biofeedback, hypnosis, spiritual rituals as in Sufism and Yoga, laying on of hands as in holistic healing approaches, and the daily prayers in Islam. All such approaches require that the subject take a break for about 20 minutes to maximize his or her healing. The important elements of the ultradian healing response are:

1. Cutting off or minimizing input to the brain. This can be achieved by closing the eyes or looking steadily at fixed places.

2. Changing the activitys nature or simply taking a rest.

3. Allowing our consciousness to diverge and not trying to concentrate on the things we were thinking on before the break.

Other steps, such as washing parts of the body (e.g., ablutions made by Muslims before praying), moving parts of the body, stretching, or lying on a comfortable couch may help increase the UHRs healing effects. The afternoon nap can be considered a special case of UHR. Almost everyone experiences an after-lunch dip in performance. For many cultures, early afternoon signals siesta time. An afternoon nap may help reinforce the bodys self-healing mechanisms and make the rest of the afternoon as productive as the morning, writes Mednick et al.

In Muslim culture, asserts Nursi, a short afternoon nap was a tradition reinforced by Prophet Muhammad. Manycreative people nap during this time and often awaken refreshed and full of new ideas. Winston Churchill, prime minister of England during WWII, probably said it best: You must sleep sometime between lunch and dinner, and no half-way measures... When we use coffee and other stimulants to eliminate signals from our body, we may achieve a temporary mental alertness. But we also loose the opportunity to replenish our mental faculties depleted resources. The need for a break does not go away; instead, it either returns more strongly in the next period or we experience stress during the rest of the day.


Self-management lies at the heart of successful time management. When we conduct ourselves well with respect to time, we make the best use of our time. However, in the face of such adversities as lack of energy, interruptions, tendencies to diverge, and unimportant but appealing activities, it sometimes becomes difficult to control ourselves and focus on the right activity. A good understanding of how our body works makes this task easier. When we work in synchrony with our hormonal biorhythms and maximize our inherent potential, we optimize our achievements within the 24-hours allotted to us each day.


  • Mednick, Sara et al. The Restorative Effect of Naps on Perceptual Deterioration. Nature Neuroscience, published online on May 28, 2002.
  • Morgenstern, Julie. Time Management from the Inside Out. Henry Holt & Co.: 2000.
  • Nursi, Said. The Flashes. /~rossi/ultradia.htm.,6101,33284,00.html (diabetes).
  • Smolensky, Michael et al. The Body Clock Guide to Better Health. Henry Holt & Co.: 2000. Taylor Harold. Making Time Work for You. Dell: 2000.
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  • (growth hormones). (DMT).