What Is Your Chronotype and How Does It Affect Your Sleep?
written by/ June 29, 2020
Although the circadian rhythm determines our sleep-wake cycle, variations between each internal body clock make us all different. Sometimes, we may have the weird feeling that we’re on a different schedule than everyone around us, or no matter how many hours of sleep we get, we cannot feel awake before noon. These differences determine our chronotype.
What Is Your Chronotype?
In zoological terms, it denotes the times when animals engage in specific activities, including sleep. Therefore, while a nocturnal animal’s most dynamic activities are observed during the night, diurnal animals, including humans, are active during the day and sleep at night. Thus, our chronotype determines not only our sleep patterns but also our daily activities, including eating, working, and even having sex. It could be defined as our body’s natural “timeline” during the day.
The concepts of circadian rhythms and chronotypes are relatively new, with the terms being used in the mid-nineties by scientists who studied the daily cycles of wakefulness and sleep. Chronotype describes each person’s natural biological rhythm, which in itself dictates when they’re most active and when they need to rest. Each of us has our own habits, and our physiological rhythm determines the optimal time for specific activities:
- Productivity and concentration
- Physical activity and sports
- The need for rest and how much sleep is needed
- Our asleep and awake hours
Why do we define chronotype as a separate term? For thousands of years, man has followed the same rhythm: wake up to the sunrise, hunt, socialize, and fall asleep when evening comes. However, the current technological reality is changing our natural setting too quickly.
Today we go against our basic needs—we take into consideration the clock and our work, and we live in artificial lighting, stay awake long after sunset, and work in shifts. Over the last 100 years, there’ve been tremendous changes to our natural daily routine, forcing us to adapt in completely different ways. This adaptation also requires us to develop the right sleep chronotypes for our needs.
How Many Chronotypes Are There?
What animal are you according to your biological clock? Chronotype is a characteristic of the circadian rhythm, specific to each person. A correct interpretation of your biological clock and chronotype can help you adjust your ideal daily routine. You’ll sleep better, work more productively, and know how to choose the best time to study, relax, or work out.
Previously, people were divided into three classical chronotypes—night owl, morning lark, and a mix of the two are considered the most popular chronotypes.
Night owls have some difficulty waking up in the morning. Usually, after getting up early, owls feel tired. An owl’s peak activity is typically from 19:00 to 21:00. The best time for this chronotype to work happens only late in the evening or at night. In the afternoon, owls can be slow and phlegmatic.
It’s a good idea for them to play sports or work out from 14:00 to 17:00 or from 19:00 to 21:00. For the nocturnal chronotypes, snacks and lunch are also quite late. Breakfast is usually around 11:00, lunch at 16:00. Planned work with early meetings is highly inconvenient for the owl chronotype and can cause serious sleep problems.
Early Birds or Morning Larks
The early birds easily wake up at six in the morning and feel great. The high activity of this chronotype continues from the moment of waking up through noon. From 12:00 to 16:00, their activity decreases slightly and again increases from 17:00 to 19:00. Considered a diurnal example of the sleep chronotypes, by nine o’clock in the evening, larks are often exhausted and ready to sleep. The best time for the morning meal is 7:00, for lunch, 12:00, and for dinner, 19:00.
The Hybrid: Pigeons
This is the perfect mutant, a hybrid of early larks and night owls, as fantastic as Spiderman—although statistics say they represent about 30% of all people. They wake up easily in the morning and fall asleep in the evening. Vigorous and agile throughout the day (no marked ups and downs of activity), they can exercise and eat at any time. Pigeons are more adaptable than other types of chronotypes to the generally accepted work schedule and the contemporary rhythm of life.
There’ve been persistent assertions that the morning person is superior to the night person. However, it was proved that night owls are just as creative and productive as morning larks.
Not only do both of these types run on different schedules, but there are more complex chronotypes.
What Are the 4 Chronotypes?
In addition to the chronotype, which has long been known to many, there’s another way to define people according to dissimilarities in the circadian rhythm. Clinical psychologist and specialist in the treatment of sleep disorders Michael Breus offers an expanded classification of human chronotypes, which is more like a zoo.
According to Breus’ theory, after taking a chronotype test, all humans can be divided into four species: bears, wolves, dolphins, and lions, depending on the characteristics of their individual biological clock. In addition to the existing classifications, sleep experts also divide people into these four chronotypes.
Author of The Power of When, Dr. Breus claims that if you find your chronotype, you’ll have the power to harness your most energetic times of the day. This helps people define when to make an important decision, eat, work out, have sex, or sleep.
Moreover, one’s chronotype is defined according to their genetic propensity for sleep. The PER3 gene is explicitly linked to the circadian rhythm and the internal biological clock. Chronotype genetics show that longer PER3 genes are associated with early rising and the need for at least seven hours of sleep to feel good, whereas shorter genes are tied to the late risers who need less sleep overall.
