Just as every person varies when it comes to their personality, the same goes with your sleeping patterns and behaviors. How quickly we fall asleep, when we fall asleep, these can vary throughout a person’s lifetime (especially as you age). These tendencies and patterns can be linked to your "sleep chronotype," even if you haven’t called it that before.
In order to understand how you function and why you prefer to sleep at certain times of the day, it's important to learn more about your chronotype. In particular, it's important to know what factors influence it and how you can leverage it to improve sleep quality and increase productivity during your waking hours.
What is Sleep Chronotype?
A chronotype is your circadian typology, or simply put, the different levels of alertness that you experience during the day or night. According to certified sleep coach, Eva Cohen, knowing your sleep chronotype will provide you with a better understanding of how your body’s internal clock works.
It’s no secret that most of the human body's functions are based on the same circadian rhythms that dictate your sleep-wake cycle. These rhythms define your chronotype, and they govern your body’s tendency to fall asleep or stay awake at certain times of the day. This explains why some people prefer to stay up all night, and why others feel sleepy even when the sun is bright in the sky.
Biologically speaking, your chronotype is determined by the length of the PER3 gene. A variety of factors influence this gene type, including age, genetics, and environment. It's closely linked to your hormone levels, body temperature, and metabolic function – all of which could influence your sleeping patterns and productivity.
Needless to say, you cannot actively change your chronotype. But your chronotype can impact how your brain and body functions.
While chronotypes and circadian rhythms aren't exactly the same thing, they are closely linked. The primary difference between the two is that the latter can be “trained” - such as when you follow a regular sleep routine, or when you maximize your "sleep hygiene" with environmental cues like cool temperatures and pitch-black darkness. Your chronotype, however, is embedded into your biological system and is more permanent. It can change somewhat over time, but not easily.
Chronotype explains why certain folks are considered morning people versus night owls. A morning person might work like a fiend during the day, whereas a night owl might stay awake during the day, but can't manage to do much productive work until after the sun sets. While your chronotype might shift as you age in life, scientists believe it's difficult to purposely change it.
Types of Chronotype
There are four general classifications for sleep chronotypes in humans. This categorization can help us identify our own sleep and productivity patterns, so that we can work with our inner nature, instead of fighting against it.
- The Bear Chronotype
According to sleep expert, Dr. Michael Breus, the majority of people fall under the bear chronotype category (or 55% of the human population). This means that your sleep and wake cycle is closely linked to the sun. For example, you wake up when the sun is up (approximately 7am) and you fall asleep when the sun is down (10-11 pm).
Your most productive time of the day will be mid-morning to noon. Your productivity level tends to dip post-lunch and will continue to decline as the day progresses. Getting enough sleep is vital to support energy and productivity levels for bear chronotype folks. No surprise, if you don’t get enough sleep, you'll probably feel grumpy and lethargic during the day, and it can affect your performance and sociability.
- The Wolf Chronotype
Wolf chronotypes are folks who tend to become more productive at night, just like wolves, those furry nocturnal critters who do their best hunting after the sun sets. People with this chronotype tend to have difficulty getting up early in the morning, and if they must, probably hit the snooze button one too many times. They do have sudden bursts of energy, however: usually around noon and from 6pm onwards.
The typical bedtime for a wolf chronotype is 12 AM. They feel most creative in this quiet hour while everyone else is asleep or just about ready to hit the bed.
- The Lion Chronotype
Lions are natural hunters. They wake up early in the morning with a roar. Some of them like to wake up at dawn, and finish most of their chores by noon. Waking up early comes naturally to lion chronotypes. But because of this, they often feel greatly affected by an afternoon slump. This is why a power nap is often essential for lion chronotypes: so they can recharge and continue on with work for the rest of the day.
Because of their early-morning routine, the lion chronotype needs to wind down in the early evening. They usually go to bed before 10 pm. Otherwise, how will they get enough sleep by the time they spring up again at dawn?
- The Dolphin Chronotype
In nature, dolphins can sleep with one half of their brain unconscious, and the other half wide awake. It's pretty remarkable. Dolphin chronotypes are somewhat similar. They're highly sensitive to environmental factors that can disturb their sleep, whether it be noise, light, or a dripping faucet.
Dolphin chronotypes folks may not follow a specific sleeping schedule, and tend to self-describe as insomniacs. Waking up is hard for dolphins, but once they get going, they achieve peak productivity from 10AM to 2PM.
Due to their anxious sleeping behaviors, dolphin chronotypes typically have underlying feelings of fatigue and restlessness. They often feel like it's impossible to get a full night’s sleep, though they certainly can, by paying enough attention to building a sleep environment as calm as the bottom of the ocean.
Chronotype and Better Sleep
Researchers agree that you can’t purposely change your chronotype. However, learning more about your chronotype will help you master your internal clock and use it to your advantage. You'll be able to control the factors that can impact your sleep schedule and quality. At the same time, you'll be able to adjust your schedule so you can increase productivity.
Understanding your chronotype will enable you sync it properly with your body’s circadian rhythm. When you work against the natural wiring of your brain and body’s biological processes, make no mistake, you will struggle. Even if you lay in bed for hours, you won’t get the sleep you need unless it's in tune with your natural and biological rhythm.
By identifying when you're most productive, and when your body is more likely to catch some sleep, you can improve the overall health and quality of your life. You can capitalize on hours when you tend to be most productive, and allow your body to rest when it signals you to get some shuteye.