Do You Know Your Sleep Chronotype?
It’s often pretty easy to answer the common question of whether you identify as an “early bird” or a “night owl.” While most of us tend to have strong preferences toward one or the other, believe it or not, the inclination to fall asleep earlier in the evening versus later at night is actually hard-wired into our bodies. In order to better understand your early bird or night owl tendencies, it all comes down to understanding your personal sleep chronotype.
- A sleep chronotype is your body’s natural disposition to sleep or be awake at different times, similar to your body’s circadian rhythm or internal body clock.
- The four chronotypes are the bear, the lion, the wolf, and the dolphin, with each one being loosely based on the sleep habits of their namesakes.
- Chronotypes have been linked to personality, health, habits, and quality of life.
What is a sleep chronotype?
A sleep chronotype is defined by Sleep Foundation as the body’s natural inclination to fall asleep and wake up at certain times. However, our slumber isn’t the only thing impacted. Our personal chronotypes also influence our overall alertness, exercise tendencies, and our appetites (as well as when you prefer to fuel up on coffee.)
So, while chronotypes are helpful in better understanding what it means to be an early bird or a night owl, they can also help you plan your day perfectly by helping you to discover what times you’re most productive, the best time for you to take your meds, the optimal time of day for you to ask for a raise, and even the best time of day for you to have sex; so grab your planners!
Although fairly similar, sleep chronotype is not quite the same as your body’s circadian rhythm, which regulates your sleep-wake cycle as a response to external factors such as your daily schedule or light exposure. Circadian rhythm has a more flexible nature that can be disciplined with adherence to a stern schedule while emerging evidence shows that chronotypes are genetically predetermined by the PER3 gene.
In general, your chronotype does not have an impact on how long you sleep. Regardless of your inclinations, adults need, on average, seven to nine hours of sleep each night. This means that fulfilling the requirement for a full night of sleep is easier accomplished by early birds than night owls (who struggle to fall asleep earlier.)
Through research, scientists believe that while your chronotype may shift throughout life, it is nearly impossible to change it on purpose. It’s all about playing the cards we’ve been dealt.
Social jetlag is a term coined to explain the struggle of one’s natural chronotype misaligning with the demands of their daily schedule. Genetically predisposed “night owls” are more likely to experience social jetlag daily, thus rendering them permanently tired when having to wake up for work or class. In the same way, early birds may struggle to partake in evening activities (especially with full alertness.)
Fortunately, chronotypes have a little bit more leniency than just “night and day”; there are four ways that chronotypes are classified to correspond with different types of people and their activity levels.
Types of chronotypes
Generally, people fall into one of four different chronotype categories: the bear, the lion, the wolf, and the dolphin. Each one is based on the corresponding animals' habits and sleep patterns.
Making up about fifty-five percent of the population, the bear chronotype’s ideal schedule (much like its namesake) aligns perfectly with the solar cycle, meaning they usually wake up with the sun. This chronotype is typically most productive in mid-morning (from ten in the morning until two in the afternoon) and struggles after lunch in a mid-afternoon slump, allowing for the completion of some lighter tasks.
Normal sleep hours for a bear chronotype are between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., and they commonly don't struggle to fall asleep at night or wake up in the mornings. In regards to a typical personality type, they’re often pretty extroverted and have the ability to keep the energy up throughout social interactions.
Overall, bears can keep up with the nine to five office hours and are still able to stay awake during wine nights. If you’re a bear chronotype, make sure you’re keeping up with your Zs because, unlike bears, you are excluded from a months-long hibernation in the winter.
The lion chronotype more closely aligns with the “early bird” stereotype. With only about fifteen percent of the population identifying as a lion, these go-getters are often seen exercising early at the gym and being the first in the office each morning. Peak energy levels for a lion are typically before lunch, as waking up early is a breeze, but preparation for the hard-hitting afternoon slump is necessary. (Read: an afternoon power nap is necessary.)
