How Listening to the Body’s Clock Can Help Students Learn Faster & Be More Productive

Did you know that the way we use our time influences what we can achieve?

Your body’s internal rhythm affects everything from mental activity to the immune system, and even your mood. Synchronizing your body’s clock with your daily schedule might be one of the keys to boosting your productivity. If you learn to track periods of peak activity in your day, you’ll improve your performance, academic and otherwise.

The picture explains the biological clock definition.

As a student, you may find it promising that understanding your biological clock will help you study better. In fact, everyone who wants to get in touch with their circadian rhythm will find our tips helpful!

Keep reading this article by to find out how to be in tune with your internal clock and take your productivity to its peak.

⏰ What Is the Biological Clock?

“The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot.”

This quote comes from the motivational speaker Michael Altshuler. It surely inspires enthusiasm! However, this enthusiasm usually dwindles, and you’re left with the question: “How exactly do I become the pilot?”

The answer is—master your biological clock!

You’ve certainly heard about it but might have never thought much about the biological clock definition. In the early days of circadian science, even scientists asked themselves, “Is the biological clock a real thing?”

But now we know for sure that humans have it, dogs have it, blue whales have it, and even flowers in the park have it, too. Every living, growing thing on the planet has a biological clock. It’s no surprise that research into circadian rhythms has already won two Nobel Prizes.

The biological clock is the internal timer that tells your body when it is best to perform its daily processes and functions. For instance, it controls your sleepiness and hunger and is in charge of many other smaller “clocks” inside your body. It manages your temperature, hormones, blood pressure, and countless other things.

The picture shows natural energy fluctuations during the day.

Here’s an example of how this internal clock works: natural fluctuations of energy over 24 hours. Do you recognize your typical day?

🌄 Morning ramp-up This phase starts once the sleepy daze, known as sleep inertia, wears off. You gradually begin to feel more awake while a special cocktail of hormones helps your body get rid of adenosine—a compound that makes you drowsy.
🌞 Morning peak This phase comes when you’re fully awake, and it’s the period of peak performance.
🥱 Afternoon dip As you may expect from the name, this period will make you sleepy.
😎 Evening ramp-up and peak By now, the afternoon grogginess is gone. This is the last time your energy peaks during the day, and you get your second wind.
😴 Evening wind-down Darkness has fallen, and so have your energy levels. Adenosine is in the driver’s seat now, and you are its willing passenger. All you want to do is relax and fall asleep as soon as possible.

As you can see, your entire day is divided into cycles that the biological clock controls. This, of course, is just one example since there are many more clocks and cycles that your body goes through daily.

How Circadian Rhythm Relates to Your Biological Clock

Your biological clock is the mastermind behind the other clocks throughout your body, called circadian rhythms. These are 24-hour cycles running different processes in your body. Arguably the most important one is the sleep-wake cycle.

Students are notorious when it comes to disrupting circadian rhythms. Being young, of course, adds its own peculiarities to the sleep-wake cycle of most students. For example, they may find it harder to go to bed early and thus wake up on time. Homework and social life also deprive students of sleep, leading to poor academic performance.

The picture enumerates the effects of circadian rhythm disruption.

Did you recognize yourself in this description? Then, it’s a great idea to pay more attention to your circadian rhythms and listen to your body to avoid unpleasant consequences. How exactly do you do that? Keep reading to find out!

How Does Your Body Clock Affect Your Health?

If you upset the circadian rhythm controlling the sleep-wake cycle, you will eventually feel the effects of this disruption. At first, you may experience minor repercussions of not listening to your body clock, such as being more tired and less productive than usual and having lower energy levels.

However, there are also more severe side effects of not sleeping enough, for instance, diabetes and obesity. Did you know that people who work nightshifts tend to gain weight faster than those who work regular hours? To convince you to prioritize your health, let us also mention that severe and constant circadian rhythm disruptions may lead to heart problems and even an increased risk of cancer.

Your mental health won’t thank you, either. Mood swings and depression often accompany irregular sleep patterns.

The picture enumerates the benefits of listening to your biological clock.

But don’t get too scared! If you align your circadian rhythm with external cues, such as light and dark, you will reap tremendous benefits:

  • Better metabolism, which depends on the sleep-wake cycle.
  • Better appetite regulation, which the hormone leptin is responsible for.
  • Better sleep regulation, which melatonin is responsible for.

