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The Best Time Window For Work Meetings, According To Circadian Rhythm Research

Image by Lucas Ottone / Stocksy
September 28, 2021

Ah, work meetings. Sometimes you go into them feeling alert, positive, and ready to tackle any challenges that arise, and sometimes you...don't. Many factors can affect how we show up to a meeting, some of which are out of our control. However, emerging research is finding that there is one manageable thing that can really make or break a meeting for all parties involved, and that's its timing.

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How to sync meetings with your circadian clock.

It turns out that the ideal meeting time may not be dictated by the clocks that sit on the wall or computer screen, but our internal clocks, or circadian rhythms.

The average circadian clock lasts for around 24.18 hours1, syncing up nicely with the external clocks we all live by. However, these internal clocks differ slightly from person to person. Someone with a longer circadian clock will likely want to stay up later and sleep in later than someone with a shorter clock. (Feel free to blame your snooze button habit on your personal rhythm from now on!)

Beyond affecting sleep preferences, these clocks can impact mood and energy levels. As you might imagine, a night owl won't feel as alert at 9 a.m. as a morning bird.

No two people are the same, and no two circadian clocks are either, which is why Steven Lockley, Ph.D., a neuroscientist at Brigham & Women's Hospital and associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, recommends businesses leave work calls and meetings for times of the day when morning birds, night owls, and everyone in between can show up feeling energized and ready to contribute.

"If you're an evening type, you don't want to meet at 8 a.m. And if you're a morning type, you don't want to meet at 6 p.m., so why not as a business say that you're going to have your group meetings between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. or 4 p.m.?" the circadian rhythm specialist asks on a phone call that just so happened to fall within this time range.

That way, he says, "everyone can come without being disadvantaged." Of course, this isn't always possible, especially if your team works in different (literal) time zones. But whenever you do have the option to schedule meetings for the middle of a standard workday, do so and see if it affects what you and others are able to bring to the call, Zoom, or room.

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The bottom line.

Circadian science is a burgeoning field, and before too long, Lockley predicts we'll be able to measure our body clocks with a quick saliva sample or blood test. Once that's possible, our schedules may become more flexible and we won't all be expected to thrive between the hours of 9 and 5. In the meantime, honoring your own circadian clock by keeping sleep times consistent (even on weekends), getting plenty of sunlight during the day and darkness at night, and strategically planning meetings can help you get the most of those precious waking hours.

Emma Loewe
Emma Loewe
mbg Sustainability + Health Director

Emma Loewe is the Sustainability and Health Director at mindbodygreen and the author of Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us. She is also the co-author of The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care, which she wrote alongside Lindsay Kellner.

Emma received her B.A. in Environmental Science & Policy with a specialty in environmental communications from Duke University. In addition to penning over 1,000 mbg articles on topics from the water crisis in California to the rise of urban beekeeping, her work has appeared on Grist, Bloomberg News, Bustle, and Forbes. She's spoken about the intersection of self-care and sustainability on podcasts and live events alongside environmental thought leaders like Marci Zaroff, Gay Browne, and Summer Rayne Oakes.