What’s Your Sleep Chronotype?

This article originally appeared in Sleep Retailer eNews on January 11, 2018


At least once in your life you have probably been asked to classify yourself as either an early bird – thriving on the first light of morning and getting more stuff done before many people even roll out of bed, or a night owl – staying up until the wee hours, preferring to get your groove on as the sun goes down. But, according to board certified sleep specialist Dr. Michael J. Breus, there’s actually a whole animal kingdom of “chronotypes,” and knowing which one best represents you could result in feeling your best.

What, exactly, is a chronotype? According to Merriam-Webster, a chronotype is defined as “the internal circadian rhythm or body clock of an individual that influences the cycle of sleep and activity in a 24-hour period.” In other words, your chronotype is your particular sleep/wake pattern. Breus, popularly known as The Sleep Doctor, renowned as one of the leading experts in sleep disorders and author of The Power of When, maintains that the early bird/night owl dichotomy is old news. He contends that there are actually four different chronotypes, each describing a very particular category of circadian rhythms: lions, bears, wolves and dolphins.

Lions are Type A go-getters who jump out of bed at the crack of dawn, representing roughly 15% of the population. Organized and driven, lions methodically tick off the boxes of their to-do lists and plow through the day’s workload with a fierce intensity. However, the flip side to a 4 AM waking and such focused concentration is that lions tend to burn out earlier in the day, hitting the hay between 8:30 and 9:00.

Bears make up the majority of the world’s population at about 50-55% and typically rise and sleep with the sun. Which is a good thing as the world generally operates on a bear’s schedule of about 7:30 to 10:30. Bears work hard and play hard, making great leaders, but also easily relating to their peers. Social extroverts, bears power through the work day with an eye towards fun at the end of the day. The tricky thing about bears is that because they’re fun-loving, sometimes it can be a little too easy to stay up late, which means a harder time waking up the next morning.

Late-riser wolves have a difficult time waking, their energy peaking later at night. Like lions, wolves make up about 15% of the population and heavily skew towards creative types like authors, actors, musicians and – perhaps unsurprisingly – teenagers. Often at odds with the typical work day, wolves can be seen as lazy because they don’t bounce out of bed with a smile. But wolves aren’t actually lazy; their brains just aren’t wired to work most effectively until they’ve been awake for a couple of hours. More often classified as introverts, wolves are grumpy in the morning, needing to hit the snooze button multiple times in order to get up and rely on caffeine to get their days started.

Lastly, representing just 10% of the population, are the anxious dolphins – those who tend to have difficulty sleeping and would most benefit by a targeted schedule. Often lacking a heavy sleep drive yet feeling like they need more sleep, dolphins tend to self-diagnose as insomniacs. Like lions, dolphins are typically Type A and driven, but have just enough of obsessive compulsive tendencies to prevent them from completing tasks.

Now that you know what the four chronotypes are, what’s next? If you haven’t already been able to peg your own chronotype based on the descriptions above, Breus suggests taking this quiz to determine which you group you fall in. Once you have that information, you can start adjusting your daily schedule to best reflect your genetically determined sleep/wake patterns. Doing so can help you understand the best time to engage in certain activities, from requesting a raise to having sex. Knowing your chronotype – as well as inferring those of the people in your life – will give you the power to improve your personal relationships and work most efficiently, freeing you to be the best lion, bear, wolf or dolphin that you can be.

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