My husband and I are very similar in lots of ways but one thing we don’t share in common is when our energy levels are highest. I’m a morning person – I wake up early, I prefer to exercise as soon as I get up and I’m most productive before 11am. My husband is not such a natural early bird— his energy levels take a while to fire up in the morning, he prefers to exercise at lunchtime and he can easily stay awake watching a good boxset till 11. Whereas if I’m watching TV, I usually fall asleep on the sofa before 9pm.
A chronotype is a person’s natural inclination for when they prefer to sleep or when they are most alert or energetic. Most people fall into one of the following 3 chronotypes:
Larks: naturally wake before 6am, most productive in the morning, energy levels higher earlier in the day, prefer to exercise in the morning, tend to go to bed around 9-10pm.
Owls: prefer to wake later in the morning, most productive later in the day, often in the afternoon and evening, prefer to exercise later in the day or evening, tend to go to bed after 11pm.
Hummingbirds: can “flit” between being productive or exercising either early or later in the day, can adjust to different sleeping patterns more easily than larks or owls
Are you a dolphin, bear, lion or wolf?
There are some fun quizzes you can do to find out your chronotype by reference to different animals- are you a dolphin, bear, lion or a wolf? If you want to find out, there’s link to a quiz at the end of this blog. (In case you’re interested, I’m a lion).
Even though we can categorise ourselves as larks, owls, wolves or lions, the reality is that we’re all wired differently in terms of when our energy peaks and dips. It’s quite normal to have peaks and dips in energy throughout the day. It’s also normal to experience varying energy levels over the course of a week, month or even a few months.
I definitely feel more energised at the start of the week and I’m noticeably more productive on a Monday or Tuesday, compared to a Friday. Many women find their energy levels are affected by their menstrual cycles and feel a real energy ebb in the days before their period starts. And not surprisingly, most of us feel bit lower in energy over the winter months, particularly when there’s not a lot of sun.
Use your energy cycle to your advantage
If you think about your own energy cycles, you should be able identify two or three points in the day when your energy levels are high or above average, Where you can, try to plan the activities that require the most energy (this could be mental or physical) so that they take place during the higher energy points in your day.
For some people, this means scheduling in their exercise sessions for when they feel most alert and energised. For other people, it makes more sense to use this time to their most mentally demanding tasks, and saving exercise for when they start to lose their focus and concentration.
Technology and the shift away from the traditional 9 to 5 means that there is greater flexibility than ever to arrange our activities and work around our energy flows. (Although the reality for many is that we just squash more into our waking time! ). The increase in working from home means that there is more flexibility for when we work, eat and exercise. I have a number of clients who come and train with me on their working from home days during a lunch break – which can be any time between 12 and 2 – or they start their working day a bit later and do a session with me at 8 or 9am.
How to deal with an energy slump
Despite this increased flexibility, there are still things we have to get done at times of the day, week or month, when our energy is not at its highest. During an energy lull, it’s very easy, and quite normal, to feel unfocused and to get easily distracted. For me, it’s late afternoon when I struggle with motivation to sit down at my laptop to write, plan sessions or post content on social media. This is my danger time when I find myself really tempted to snack (even though I’m not hungry) or scroll mindlessly on Instagram or Facebook. It sometimes takes a huge amount of self talk to get myself back to whatever I was doing before I got distracted.
If you work in an office, rather than home with the fridge or pantry beckoning, your downtime might be when you find yourself aimlessly surfing the internet or scrolling through your social media feed, or maybe it’s when you find yourself drawn to the biscuit tin or box of chocolates that a colleague brought in from a recent trip abroad.
There are a few things you can do to get your energy and focus back on track when it starts to wander. My number 1 tip is to drink some water. It’s amazing how quickly you can become lethargic and fuzzy brained if you’ve not had enough water.
