What’s Your Chronotype? How Your Sleep Cycle Affects Your Daily Life

September 13, 2017

What is a chronotype? A chronotype is basically your natural, preferred sleep pattern. It is a classification of the general timing of your biological clock. Just like your eye and hair color, your chronotype is genetic and cannot be changed. Many people have heard the terms “early bird” or “night owl.” Those are 2 chronotypes, but there are actually 4 of them, according to Dr. Michael Breus, who is a clinical psychologist and renowned sleep doctor. From his extensive research, he identified the 4 chronotypes that people fall within as: lion, bear, wolf, and dolphin, all of which are explained in great detail in his book: The Power of When. After reading this book and taking the chronotype quiz, I learned so much about sleep and the affect that my sleep patterns can have on my day. As a result of finding out my chronotype of a Lion, I made some appropriate tweaks to my daily schedule and noticed a difference in my productivity.

The basic premise of using your chronotype to help structure your day is that, in doing so, you sync the rhythm of your day with the rhythm of your biology. According to Dr. Breus, there is a perfect time to do just about anything, and we actually have an inner “clock” embedded in our brains since the age of three months old. So, for those of you who are ALWAYS running late, you might really be in your own “timezone” so to speak. While this inner clock may be the perfect excuse for all you late people, it actually plays an integral role in regulating a variety of important functions throughout the day. These include blood pressure, cognition, energy levels, digestion, metabolism, creativity, memory, sleep, and the ability to heal–just to name a few!

Our ancestors intuitively knew to structure their days around their internal clocks, but in the hustle and bustle of modern life, we have lost sight of this innate signal and have come to rely on artificial time to dictate our schedules. So what can we do to remedy this? Of course we can’t just rebel and disregard time as we know it– people like our bosses and clients wouldn’t be too happy about that! But, there are simple tweaks you can make to your schedule to help your day flow more naturally with how your body wants it to.

I now recommend all my clients to take this chronotype quiz at the start of our time together, and while some schedule changes aren’t possible to make, we use it as a guide to see what adjustments are doable and will have an impact.

There have been a number of studies on the benefits of being in sync with your bio-time, such as learning the most effective times to work out, take medicine, manage your weight, or even when to do analytical versus creative tasks.

So, you might be wondering a bit about the 4 different chronotypes I mentioned earlier. I’m not going to go into too much detail, since if I’ve peaked your interest on this subject matter I highly recommend you get Dr. Breus’ book!  

 

Dolphins: Those who fall under the dolphin category are your insomniacs. These individuals are very light sleepers and account for 10% of the population. These people are neurotic, type-A, intelligent people, but sometimes are not as productive as they’d like to be. Dolphins tend to be most alert late at night and wake up feeling groggy. They are most alert late at night, and their productivity comes in waves throughout the day.

 

Lions: If you’re a lion, you’re typically up at 5:30/6 AM loaded with energy, ready to take on the day. They are most productive in the morning, and tend to get tired early and have little trouble falling asleep. Lions are typically good at problem solving, are great at operations, and tend to be in leadership roles. They also tend to be health and fitness conscious. Lions account for 15-20% of the population, and they are most alert around 12 PM.

 

Bears: Bears could sleep forever, and if you fall into this category your sleep schedule is most closely aligned with the rising and setting of the sun. Bears account for 50% of the population and tend to be your social butterfly/foodie-type people. Bears are most alert in the mid-morning to early afternoon, and are most productive late morning.  

 

Wolves: People who identify as being a night-person are those who fall into the wolf category. Wolves are best suited for the late-shift at work, and account for 15-20% of the population. Wolves are creative people and aren’t afraid to take risks; however, they can be pessimistic and moody. Wolves have trouble waking up before 9 AM and they are most alert at 7 PM. They are most productive both late in the morning and late in the evening.

 

In The Power of When, Dr. Breus outlines what an ideal day would look like for each chronotype and makes recommendations on when to do pretty much everything, such as drink coffee, exercise, have sex, eat, make a decision, and even ask for a raise (among many other things!)

 

Why does your chronotype affect your daily schedule? In order to perform a specific activity, the certain neurotransmitters and hormones involved with that activity need to be at a particular level. As your hormonal cycle changes in a 24-hour period, it will be optimal to match a specific task to the hormone level it requires. For example, intellectual pursuits such as collaborating or innovating have different hormonal and neurotransmitter requirements than physical activities do, and syncing these two factors allows us to find a “sweet spot” where we can do a particular task at the best possible time. As they say, timing is everything! Based on this information, Dr. Breus matched the hormones needed for certain activities and then correlated them to the 4 chronotypes.

I’d like to share a few of the things I found most interesting as a Lion, and how I’ve slightly modified my schedule to best align myself with my chronotype. As a Lion I wake-up early with a fair amount of energy, so my natural desire was to channel that energy in the gym (as I learned was very common for Lions); however, this is not the most efficient thing to do. Since Lions already have energy in the morning, it was suggested to switch my workout regimen to the afternoon, when I need an energy boost. Since I have the luxury of working from home, I now try to workout somewhere around 3, 4, or 5 PM, and have found that doing so has allowed me to work later than usual due to an increase in energy.

The next big change I made to my daily routine was when I consume my daily cup of joe. Typically, we (including myself) tend to grab for coffee first thing in the morning to help jumpstart the day. However, according to Dr. Breus, caffeine raises our cortisol levels and our cortisol levels are already naturally elevated when we first wake up. This makes the effects of coffee nonexistent, and the only thing it does is increase our tolerance for caffeine. A better strategy is to consume coffee when our cortisol levels dip, which is about two afters after waking up (and then there is another dip in the afternoon). So, I now wait 2-3 hours after waking up to enjoy my coffee and have definitely noticed a difference! I know, I know, it sounds like a challenge to wait that long for your AM coffee, but give it a try and see for yourself!

Lastly, while I am not your typical happy-hour attendee, I found it interesting to learn that there is an optimal time to consume alcohol. Drinking disrupts your circadian rhythm and suppresses the release of melatonin. However, there is something called the tolerance rhythm, which is when alcohol is metabolized the quickest and has the least damaging effects. As a Lion, this is between 5:30 and 7:30 PM. Looks like it will be an early “night out” for me… which of my fellow Lions will be joining?!

 

In Good Health,

Simone

 

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