In our relentless quest to live healthier, happier, more productive lives, we often overlook a powerful tool within us: our internal sense of timing. The human body is genetically designed to coordinate the “when” of almost all aspects of life–sleep, work, sex, even having fun. And we’re all wired differently. People with certain lengths of PER3 genes prefer morning activity, while those with other lengths prefer activity later on.
Historically, those differences allowed humans to divide tasks by what they were best suited to. But that’s no longer true in an age when artificial light and long-distance travel allow us to divorce ourselves from solar days and nights. Today the timing of our daily events often unfolds with little or no regard for our natural rhythms. This can be annoying, and also unhealthy. Research has shown a connection between misaligned bio times and diseases including obesity and cancer.
There’s no easy solution. But simply being aware of your personal clock can help you find the best times for exercise, socializing and even important conversations. In general, it’s best to broach serious topics around 5 p.m., because people tend to be in a better mood in the early evening. By 11, though, they tend to be tired, making a heated discussion–and not its resolution–more likely to end up in their long-term memory. These changes might be small, but they can have a transformative effect on health and well-being.
Breus is a board-certified sleep specialist and the author of The Power of When
This appears in the September 26, 2016 issue of TIME.