The Best Time of Day
By Aviva Patz
There's an optimal time for every health move, from eating breakfast and taking your allergy meds to quitting smoking and even having sex. Here's how to tune into those magic hours to boost your everyday well-being - and your long-term health.
There's never a bad time to do something healthy, right? Not so fast. When it comes to maximizing your health, timing is everything. That's because we're hardwired to follow a "body clock," an internal timer that tells the body whether to sleep or work, nibble a light salad or devour a hearty stew, ovulate or grab a maxi pad. "Everything in nature works on a rhythm that is defined by time — hours, days, nights, weeks, seasons, years, and more," says Matthew Edlund, M.D., director of the Center for Circadian Medicine in Sarasota, FL, and author of The Body Clock Advantage. Unfortunately, our lifestyle — wolfing down lunch at 3 p.m. between meetings, flouting our bedtime to watch The Daily Show — often throws those rhythms out of whack, which can lead to weight gain, up our risk of illness and disease, and leave us feeling sluggish and sad. But tuning in to your internal clockwork more closely has great advantages. "If you can get your innate body rhythms in sync with the food, activity, and rest you need, you can not only get healthier but even feel better day to day," Edlund says.
Calibrate your body clock with the timing tricks below. You'll improve your workouts, gain more energy, stabilize your mood, manage your weight more easily, and even prevent and treat illness more effectively. It's health as nature intended!
In the Morning
• Sleep an extra 20 minutes. There's no substitute for a solid night of z's, but research suggests that rising as late as you can get away with — even if it's just 20 or 30 minutes later than you usually do — can make you more relaxed during the day. Our bodies naturally crank up the stress hormone cortisol in the a.m. so that we'll get up and moving, but postponing your wake-up time can lower those levels just enough to take the edge off. In a study at London's University of Westminster, earlier risers (who woke up as early as 5:22 a.m.) had higher cortisol levels during the first 45 minutes of their day and tended to be angrier at night than later risers (who got up as late as 10:30 a.m.), regardless of how much total sleep they got. While there's no optimal wake-up time, the researchers say, set the alarm for as late as your schedule will allow. For best results, try to go to bed and wake up at about the same times every day; this will keep your body clock running smoothly.