As our sleep-wake cycle is somewhat genetically predetermined, don’t worry too much if you feel lazy or unmotivated early in the morning. You just need to understand these Michael Breus chronotypes and start your day at a different time than your peers if you want to be your most productive.
According to sleep expert Michael Breus, if we determine what our sleep type is, we can increase our efficiency and take advantage of our full life potential. Based on his observations and by summarizing various human habits and personality traits, Dr. Breus identified these four chronotypes:
Most people belong to this type—about 50%–55% of us. People in the group are open, balanced, and optimistic. They like to sleep but rarely get enough sleep, meaning they need more hours to rest. However, because they get up early and fall asleep quickly, the bear chronotype daily schedule is stable. Still, if you belong to this chronotype, try to catch up with more rest and sleep on weekends.
Bears are most effective in the middle of the day, which is when their energy levels rise. It’s worth it to do light work-outs in the morning (sometime between 7:00 and 11:00), which will help you get up to speed faster. A healthy bear chronotype diet should contain a nutritious and healthy breakfast, but don’t forget to have a cup of coffee. This will reduce the risk of overeating.
For bears, their maximum work capacity is observed between 11:00 and 18:00. First, deal with those things that require more strength and concentration. To keep your energy levels regular, it’s essential to take frequent breaks. Daylight and sunshine will repel drowsiness. However, at about 14:00, your brain might begin to get tired. It helps to drink a cup of tea and eat some raw nuts.
In the ideal bear chronotype schedule, the best time to learn something new or work out is right after work, between 18:00 and 22:00. It will be challenging to get started, but you will quickly catch on to the process. Diet-wise, dinner should include more protein and fewer carbohydrates. To stay fresh the next day, don’t stay up late, and go to sleep between 22:00 and 23:00 each day.
The lion wakes up early, sometimes even before sunrise, and falls asleep easily. Also, lions sleep deeply. They’re people with realistic views on life, pragmatic, and positive. They experience tiredness in the late afternoon and are most active before noon. Although they can do 80% of their work before most people wake up, they’re often unable to conserve their energy until the evening and sometimes get bored with friends. Of the different chronotypes, those with these characteristics only amount to 15% of the population.
In the morning, between 5:30 and 10:00, it’s best to start the day with a high-protein and low-carbohydrate breakfast. By 10:00, you can have a nice cup of coffee. Fitness or meditation could also be beneficial. Don’t forget to have an intermediate meal—a little cottage cheese, a protein bar, yogurt, etc.—three or four hours after breakfast.
If you have the lion chronotype, you should know that your maximum work capacity is from 10:00 to 17:00. This is the best time to dive into work. Arrange business meetings after noon as you will feel the most energized at this time. Work intensely before 14:00, then move on to lighter tasks after 15:00.
The wolf likes to sleep late and fall asleep in the wee hours after midnight. This chronotype is most active and creative in the evening. Wolves are impulsive and artistic, but also pessimistic, and often change their mood. This chronotype accounts for 15%–20% of people. They hate mornings, go to bed late, and drink lots of coffee.
The wolf chronotype daily schedule is challenging. Often they need to set two alarms to be able to wake up. Usually, this process can start as early as 7:30 and last until noon. For them, it is recommended to start the day with a glass of water. In the morning, go out to the terrace to breathe in the air or spend time with your pet, and of course, drink coffee.
If you are a chronotype wolf, your ideal work hours are between 12:00 and 20:00. A useful tip for the wolves is to postpone any important work until 13:00. After that, slowly ease into any major problem solving and more complex tasks. By 14:00, you’ll be at the top of your performance, and by 17:00, you’ll be full of energy. Make sure your lunch is light and that you have a small healthy afternoon snack. In a wolf chronotype schedule, the afternoon is also a good time for creative tasks.
For a wolf, the hours after work (from 20:00 to 23:00) can be spent on sports, beauty procedures, or other forms of self-care. Dinner should be light. And try to get to bed no later than 23:00.
About 10% of people belong to this chronotype. The dolphin gets up early in the morning but falls asleep hard and often suffers from insomnia. Dolphins are productive all day long but feel tired if they don’t get enough rest the previous night. Even so, the chronotype dolphin wakes up quickly. Dolphins possess a nervous personality; they are perfectionists and do not like to take risks.
The dolphin’s daily routine starts between 6:00 to 10:00 in the morning. This time is suitable for light athletic activities, followed by a shower to help them wake all the way up. For the dolphin chronotype, the perfect day starts at 8:00, with a balanced breakfast of good carbohydrates and proteins.
The maximum work capacity for this chronotype is from 10:00 to 18:00. However, the hours between 10:00 and 12:00 are characterized as this chronotype’s most efficient—so it’s the best time to work on more challenging tasks. Outdoor walks at lunchtime would be very refreshing. For the typical dolphin chronotype schedule, your energy levels may drop in the afternoon, but your strength will return by the end of the workday.
