Do you spring out of bed in the morning? Or do you reluctantly roll out and take a few hours to wind up and get going?
Your energy levels fluctuate during the day according to sensory input from the environment, plus your inbuilt body clock (also known as your circadian rhythm).
The body clock has developed over thousands of years; yet our modern lifestyle – with all sorts of artificial stimulants from electric lighting to caffeine, shiftwork and alarm clocks – is comparatively new to the human species. Very few people today live anywhere near the same lifestyle as the hunters and gatherers of bygone years. In fact, very few people today live like even our grandparents did.
The body clock has an important role in ensuring you get rest and recovery to assist the body's growth and repair. Brainwave activity, hormonal secretion and cell regeneration as well as regulation of body temperature, heart rate, blood pressure, sleeping and digestion are all linked to your body's 24-hour cycle.
Chronobiology is the study of circadian rhythms and has proven that matching daily tasks to energy levels and mood will boost productivity and help you sustain performance throughout the day.
Scientists call the pattern by which our concentration levels vary during the day our "concentration curve". Research shows that mental and physical performance can vary by as much as 15 to 20 per cent, depending on the time of day.
What is your Energy Personality?
Circle the most appropriate answers, then refer to the table below to determine your Energy Personality.
1. Do you sleep in if you forget to set the alarm clock on weekdays?
a. Yes; b. Sometimes; c. No
2. Are you bubbly and chatty when you arrive at work in the morning?
a. No; b. Sometimes; c. Yes
3. Do you do your best work in the afternoon to early evening?
a. Yes; b. Sometimes; c. No
4. If you could choose your ideal working hours they would be:
a. 12pm to 7pm; b. 9am to 5pm; c. 6am to 2pm
5. When you go to a party are you:
a. Usually the last to leave?; b. OK as long as you get to bed within three hours of normal sleep time?; c. Agitated and tired if you don't leave before your usual bedtime?
If you answered mostly A, you're categorised as a "Bear"; mostly Bs is a "Tiger", and mostly Cs is a "Gazelle".
Around 20 per cent of the population are gazelles (also known as larks), the type that spring out of bed at 6am (or earlier)and hit the road running, never needing an alarm clock. Gazelles are the bubbly people who bounce into work and put the words "good" and "morning" into the same sentence. Gazelles peak around midday and by late afternoon will tend to struggle with energy, concentration and creativity. The gazelle should avoid high-level mental tasks in the afternoon and instead engage in necessary routine tasks. Gazelles need ensure they are rested and ready for bed early, usually around 10pm or earlier. Research shows that high achievers often follow this pattern.
Do: Spend some time outside in the early afternoon and use sunlight to boost your energy if you need to stay up a bit later; plan to do high level cognitive tasks during the morning; try to exercise early in the day.
Don't: Accept a job with late evening shifts; exercise within four hours of bed time.
About 15 to 20 per cent of people are bears (also called night owls) and function better in the afternoon or into the night. Clued-up bears keep their morning tasks simple and are at their most productive around 6pm. Bears like to burn the midnight oil and this can be effective and productive as long as they still get adequate sleep. Research shows that many Bears skip breakfast (probably due to getting up later) and as a result struggle through the morning with grogginess.
Do: Sleep with your curtains open to let the sun wake you up; walk outside as soon as possible after waking up (don't wear sunglasses if it's not too bright); get up at the same time every day and eat breakfast; keep a pad and pen on the bedside table to write down your creative ideas so you don't roll them over in your head into the early hours.
Don't: Stay up too late on weekends or you'll suffer the effects of "weekend jetlag"; start new projects or thinking tasks right before going to bed.
About 55 to 60 per cent of people are tigers. While many believe they are either a gazelle or a bear, it is possible to manage your energy and sleep patterns to switch between the two as life requires. The energy personality that strikes a balance between the two is called a tiger.
Tigers find they will start to get going around 7am and will hit their peak concentration curves between 10am and 12pm. They experience the post-lunch dip and will then hit a second wind later in the day. Tigers are generally capable of switching their concentration curves, depending on the time of day they need to perform. If a tiger needs to function at night, follow the tips set out for bears. If a tiger needs to be "on" first thing of a morning, follow the tips set out for gazelles.
What happens if a bear marries a gazelle?
If you are a morning person and your partner is an evening person, this can pose a few challenges. The gazelle often feels amorous in the morning and a bear will be ready to fire up in the evening. The solution? Try scheduling some "special time" when the concentration curves are closer together at lunchtime. What tends to happen in marriages after time is that both personalities tend to blend towards each other and common ground is found.
US firm Accountemps found only 17 per cent of respondents felt at their most productive on Mondays, while 51 per cent felt most productive on Tuesdays. The most obvious productivity tactic is to play to your strengths and use "prime time" for tasks that require high levels of concentration, and use the fuzzy periods to do less mentally challenging activities. The worst thing gazelles can do to crunch productivity is spend all morning answering and sifting through junk emails. And bears would be advised against an 8am job interview.
What do you do to manage your energy and get the most out of your day?
Reference sources: The Mind Gym, Give Me Time; Body Clock Guide to Better Health