Doing some deep breathing, ideally in fresh air, is another instant energy boost. Sometimes you might just need a break from what you’re doing, especially if you’ve been sitting in front of a screen for a long time. Get up and move around, go outside for 5 minutes or walk around in your office for a bit. Low blood sugars can also lead to a real dip in energy so if you haven’t eaten for a while, grab a banana or another healthy snack that will give you a quick and nutritious energy boost.
When your lifestyle is not helping
Having a few short points in the day when you feel an energy lull is ok – you can take it as a sign that you need to take a break from what you’re doing and try to spend that time doing something relaxing and enjoyable. Everyone needs some down time. However, if you find your energy lulls seem really long or you never feel much of an energy peak, except after a strong coffee, it may be time to take a closer look at your lifestyle.
Your lifestyle has a massive influence on how energised you feel. You’ll know that it’s almost impossible to feel bright and sparky first thing in the morning if you’ve had a late night involving too much alcohol. And that having a big carb-heavy lunch is not the best precursor to a productive afternoon. But effects such as these are usually fairly short-lived – a good night’s sleep or a lighter lunch the next day are normally all that’s needed to get you back on track with your natural energy cycle.
However, if you are consistently not getting enough good quality sleep or your diet is lacking in key nutrients, your energy will suffer. The same applies if you’re highly stressed -adrenaline and caffeine can get you so far and then you just hit a wall. Lack of exercise also contributes to low energy. If you don’t exercise regularly, your body produces less energy at a cellular level.
Leading a healthy lifestyle (good sleep, eating well, regular exercise and managing stress) will help you feel more energised.
Hack your way to a different chronotype
If you’re a lark or lion (like me), you’ll sometimes wish you had more energy and focus later in the day, especially if you find yourself having to work in the evening. And if you’re an owl or a wolf, there will be times when you need to get stuff done early in the morning and you’d rather not feel like you’ve been hit by a train when your alarm goes off at 6am.
So how do you channel a different chronotype without resorting to unhealthy amounts of caffeine?
First of all, expect that it will feel a bit alien at the beginning because you’re working against your body’s natural rhythm. If you’re an owl who is used to getting up at 8.00am, waking up at 6am will probably feel a bit horrible for the first few days. To help your body adjust, try going to bed a bit earlier than usual so you’re still getting more or less the same amount of sleep. Also, resist the temptation to hit snooze or to lie in bed for another 10 minutes. The best thing you can do to wake yourself up is to get out of bed and open the curtains, or turn on a light if it’s still dark outside. Once you’re up and about, your body starts producing cortisol which helps you feel awake.
If you’re an early bird who needs to get some work done at night, try to have a rest or even a quick nap in the afternoon. Don’t eat a heavy dinner (think protein and vegetables rather than a rich, carb heavy dinner) and avoid alcohol. Whatever you do, don’t knock back an espresso after dinner unless you need to work right through the night!
Another tip is to exercise at a different time of the day to when you would normally do your workout. Exercise can give you a burst of energy and focus so it’s great to do ahead of a busy day or for breaking up your working day. If you’re an owl who needs to be up early for a productive morning, try doing a quick 20 minute workout as soon as you get up. If you need a quick cup of tea or coffee to get you out the door for a run or to the gym, there’s no harm in a bit of pre-exercise caffeine. If you’re a lark who needs to work later in the day or at night, try doing some evening exercise, either before or after dinner.
Don’t forget to drink plenty of water, whatever schedule you’re working to.
On a final note, while we all want to have good energy levels so that we can get stuff done without feeling exhausted, it is so important to factor in some time to switch off, no matter how busy you are. Try to set aside 15 to 20 minutes every day (ideally twice a day) to do something genuinely relaxing. Think of this as recharging time, rather than downtime.
Link to the chronotype quiz:
If you feel sluggish most days, as though your batteries need re-charging but with no obvious charging point apart from caffeine and sugar, and you’re frustrated and fed up with feeling unfit and not eating the right food, let me help you. My signature ENERGISE programme will transform your energy levels and help you reclaim the energy you used to have.
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