No matter how hard you try, you just cannot get yourself to fall asleep until the same time every night. And staying up past that hard deadline that your body and mind gives to you? Forget about it. Knocking yourself out of your standard sleep cycle can be a real challenge. If those struggles relatable, it’s because you are not alone. Consumer Reports found that 68 percent of Americans have trouble sleeping occasionally, and one in four struggle to fall asleep most nights.
What’s the problem, exactly? It might be as simple as understanding what kind of sleeper you are. That is where chronotypes come in. Your chronotype is linked to your internal clock and dictates how alert and awake you are during different parts of the day. Understanding your chronotype and help you adjust your sleep cycle to finally get the rest that you need.
This guide will help you determine what chronotype you are and if you can change your chronotype to better fit your lifestyle and schedule.
What Are Chronotypes?
A chronotype is a classification system used to determine the sleep and activity schedules that humans fit into. Chronotypes take into account when you are most active and alert and when you are most likely to fall asleep. Your unique chronotype is determined by the length of your PER3 gene, which is the gene that encodes your circadian rhythms. This, combined with other factors like genetics, age, and environmental conditions, makes up your chronotype. Your chronotype influences your body temperature and metabolic function, among other things.
Chronotypes can be broken down in several ways, but essentially, they are trying to capture if someone is a morning type, evening type or neither. These classifications are typically categorized using four different chronotypes: bear chronotype, wolf chronotype, lion chronotype, or dolphin chronotype. Each chronotype loosely reflects the type of sleep pattern that each animal utilizes. Understanding which of these chronotypes you are can help you better understand your body needs and help you get a full night of sleep.
What are the benefits of knowing your chronotype?
Knowing your chronotype can give you a better understanding of your sleep cycles and patterns and help you determine when you are most productive. This can help you in a myriad of ways.
- Figure out when you should go to bed: If falling asleep is difficult for you most nights, it could be because you’re trying to sleep outside of your body’s preferred time. Chronotypes help you determine your sleep pattern so you can go to bed when your body most requires the rest.
- Improve your eating habit: Understanding your chronotype can also help you better understand some of your other behaviors, including eating habits. Different chronotypes have different cravings for food during different parts of the day. Knowing your chronotype can help explain what your body needs to keep going.
- Improved mental health: One of the best things you can do for both your body and mind is to get adequate rest. If you are working against your chronotype, it can be stressful. Knowing your chronotype helps you fit your schedule to your body’s needs and can help address some of the stress and anxiety you may otherwise experience.
The bear chronotype is the most common chronotype. People who fall under this categorization have a sleep and active cycle that follows the sun. If you are a bear chronotype, you’re likely more of a morning person and can come crashing down in the late afternoon and early evening.
Bears get their best work done earlier in the morning, typically before noon. Things may peak around that time, then start trending downward after lunch. Activity and productivity can begin to taper off around 2-4 pm. If you’re a bear, try to schedule your most tasking tasks in the morning and save the lighter stuff for later.
The dolphin chronotype is for those who have trouble sticking to a sleep schedule. Because of this, they are prone to not getting enough sleep. That can be challenging, though it does mean that productivity can take place at any time. It’s best to take one task at a time, though, as it can take a while to build-up to the more intense tasks on your to-do list.
Dolphins tend to get sparks of energy and creativity randomly throughout the day, but they still have a peak period for activity. That typically falls between 10 am and 2 pm. If you’re a dolphin, try to time your sleep out so you can optimize that late morning to early afternoon period.
The wolf chronotype is not much for the mornings. If you are a wolf, you most likely struggle to get up if you have work or something else to do early in the day. Wolves would rather sleep in and don’t experience boosts in activity and productivity until later in the day.
The optimal sleep schedule for wolf chronotypes is to wake up later in the morning because productivity spikes around noon and can continue until 4 pm. Wolves also tend to get a boost of energy later in the evening, around 6 pm or so. That means they can get a lot done in a day, but it just won’t happen until later.
If you are the lion chronotype, you are the prototypical morning person. You wake up with energy and are ready to tackle anything on your to-do list right away. This also means that energy fades during the evening and will likely want to be early.
If you are a lion chronotype, you will want to wake up early and get as much done as you can. Productivity is at its peak until around noon or so. Then it’s a pretty fast decline into the afternoon and evening. Lion chronotypes are best suited to going to bed around 9 or 10 pm.
What’s My Chronotype?
Your chronotype is dependent on several variables, including genetics, environmental factors, age, and sex, among others. To help figure out your chronotype, you can take a quiz that should determine what categorization you fall under. Here are a number of quizzes that will discern your chronotype:
- The Power Of When Quiz: based on the book The Power Of When, written by Dr. Michael Breus
- Dr. Oz Chonrotype Quiz: based on the Breus book, this assessment will similarly help you determine your chronotype
- MEQ Self-Assessment: a simple questionnaire that you can fill out and tally up to find your sleep type
Can I change my chronotype?
Once you understand your chronotype, you may be tempted to want to change it. Finding a sleep pattern that fits your lifestyle is appealing, as it might help you make the most of your days. But that can be much easier said than done.
It may be possible to influence your chronotype by changing environmental factors, but fully changing it may not be possible. This is because biology and genetics weigh so heavily in determining your chronotype. There are chemicals in your brain that determine your circadian rhythm, meaning there is just a natural cycle that your body is accustomed to and needs to optimize sleep and activity. You may be able to influence your chronotype by changing your diet, using natural and artificial influencers like caffeine, or by using sleep aids. But this will not guarantee that you change your chronotype.
Understanding your chronotype is key to understanding the way that your body and mind operate during the day. Once you understand when your body is at its peak for activity, you can arrange your day around those spikes to maximize productivity. Knowing when your body needs rest also helps you know when to head to bed to get to sleep easier and get the rest that you require. Knowing your sleep cycle can provide all sorts of benefits to your physical and mental health and help you make the most of your days.