Lions are usually asleep by 10 p.m. to get their full eight hours, and usually wake around 6 a.m. with ease. Personality-wise, lions are more than likely type A people with the characteristics of a great leader. Be careful who you invite to your late-night outings; however, lions struggle to maintain a social night-life.
In stark contrast to the lion chronotype, the wolf chronotype is most productive at night, just like their namesake counterpart! If you’re a wolf, you’re also likely a night owl, who sets 15 alarms every morning and still manages to sleep through them. To sustain their creative energy and outbursts, wolves are perfectly content hitting the hay after midnight or well beyond; however, this lifestyle isn’t ideal to align with the nine-to-five work day and still allow for a full night of sleep.
This chronotype also comprises about fifteen percent of the population. Despite being seen often saving their gym sessions for after work, a nice morning walk may be beneficial for wolf chronotypes to help them wake up to the ~unfortunate~ fact that the rest of the world doesn’t align with their ideal sleep schedule. The most productive hours for a wolf are often between 5 and 9 p.m.
Last but not least, the dolphin chronotype is often where you’ll find insomniacs. Making up only around ten percent of the population, dolphins often experience anxious sleeping behaviors, such as struggling to fall asleep each night and rarely achieving a full eight hours of sleep.
Dolphins commonly fall asleep only because their bodies need to, not because they want to. Due to these sporadic habits, normal sleeping hours for a dolphin chronotype are between midnight and six a.m.
Despite the normal struggle of waking up in the mornings, dolphins are usually up and at ‘em, reaching peak productivity around mid-morning. Dolphin chronotypes are usually extremely light sleepers that wake up throughout their REM cycles due to anxious thoughts. It is rare that dolphins wake up feeling well-rested; however, they are often known to be detail-oriented, intelligent, and to have random, creative sparks throughout the day.
After examining the attributes of each of the chronotypes, it is normal to have a few questions, and not a lot of answers. Similar to personality types, it’s common to identify with characteristics from multiple chronotypes, rather than fitting cleanly into one. Maybe you experience the restless sleep of a dolphin, the mid-morning productivity of a bear, but the desire for the nighttime social life of a wolf – this is normal!
There are a plethora of resources to narrow down exactly which chronotype you identify with. A good place to start is by taking one of many online quizzes.
Why are they important?
Sleep chronotypes affect more than just your sleep; they have an impact on every aspect of your day-to-day life. Knowing what chronotype you identify with can aid in scheduling your day of work around productivity windows to maximize daily accomplishments and check off your to-dos with enough energy!
Additionally, research links chronotypes to health, personality, and quality of life.
Personality types linked to being a night owl (or more of a wolf chronotype) are neuroticism and openness, while those linked to morningness include agreeableness and conscientiousness. Avid morning people, according to research, are typically more creative thinkers, perform better in classes, and have more creative professions. On the contrary, those who are more productive at night have more inconsistent sleep schedules.
Inconsistent sleep is an unhealthy habit that has been correlated with higher stress, cortisol levels, and resting heart rates, which are all factors that put the body at risk for obesity, type 2 diabetes, and declining mental health. Other unhealthy habits linked with wolf chronotype tendencies are anger, depression, anxiety, unbalanced meal schedules, and higher use of substances such as tobacco, alcohol, and caffeine.
It’s also important to remember that your chronotype is not a diagnosis or an end-all-be-all for your habits. A correlation between them has simply been discovered in the research. Thus, your chronotype overlaps with a multitude of factors to result in this correlation.
Some personality types are dependent on genetics; however, these habits are more likely the result of inconsistent sleep schedules caused by a necessary adaption to wake up earlier.
Overall, understanding your sleep chronotype can reap tremendous benefits in terms of your daily productivity, sleeping and eating schedules, social life, personality, and general health. These animal types will give you a good idea of an ideal schedule for your chronotype, but it is important to remember that these are on a spectrum, and there will be variations between individuals.
Regardless, identifying with your chronotype spirit animal can provide a better understanding of your body’s hard-wiring, improving more than just your sleep quality.
Written by Morgan Taylor
- Photo by David Clode on Unsplash