Does this sound familiar?
"I'm not a morning person."
How about this?
"Yes, Netflix, I'm still watching. Don't ask me again."
"I do more before 9 am than most people do all day!"
Each one points to a different chronotype. (Well, the last one we stole from the army, but you get the idea.)
What is a chronotype?
We all have an underlying circadian rhythm that helps regulate our sleep-wake cycle. The individual differences in our alertness and sleepiness are called chronotypes. Chronotypes are primarly determined by genetics, but age, environment, and gender also play a role.
If you struggle with sleep or staying awake, knowing your chronotype can help you maximize your efficiency.
"Honey, wake up. I need to know your chronotype."
Early Birds vs Night Owls
Chronotypes exist on a spectrum between Early Birds and Night Owls, or if you prefer unimaginative, clinical terms: morningness and eveningness.
The two extremes are defined as such:
Morningness – characterized by those who go to sleep early and are most active and alert in the morning.
Eveningness – characterized by those who go to sleep later and are most active and alert in the evening.
Most of us know what it's like to be both. In college, you're more of a Night Owl, staying up until 3 am because this watery beer isn't going to drink itself. As you get older, you may find you're more of an Early Bird, waking up early to go to your job at a bedding company...or whatever.
The truth is, most people lie somewhere in the middle of the two extremes. A 2007 survey of over 55,000 people showed that morningness–eveningness tends to follow a normal distribution. So, don't stress out if you feel like you're neither.
In fact, there are at least four different chronotypes.
The four different chronotypes
Sleep psychologists like Dr. Oz house guest Michael Breus, have identified four main chronotypes: Lion, Bear, Wolf, and Dolphin.
Let's meet them.
Lion is what everyone (Dr. Breus et al) is calling Early Birds these days. Lions wake up early, get a lot done in the morning, and then crash around 10 pm.
According to Dr Breus, 55% of the population are bears. Bear's sleep-wake cycle is aligned with the sun. They probably work a 9-5 and enjoy socializing after work.
Wolf is the cool new name for Night Owls. Wolves make up about 15% of the population and 100% of the reason why video games are a trillion dollar industry.
Like dolphins, people who identify with this chronotype are partially alert all night. Dolphins are light, fitful sleepers who wake up at the slightest noise. "Was that a porpoise!?"
What's your chronotype?
While chronotypes are essentially the zodiac signs of sleep, complete with overly specific, yet somehow vague, personality traits, there is some genuine science behind them. Even if it's not an exact science, it's a good starting point to getting better sleep at night and being more productive during the day.
You can find more about your chronotype by taking a quiz:
- This one is based on Dr. Breus’ book, “The Power of When.”
- This is the OG quiz from the '70s: Morningness-Eveningness Questionnaire (MEQ)
One thing you may notice after completing these quizzes is that you identify with more than one chronotype. We took Dr. Breus' quiz and it turns out we're Wolf-Bears...and also Cancer-Scorpio-Year-of-the-Rats.
But can you change your chronotype?
The good news is you can change your circadian rhythm by using melatonin supplements, light therapy or adhering to good sleep habits.
The bad news is you can't really change your chronotype. It's more or less set in stone, like your personality or your strange attraction to clowns (no? just us? cool cool).
The goal is to determine which chronotype(s) you identify with and use that knowledge to your advantage: know when to wake up, when you're most productive, when to start winding down, and when to get some deep, uninterrupted sleep.
As always, if you need help with that last one, we got you.
"Hi. My chronotype is koala...because of the eucalyptus."