If time rules life, can using body clocks intelligently make for a better life? Most larks and owls – morning and evening type people – think so – as do sparrows, the larger group in-between. For different brains have different inner times – each of us possesses clock patterns deep in our genes that determine when in the 24 hour day we feel and do our best. We’re born that way.
Except social and work life don’t work that way.
Here are a few tips regarding how to use body clocks better in different situations:
1. Work- Unlike the 9-5 regimen of previous generations, much of today’s labor is 24-7. Though shift work is being considered as a carcinogen by the WHO, and leads to more heart, GI disease, weight gain and hypertension, actual shift working – without calling it that – is becoming quite routine. The boss who calls you at 3 AM is treating you like a night shift worker; the boyfriend who texts you at 4:15 is without general recognition shifting your physiology. It’s best if you can explain to people that if you don’t sleep you don’t function or feel well, and will not be quite as friendly or helpful. But if you’re stuck and can’t change the situation, consider:
A. Protecting your sleep time with naps. If people wake you during your normal sleep times, you will want a time to get some of that regenerative time back. Though larks will prefer early afternoon, and owls late afternoon, getting even 10 minutes of shut eye on the day after poor or insufficient can appreciably improve performance and mood. In general, short naps of 30 minutes or less tend to produce less sleep inertia – that deadened feeling you get waking from deeper phases of sleep.
And what if your work mate on a high demand, quick turnaround project wants to work at night – and you want to work in the evening? Just as people do who work together virtually – on different continents – try:
B. Overlap times. Whether you are lark or owl or like most in-between, the hours of late morning – and end of afternoon to early evening – tend to be times when most people are alert and functioning. So if you need to combine forces at the same moment, overlap times are generally optimal times for getting stuff done by everyone – particularly team efforts.
2. Relationships and parenting – In the old days, larks and owls who married had higher divorce rates. In the age of 24/7 days and ever-on social media, that may prove to matter less.
For one of the biggest factors that wrecks relationships is inadequate rest – not enough time and rest events to regenerate your body and feel vital and alive.
Which is why it’s often unnecessary for couples to go to bed at the same time. The same sleep time generally is better for bonding; it is often better for sex (but remember – you want each of the pair to be relatively alert for such an activating activity.) Yet when it comes to different work schedules, very often there is little choice except to sleep apart for part of the night. Some couples may be consoled in that people who sleep alone generally have better objective sleep – particularly when you are measuring their sleep in a sleep lab.
And overlap times are generally good times for the whole family to get together – regardless of whether parents or children have body clocks that differ.
Because they will differ. In early childhood, kids are prone to require much more sleep than adults. In adolescence, they will want to go to bed later that at probably any other time of their lives – irrespective of whether school starts at 7:30 in the morning.
Which brings up an important option:
A. Division of labor. Many a couple has told me child rearing – and household activities – are best handled when the 24 hour day is divided between parents. Having a lark parent prepare breakfast and school readying activities, or leaving to the owl parent the night-time task of convincing a recalcitrant adolescent to sleep, often produces better biological results – and less angst – as well as greater social harmony.
The Best of Times
Time rules life (for those interested, they can check my book “The Body Clock Advantage” for the many different ways time can work for you.) The importance of time requires paying attention to it – and what morning, afternoon, evening and night do to your own mood, sense of self, and performance. Knowing how you are built has innumerable advantages – including the best times to do – and get – what you want. Whether it’s work performance, biological effectiveness, or the pleasures of loving and being loved, time and timing matters.