⚽ The Best Time for Activities

You may be thinking that circadian rhythms stick to a strict timetable and are the same for everyone, but they also depend on how your particular body and brain work.

Depending on your internal clock, you may notice that doing certain things at different times of day yields a different result. You may be super productive from 7 am to 10 am but useless from 7 pm to 10 pm.

You can use this understanding to your advantage. In fact, we all should! Let’s have a look at a few things we can learn to do better:

Best Time for Sleeping

As you already know, our sleep-wake cycle is essential to our health. Here’s what you should pay attention to:

  • It’s best to sleep at night and not during the daytime. That, too, is explained by your internal clock, which reacts to darkness.
  • Our age plays a significant role in when it’s best to fall asleep and wake up. Children tend to go to bed and get out of it earlier than teenagers, who may benefit from sleeping longer. Adults generally tend to be early risers.

Best Time for Eating

Our digestion is closely related to the work of our biological clock, and when it gets out of whack, the consequences can be pretty unpleasant. If you want to set your eating habits according to your circadian rhythm, keep in mind the following:

  • Studies have shown that restricting your food intake to a specific time will benefit your health. In other words, don’t just eat whenever you have access to food. Instead, make it a point to sit down for a meal at the same time every day.
  • How many meals do you need? There’s no simple answer to this question. Try listening to what your body tells you by paying attention to your hunger cues. It will help you determine when it’s best for you to eat.

Best Time for Exercise

Exercise is yet another thing that you could unknowingly be doing at the wrong time of day. Here are the major facts you should know:

  • Exercise is great for your circadian rhythms because it regulates them and helps you sleep better. So, if you’re still in doubt about doing sports, we recommend you start right now!
  • Many of us like to exercise in the morning, but science says it’s best to work out in the second half of the day. Turns out we’re stronger, more injury-resistant, and flexible between 1 pm and 4 pm.

🎓 Biological Clocks and Academic Performance

There is a clear connection between your academic performance and circadian rhythms. If you can’t fall asleep earlier than 1 am but have to wake up at 6 for your early morning classes, you’re bound to doze off instead of listening. Even if you manage to keep your eyes open, you’ll still have trouble concentrating.

This is called social jet lag—the problem of your external obligations not coinciding with your biological clock, and especially with your chronotype.

What are the chronotypes? Well, these are groups of people according to the time of day when they’re sleepy and awake. The most popular chronotypes are:

🐦 Early birds who are at their best in the morning,

🦉 Night owls who are most active later in the day.

Where you are in this categorization defines your sleep-wake cycle. Social jet lag messes up these natural rhythms, forcing you to be active when you’d rather be asleep.

It’s been proven that social jet lag negatively affects academic performance. Research shows that the GPA of students who study at unfavorable hours is lower than that of students whose biological clock is in sync with the time of their classes.

The picture explains what social jet lag is.

But what can you do about it? Unless your college decides to tweak the timetable so that it suits your personal needs, you have to take matters into your own hands and try to align your circadian rhythms with your schedule.

The simplest thing you can do is go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends. You may dislike this idea at first, but in the long run, you will benefit from it!

When Is the Best Time to Study?

Yes, there is a certain time of the day when it’s best for you to study. All you need to do is to pinpoint this period.

We’re all different, and what works for your friend may not work for you, but you can still follow some general guidelines:

  • If you remember what we told you about the morning peak in energy levels, you’ll understand that the morning is a great time to study! We suggest you tackle the most difficult tasks during these peak hours.
  • Once the sun has risen, light helps you stay alert and focus on your studies.
  • Your brain is also more willing to memorize things in the morning hours.
  • Strangely enough, science tells us that creative tasks should be postponed until the afternoon when you start feeling tired. Let your mind wander off and see if it comes back with anything interesting.
  • Depending on your circadian rhythm, you may also tackle some analytical tasks and help your brain process the information you memorized earlier in the day.
  • If you are a night owl, you will benefit from studying later in the day and even in the dark hours.
  • You may still get that evening energy peak if you’re an early bird. Why not use it for something you need to do urgently? And you’ll be pleased with your concentration levels when no one is there to distract you in the later hours.

Finding Your Best Time to Study

What you’ve just finished reading are the ground rules for when it’s best to study. But what schedule should you stick to? After all, your circadian rhythm is unique and may differ from the general guidelines above.

Here are the questions you can answer to find what works best for you:

❓ When do you feel most awake?

Alertness and the ability to focus are crucial to tackling college tasks successfully. Try building your schedule around this time.

