#1610 Areté +1° #213: Circadians & Ultradians

The Rhythms of Life

Hi, this is Brian.

Welcome back to another Areté +1°, a micro-chapter from Areté: Activate Your Heroic Potential.

451 ideas like this one…


At this stage, we’re all familiar with the idea of circadian rhythms.

The word circadian comes from the Latin circa + dies which literally means “around a day.” An astonishing number of our biological processes are tied to twenty-four-hour cycles.

(Of course, most of us IGNORE the natural rhythms baked into a day but we’ll save that for another discussion.)

Today’s focus: Have you ever heard of “ultradian rhythms”?

Ultra means “beyond.”

Ultradian is a word coined in the 1960’s and means “beyond the frequency of circadian rhythms”—meaning, more often than every twenty-four hours. Specifically, ultradian rhythms refer to periods of about ninety minutes.

Here’s what we need to know: Research shows that our upper threshold for peak performance in any given burst is about ninety minutes.

After ninety minutes without a break, our performance begins to atrophy. Of course, we can move past this point via caffeine or sugar or by turning on our own stress hormones but we’d be much wiser to recognize the natural limit and then take a break.

When we ignore our ultradian rhythms, we experience what researchers call “endurance stress.”

Do that often enough and get ready for chronic fatigue and depression to go along with that reduced performance.

The +1° is simple…

Cap your work bursts at ninety minutes. Then take a break for fifteen to twenty minutes.

And, while you’re at it, remember: Not all breaks are created equal.

When you’re taking a break, take a real break! Get offline and go for a walk or just relax.

Hopping on Instagram or TikTok or checking your email or surfing the web does not give you the optimal recovery you need to come back strong.



Let’s remember the rhythms of life.

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