Understanding Ultradian Rhythm to Optimize Performance - Dr. Axe

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Understanding Ultradian Rhythm: How to Harness Your Body’s Natural Rhythms for Peak Performance


Ultradian rhythm - Dr. Axe

In our fast-paced world, where time is often the most precious commodity, understanding our body’s natural rhythms can be the key to unlocking peak performance and productivity. One such rhythm, often overshadowed by its more famous cousin, the circadian rhythm, is the ultradian rhythm.

Have you ever felt your energy levels fluctuate throughout the day, with peaks of focus followed by dips in alertness? These internal shifts are driven by ultradian rhythms, your body’s natural cycles that operate on a timescale shorter than 24 hours.

Let’s examine what ultradian rhythm is, how it works, and why it matters for our overall well-being and productivity — and explore how understanding it can benefit your well-being.

What Is Ultradian Rhythm?

Ultradian rhythm refers to recurring periods or cycles within a day that are shorter than the 24-hour cycle of the circadian rhythm. These cycles govern various physiological processes, including brain wave activity, hormone release, and the natural ebb and flow of energy levels.

Unlike circadian rhythms, which dictate the sleep-wake cycle over a 24-hour period, ultradian rhythms occur multiple times throughout the day, typically in intervals of 90 to 120 minutes.


These internal mini-cycles influence various bodily functions, including:

  • Sleep Stages: The 90-minute sleep cycle that alternates between light, deep and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep is a prime example of an ultradian rhythm.
  • Hormone Release: Hormones like cortisol and growth hormone follow ultradian rhythms, dictating energy levels and cellular repair throughout the day.
  • Body Temperature: Your core temperature fluctuates in an ultradian pattern, impacting alertness and cognitive function.

Ultradian vs. Circadian vs. Infradian Rhythm

Here’s how ultradian rhythm compares to circadian and infradian rhythms:

  • Ultradian Rhythm: Ultradian rhythms are biological rhythms that occur more frequently than once a day, typically within a 24-hour cycle. These rhythms are shorter than circadian rhythms, with a duration of less than 24 hours. Examples include the sleep cycle, which consists of various stages such as REM sleep and non-rapid eye movement sleep, occurring multiple times during a typical night’s sleep.
  • Circadian Rhythm: Circadian rhythms are biological rhythms that follow a roughly 24-hour cycle. They are synchronized with the 24-hour day-night cycle of Earth’s rotation. These rhythms regulate various physiological processes, including sleep-wake cycles, hormone secretion, body temperature and metabolism. Circadian rhythms are influenced by external cues, such as light and darkness, but can persist even in the absence of external cues through an internal biological clock located in the suprachiasmatic nucleus of the brain.
  • Infradian Rhythm: Infradian rhythms are biological rhythms that occur less frequently than once a day, with a cycle longer than 24 hours. They typically have a periodicity longer than the daily cycle and can span days, weeks, months or even years. Examples of infradian rhythms include the menstrual cycle in females, hibernation cycles in certain animals, seasonal variations in behavior and physiology, and the migration patterns of birds and other animals.

How It Works and Why It Matters

Understanding ultradian rhythm is essential because it directly influences our energy levels, focus and productivity. During each ultradian cycle, our bodies go through stages of heightened activity and rest.

For example, during the active phase of an ultradian cycle, our brains are more alert, and we experience a surge in cognitive function. This is often referred to as the “peak” phase, where we are at our most productive and creative.

Conversely, the rest phase of the ultradian cycle is characterized by a decrease in alertness and energy levels. This is when our bodies signal the need for rest and recovery. Ignoring these signals can lead to diminishing returns in productivity and an increased risk of burnout and fatigue.

By understanding and aligning with our ultradian rhythms, we can optimize our daily routines to maximize productivity and well-being. Working in sync with these natural cycles allows us to capitalize on our peak periods of energy and focus while ensuring adequate rest and recovery.

Think of ultradian rhythms as built-in waves of energy and recovery.

During the high points, you experience increased focus, alertness and physical performance. When the wave dips, you might feel more sluggish and require a break for optimal function.

Understanding these cycles offers several benefits:

  • Enhanced Productivity: Aligning your work schedule with your ultradian rhythm allows you to tackle demanding tasks during peak energy periods and schedule breaks during natural dips.
  • Improved Focus: By recognizing your body’s natural alertness windows, you can plan important meetings or focused work sessions accordingly.
  • Better Sleep Quality: Recognizing your ultradian sleep cycles can help you establish a consistent sleep schedule and improve sleep quality.

What Affects It?

Several factors can influence the duration and intensity of ultradian rhythms. These include sleep quality, stress levels, diet, exercise and environmental factors, such as light exposure and temperature.

Poor sleep habits, chronic stress and unhealthy lifestyle choices can disrupt our ultradian rhythms, leading to irregularities in energy levels and productivity throughout the day:

  • Irregular Sleep: Inconsistent sleep patterns throw off your entire internal clock, including ultradian rhythms.
  • Stress: Chronic stress can disrupt hormone release and other bodily processes governed by ultradian rhythms.
  • Diet: Consuming sugary foods or skipping meals can lead to blood sugar fluctuations, impacting energy levels and ultradian rhythms.

How to Optimize Ultradian Rhythm

Here are some tips to work with your ultradian rhythms for optimal well-being:

1. Maintain a Consistent Sleep Schedule

Optimizing your ultradian rhythm begins with prioritizing quality sleep. Aim for seven to nine hours of uninterrupted sleep each night to ensure adequate rest and recovery. Go to bed and wake up at roughly the same time each day, even on weekends.

Establishing a consistent sleep schedule and creating a relaxing bedtime routine can help regulate your circadian rhythm and promote deeper, more restorative sleep.

2. Listen to Your Body

In addition to sleep, paying attention to your body’s signals throughout the day is crucial for optimizing your ultradian rhythm. Take regular breaks during periods of low energy, and engage in activities that promote relaxation and rejuvenation, such as meditation, deep breathing exercises or a short walk outdoors.


Pay attention to your energy levels throughout the day. Schedule demanding tasks for peak energy periods, and plan breaks when you start to feel sluggish.

3. Optimize Work Schedule

Structuring your day around 90- to 120-minute work intervals, followed by brief breaks, can help you harness the natural peaks and valleys of your ultradian rhythm. Use these breaks to recharge your energy levels, refocus your attention and prevent burnout.

4. Eat Regular Meals

Focus on a balanced diet that includes complex carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats to maintain stable blood sugar levels and support consistent energy levels.

5. Manage Stress

Practice relaxation techniques like deep breathing or meditation to reduce stress and its negative impact on ultradian rhythms.


  • Ultradian rhythm is a fundamental aspect of human physiology that influences our energy levels, focus and productivity throughout the day. By understanding how it works and implementing strategies to optimize it, we can unlock our full potential and achieve peak performance in all aspects of our lives.
  • Prioritizing quality sleep, listening to our body’s signals and structuring our day around natural cycles are key steps in harnessing the power of our ultradian rhythm for greater well-being and success.
  • By understanding and optimizing your ultradian rhythms, you can unlock a new level of control over your energy, focus and overall well-being. By working with these natural cycles, you can experience a more productive and fulfilling day.
  • So, pay attention to your body’s internal cues, and harness the power of ultradian rhythms for a healthier and more energized you!

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