❓ Is the time when you’re most alert also the time when you’re exposed to distractions?

If the answer is yes, we recommend you find a good place to study where you’ll be out of reach.

❓ Are you good at particular things at different times of the day?

For example, you could be more inclined to analyze rather than memorize in the morning. You could be more creative in the evening. Or, you may be on top of your game in the afternoon when everyone else is battling the urge to take a nap.

❓ Is there a time you can set aside for studying regularly?

If it’s just once a week, find another time. Consistency is key, so make a habit of studying at a specific time. This way, you can work with your biological clock instead of working against it, as we often do.

🌱 Get in Touch with Your Circadian Rhythm

Being in touch with your circadian rhythms may be trickier than you’d like it to be. But it is possible to understand them and build your daily schedule in a way that will benefit not only your productivity, but also your overall well-being. So, let’s talk about that!

Understanding Your Circadian Rhythm

We all have unique circadian rhythms. Figuring out yours is essential if you want to understand when it’s best to be active and when you should stop and wind down.

It may be a good idea to experiment to determine your biological rhythm. Here’s how:

Step #1. Divide everything you do into different categories.

  • Serious work demanding high levels of concentration, such as studying.
  • Mindless work that you do almost on auto-pilot (think dishwashing, for example.)
  • Work that requires focus but is not so mentally straining: for example, exercise.

If necessary, you may add a category of your own.

Step #2. Try doing these activities at various times of the day and see what works best.

Maybe your concentration is especially good early in the morning, or, on the contrary, you’d rather do something simple and leave the challenging stuff for later in the day.

Step #3: Write a daily plan based on your experiments.

Try arranging all your activities according to when you feel most comfortable doing them. This will be your personalized schedule that’s perfectly aligned with your body’s clock!

What Factors Can Change Circadian Rhythms?

Circadian rhythms are something that we’re born with. But it doesn’t mean that nothing can change them! You can try to be more in tune with your preferred schedule, but some things may throw your clock off kilter without your permission. These are:

🚩 Stress—one of the main culprits of our health problems.

🚩 Work hours after dark.

🚩 Irregular work and study hours.

🚩 Certain medications.

🚩 Mental health problems, such as anxiety.

🚩 Some health conditions, including blindness (no light or dark cues,) brain damage, dementia, etc.

🚩 Not sticking to a healthy sleep schedule for various reasons, be it late-night parties or simply not being organized enough.

In a category of its own is jet lag—the tiredness you experience after flying across a few time zones. Jet lag is temporary, and there are healthy and quick ways to recover from it.

For most people, jet lag doesn’t happen often enough to be a concern. However, if you have to travel frequently, you may want to develop a routine that will help you overcome jet lag in the most healthy and efficient way.

Do You Need a Body Clock Reset?

Sometimes your internal clock may be so out of sync that waiting for the problem to fix itself becomes pointless. You need to take things under your control and reset the clock.

How can you determine whether you need to reset your body’s clock? Look at the list of problems below and tick the ones you’re experiencing regularly:

✔️ You have trouble falling or staying asleep.
✔️ You are frequently hungry, feel like snacking all the time, and your digestion is out of whack.
✔️ You have difficulty keeping excess weight off.
✔️ You are constantly sleepy and in need of caffeine.
✔️ You get irritated easily and feel depressed at times.
✔️ You fall ill more often than the normal average and recover more slowly.

If you’ve ticked most of the problems above, keep reading to find out how to fix that!

Tips to Reset Your Circadian Rhythm

You may feel that your circadian rhythms are off and need to be brought back to normal, or you just don’t like that your biological clock is misaligned with your preferred daily routine or work schedule.

We have good news for you—you can reset your circadian rhythm! Here’s how you do it:

The picture explains how to reset your body clock.
  • Set up a routine. Go to bed and get up at more or less the same time every day. You can train your brain to follow a timetable, but you must stick to it relentlessly.
  • Do sports. Exercise is good for many things, including sleep regulation, because it aids in melatonin production, which helps you sleep better. But first, you have to find the best time for your workouts!
  • Shift your bedtime gradually. There’s no point trying to change it overnight: it won’t work. Instead, move the time you go to bed and get up 30 minutes each week.

🔝 How to Maintain a Healthy Circadian Rhythm: 10 Tips

Even if your biological clock is working fine, we still have some nice tips for you. Let’s take a good look at 10 ways you can keep your circadian rhythms healthy and boost your overall quality of life:

The picture enumerates 10 tips to maintain a healthy circadian rhythm.

