Ultradian Rhythm Magic

I’m a BIG FAN of magic, and today I just had to share ultradian rhythm awareness with you.

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For my day job, I teach an internship reflection class at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities. At the end of the class, students write a reflective “My Career Future” paper where they think back on what they did at their internship and what they learned about themselves and what they will do next on their career path. This summer, we added in a question about what it was like to work remotely. 

One of my students had this to say in their paper:

“When I would find myself losing focus during the workday, I would take a quick break and then get back to work, as I knew there were tasks that people were counting on me to complete.”

Breaks for Rebounding Health

Turns out the strategy of the quick break is a lifesaver. Last week I told you about Pilar Gerasimo and her 5-Day Healthy Deviant Challenge. I did the challenge and the best thing I learned about was “ultradian rhythms” that we all have and experience in our days. It relates to the energy and our ability to focus and produce. 

An ultradian rhythm is a recurrent period or cycle repeated throughout a 24-hour day, as defined by Wikipedia.

Pilar explains it in her brilliant, super helpful blog from 2016:

Ultradian rhythms are natural, undulating cycles of energy — oscillating patterns of energy production and recovery — that occur in people (as well as in other living things) many times throughout the day. Like circadian rhythms, but smaller.

The basics: After 90-120 minutes of sustained energy output and mental focus, the body and brain need a 15-20 minute break. Your systems use that down time for recovery, repair, replenishment and rebalancing. After which time, they return to a high level of productivity and efficiency for another 90 to 120 minutes.

Breaks during cancer treatments

I learned during both rounds of dealing with cancer treatments that the only way I could manage my energy was to take breaks. My last round of cancer was July and August 2010, yes, ten years ago!! That’s 10 years I’ve been cancer free!!!

Cancer-Free Happy Dance CELEBRATION!!!

I’ve been back working for many years now and one of the ways I’ve learned to maintain my focus and energy is, as I learned during cancer treatments, is to take a break every 1.5 to 2 hours. Until this past week I knew nothing about ultradian rhythms!!

No matter how busy and focused I need to be, I regularly take breaks. Turns out those breaks are likely saving my life. Pilar calls these ultradian rhythm breaks URBs. Great name!

During these challenging COVID-19 times, my URB’s have taken on a slightly new look. Here’s my list of break options. May you too be inspired!!

Things I do for URB breaks:

  • Wall sits
  • Sit in the closet where Sam sleeps and pet him for 5 minutes
  • Do a FeetUp session (takes about 2 minutes and works like magic!)
  • Do a Daily 7 Women Workout session, takes 7 minutes
  • Walk around the block without my phone
  • Do a 5 – 15 minute meditation. I use a few different apps. My current favorite is Insight Timer.
  • Walk up and down the stairs in my house
  • Plan my day for the next day (this is a very mindless, delightful task as I use different colored pens and I do little drawings in the margins)
  • Go get a cup of tea
  • Lay down on my bed and listen to relaxing music with my eyes closed

Pilar reminds us, “The main thing is to free your system from stress, to let your body relax or change positions, and to let your mind wander or be calm.”

Are you taking URBs for your health?? I hope so! Let me know in the comments below what you’re doing.

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10 thoughts on “Ultradian Rhythm Magic”

  1. When I was working from home and was getting treatment before my hysterectomy, I found myself pooping out after 3-4 hours of work. I had to schedule 20-30 minute naps and walks to get boost my energy to get me through an 8 hour day. It was tough- my body was telling me that there was something very wrong and I had to have tests, biopsies, and lots of doctor visits before I got the surgery. It was touch and go trying to determine if I had uterine cancer. It wasn’t until the last biopsy of the uterus after it was removed that we got a final diagnosis of non-cancer. That took a huge weight off my shoulders. I like the thought of the daily rhythms . We all need to listen to our bodies, and rest when they tell us to. That has been something I’ve been working on for the past 5 years.

    And you deserve a great big CONGRATULATIONS for 10 years cancer free!!!
    Love and miss you!

    • Linda,
      SO good to hear from you my cancer surviving sister!!! I fully agree, learning how to really really really listen to our bodies is SO important. Too bad we don’t learn this in high school or college.
      I miss and love you too!!!

  2. Can you call my boss and get him to understand this? Lol. I try to do a mindless break as my mind needs it, sometimes every 30 mins, sometimes 2 hours. I can feel the need for a break, but don’t always get it at work.

    • Hi Michelle!
      Perhaps give him the link to Pilar’s blog about ultradian rhythm breaks!! She explains how taking these little breaks actually helps with productivity!!!! I sometimes walk to the bathroom to give myself a break, well I did that before COVID-19!!!So glad you are working to listen to your body and take those important breaks!!

  3. Thrilled to hear about your wonderful anniversary! Also very intrigued about this idea. I’ve heard that taking short breaks every 90-120 minutes could be beneficial to productivity. But I didn’t know they had a name.

    You make a great case for the health benefits, too, with your wonderful anniversary (happy dancing for you!!).

    I plan to start practicing this now to see if I can achieve some much needed productivity gains and beat some of the fatigue I struggle with when I push too long and hard without a break.


    • Jody,
      Super fantastic to hear from you!!! And I can feel you happy dancing with me!!! Thank you! I was totally amazed to discover that there’s a name for these breaks and science to back up the value of taking short breaks to let our systems reset! I look forward to hearing how it goes for you!!
      With love!

  4. Congratulations on your anniversary! We are so glad to have you here and that you’re cancer-free! I do the breaks, too, sometimes I just rest and do nothing, appreciating my relaxing bed, sometimes I listen to some talks that are nourishing to me, sometimes I go out in the garden. I got a kayak and in the evenings, I am often out kayaking and going for a swim and I find the days I don’t do it I am unsettled.
    Wishing you well!

    • Val,
      I love it that you regularly go kayaking!! And that you too have discovered the value of regular little breaks. Yeah for URB’s!!! Thanks for your super kind words!!
      With so much love,

  5. Love your list of ways to take a break, Mari. Very helpful.

    CONGRATULATIONS of 10 years of being cancer-free! That’s so great! All of the healthy life practices you have are essential to that.

    • Thanks SO much Jenny!!! It’s pretty fabulous that the 10 year anniversary of my mastectomy is in a few weeks. Whew!! And I LOVE LOVE LOVE that you are one of my amazing triathlon athletic friends and that a few of my URB ideas are related to our workout challenge!! On that note, I’m getting on my bike and riding to the lake for a quick swim!!

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