By 18:00, you should again have the acuity to handle essential tasks. By this time of day, it’s a good idea to have a light dinner, work out, and maybe meet with friends. By 22:00, take a hot bath or read a book, but go to bed no later than midnight.
Can You Change Your Chronotype?
Shifts between different chronotypes are possible but not desirable since you might not perform as well as you would if you follow your body’s natural needs and habits. However, there’s a continuum across each of the four chronotypes, where degrees of differences in each individual may allow for some crossover.
If your defined chronotype doesn’t match with your personality, habits, and lifestyle, you’re probably a hybrid chronotype. This is especially true for the chronotype bear because almost half of the population belongs to this large group—thus incorporating a wide variety of preferences, drives, and personality traits.
Early bears and late bears are those who overlap with the morning-centric lions or night-centric wolves, respectively. The presence of a concomitant sleep disorder, such as insomnia, can classify the bear with a light-sleeping dolphin. Combined chronotypes like the dolphin and bear also suffer from a restless sleep.
Although chronotypes reflect a person’s individual genetic and biological identity, chronotypes can transition into new ones at specific points in our lifespan. As children, we are mostly lions, and we then change to wolves. When we grow up, we’ll likely become bears, lions, or dolphins, and this will last for decades. However, even after the age of 65, certain chronotypes can transform again.
However, you can take this chronotype quiz if you’re still wondering about your chronotype. This will give you the opportunity to harness all the advantages of your chronotype—even if it’s not what you expected—and it can help you avoid all of the potential disadvantages. Some additional information, such as your parents’ chronotype, your energy level, your body temperature, etc., can also help you discover your chronotype.
Chronotype Questionnaire and Sleep Disorders
Sometimes, a person’s chronotype can interfere with their daily life, suggesting there’s a circadian rhythm sleep disorder. Advanced sleep phase syndrome and delayed sleep phase syndrome are the most common examples of these disorders, which include waking up too early or too late due to a shifted circadian rhythm. The good news is that if these people get enough sleep, they won’t experience any health problems.
However, the standard chronotype definition includes a person’s daily functions and well-being, which can also be hampered in some cases. Working based on the time frame demanded by your employer or attending social events that don’t correspond with your chronotype’s energy peaks can induce so-called social jet lag. This is a chronic contrast to real jet lag.
Any chronotype can accompany a sleep disorder that affects a person’s behavior and performance. For example, dolphins are prone to insomnia and restless sleep. Sometimes it’s challenging to determine real insomnia in the bears who wake up too early or the wolves who go to bed too late. However, the disturbed sleep patterns associated with these sleep chronotypes can be avoided if people get enough hours of quality sleep overall.
As a child, we sleep when we want. Then at school, we have to adapt to unnatural schedules that result in disturbed sleep patterns and insufficient sleep, especially as teenagers. This subsequently leads to learning and behavior problems. To avoid the adverse effects of sleep deprivation on a teen’s mental, social, and physical health, many sleep experts have advocated for later school start times.
Today, sleep disorders are considered a risk factor for the development of more severe health and mental problems. These include obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, personality disorders, and anxiety. In line with this, it’s essential to take whatever preventative measures you can.
What Is a Chronotype That’s Synchronized With Everyday Life?
We learn how to coordinate our daily lives with our chronotypes and biological clock starting in childhood as a part of the natural maturing process. Later in life, we stick to certain chronotypes for decades.
Although it isn’t possible to change your sleep chronotype on demand, you can influence these processes by exposing yourself to bright light at times you want to be awake in an attempt to reorganize your circadian clock. Supplements such as melatonin can help people fall asleep earlier, although their use isn’t suitable for the long term.
It’s a challenging task to sync your everyday life to your chronotype, as there are factors like work and family that may prevent you from shifting your daily routine. Without generally throwing out all your habits, you can learn a few tricks to help you cope with fatigue and regain balance:
- Get to know your partner and loved ones, find out what their types are. Learn to make mutual compromises as a way to develop compatible sleep chronotypes.
- Get your caffeine or coffee energy, but don’t overdo it. Stick to the 400 ml limit per day.
- Have breakfast and coffee at least an hour after getting up.
- When you feel drowsy, go out into the fresh air and direct sunlight.
- Don’t sleep until later than usual on the weekend since doing so will disrupt your routine.
- Don’t compromise on rest—rest when you’re tired.
- Plan your day.
- Utilize the peak periods of your day to complete crucial work tasks. Thankfully, managers are more flexible nowadays, letting many employees work during their most productive hours.
- Consider jogging or going to the gym based on whether you’re a morning or evening type.
Now, you no longer have to ask, what is your chronotype? Instead of going against your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle, lean into your chronotype. Go to bed when you need to and plan your critical appointments during your peak productivity hours. Don’t give yourself a hard time—base your daily routine on it. This way, you will stay healthy, maintain healthy sleep habits, and use your full potential at work and with your family.