1. Avoid Eating and Drinking Coffee before Sleep

Both food and caffeine rev up your digestion, and your body has a hard time winding down. Not to mention that it takes caffeine—a natural stimulant—many hours to leave your system. Even if it doesn’t stop you from falling asleep, it doesn’t mean that caffeine won’t lower the quality of your rest.

2. Stick to a Consistent Sleep Schedule

Being consistent is good for many things, and sleep is no exception. Your internal clock can only be maintained in sync if you prioritize your sleep over less essential things.

3. Get Outside in the Morning

You probably love the sun. You’ll love it even more when we tell you that it helps you wake up and stay alert. Ideally, you should wake up, get outside, and spend at least 10 minutes in the sunlight.

Of course, we don’t recommend staring straight at the sun, but we do recommend you avoid wearing sunglasses.

If you don’t have the privilege of a clear day, turn on the lights everywhere and flood your home with light.

4. Reduce Exposure to Artificial Light at Night

While you’d want to be exposed to as much light as possible in the morning, bright lights at night should be avoided at all costs.

Dim the lights, close the blinds, and get ready for sleep. Choose warm lightbulbs for your home, especially your bedroom.

5. Avoid Afternoon Naps

Long naps are the thief of a good night’s sleep. If you feel like you’re losing the battle with your heavy eyelids at noon, get up and move! If you work from home, try to be physically active as frequently as possible. It will re-energize you and help your body accumulate enough adenosine to fall asleep quickly.

6. Limit Nightly Screen Use

The urge to lie in bed and check your Instagram feed is understandable. If you absolutely have to do it, remember to switch your screen to night mode without blue light. Blue light makes your body produce cortisol—the stress hormone, instead of melatonin—the sleep hormone.

7. Drink More Water

Dehydration is bad for absolutely everything from productivity to the quality of your sleep. Start your day with a big glass of water and drink regularly throughout the day. Coffee and sugary drinks don’t count.

If you often forget to drink water, try using an app that will remind you to do it: we recommend Daily Water Tracker Reminder or Aqualert.

8. Eat at Set Times

This is another example of how scheduled routines can benefit your health. Remember we told you there are smaller clocks responsible for different functions and processes around your body? One of them is a food-based clock. You can reset it by staying away from food for 16 hours (from 4 pm to 8 am, for example) for a day.

Also, make sure to avoid heavy meals at dinner-time, and try not to eat too close to bedtime.

9. Learn to Manage Stress

Stress hormones inhibit the production of melatonin and, sadly, make your internal clock malfunction. We live in a stress-filled world, but you can offset its adverse effects by enjoying walks in the park, meditating, spending time with your loved ones, and occasionally skipping the news.

10. Try Melatonin Supplements

If you want some external help for your sleep problem, or there’s an upcoming trip that will leave you jet-lagged, you can take melatonin in small doses. It’s important that you get permission from your doctor since melatonin can interact with some medications negatively.

🎁 BONUS: Top 6 Apps to Keep Healthy Circadian Rhythms

If you like to go to bed with a smartphone in your hand, we have good news: there’s a way your phone can help you to fall asleep!

What we mean is using some awesome sleep apps. We’ve tested them and want to share with you what we’ve learned. Here’s the rundown of our favorite apps that really work and will facilitate falling asleep:

🌐 BetterSleep In this free app, you can mix the sounds of nature with relaxing melodies to fall asleep quickly.
🌐 Pillow This free app is available on AppStore only. It is integrated with the Health App to track your sleep and give you information about your sleep and its quality.
🌐 Relax & Sleep Well A hypnotherapist created this app so expect, well… hypnotherapy! The app will help you decompress and reach a state of deep relaxation. There are a few free hypnosis recordings for you to try out risk-free!
🌐 Calm App This one is only free for seven days, but you might want to purchase it with all its cool guided meditations, stretching sessions, and stories.
🌐 Sleep Reset This app contains breathwork, guided meditations, and even tutorials for different sleep needs. You can start with the free trial period and see if it suits you.
🌐 Sleep Cycle This app has a built-in sleep tracker that can analyze your sleep based on audio cues. It can also wake you up during the right sleep stage and has a library of meditations and stories.

Now you’re armed with all the necessary information to get in touch with your circadian rhythm! We hope our tips will help you along the way.

What is your favorite way to be in tune with your internal clock? Tell us in the comment section below!

🔍 References

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