While there’s a standard circadian rhythm for every animal that’s awake during the day and asleep at night, that standard isn’t necessarily specific. Just like fingerprints and faces, everyone’s circadian rhythm beats to a slightly different drum, our wake-sleep schedules don’t all exactly match.
The uniqueness of your circadian rhythm is referred to as your chronotype. This can lead to problems in physical health and mental wellbeing, especially if you’re fighting it. Not everyone’s a morning person, and trying to be one if you’re actually a night owl isn’t fun.
So let’s talk about chronotypes – what they are, the 4 different types, and why they’re important to know and understand:
The Daily Impact of Chronotypes
No; this isn’t some new pseudo-scientific-zodiac-horoscope thing. Chronotypes affect every aspect of your daily life in real time. If you’re ignoring or fighting your chronotype, you’re likely not having a tonne of fun in life. Signs this is the case include:
Getting the recommended amount of sleep but still feeling tired all day.
Not being able to focus while you’re trying to get things done at certain times of day.
Low libido at inconvenient times.
Cold sweats and hot flashes from core body temperature fluctuation.
Undue hunger and/or lack of appetite at meal times.
Poor quality sleep.
Working against your chronotype can contribute to all these things, as people have different windows that are best for waking up, being productive, and going to sleep. Not everyone is a morning person, and that’s legitimate. Just the same, not everyone is a night owl. Also legitimate. So let’s start listening to our bodies and see what they tell us about our chronotype:
Okay, so these chronotypes do have low-key zodiac vibes, because for some reason they’re named after animals. Does a dolphin really have a chronotype? TBD.
If you’re not one of these morning types, don’t worry; only 30% of the population fall under these two. Chronotypes of people who really are morning people are:
Lions are the proverbial early-bird-gets-the-worm people. They wake early and easily, and they’re super-productive in the mornings. They’re very susceptible to the afternoon slump, and they like to go to sleep pretty early to be ready to go for the next day.
A typical lion schedule is:
6-7 am: wakeup
7-8 am: workout
8 am – 12 pm: focused productivity
12-4 pm: less productive, lull in energy
4-10 pm: unwind, relax
10 pm: bedtime
Dolphins are sort of non-consensual morning people who also stay up late. They’re usually the worst and most anxious sleepers of the 4 chronotypes. Dragging mornings and manically-productive afternoons are typical of these people.
A typical dolphin schedule is:
630 – 730 am: wakeup
730-11 am: less productive, low energy
11 am – 12 pm: workout
12-130 pm: power nap
130-6 pm: focused productivity
6 pm – 12 am: unwind, relax
12 am: bedtime
And others of us are night owls. Except not owls. Why are one of these chronotypes not called The Owl? Seems like a missed opportunity…
Well over half the population falls under a bear chronotype. Bears tend to operate with the sun cycle, and adapt more easily than others to seasonal changes. They sleep the most of the four chronotypes.
A typical bear schedule is:
7 – 8 am: wakeup
8 – 9 am: workout
9 am – 2 pm: focused productivity
2 – 5 pm: less productive, lighter tasks
5 – 10 pm: unwind, relax
10 – 11 pm: bedtime
This one’s the chronotype that should have been named The Owl, but whatever. Much like actual wolves, these people thrive at night, but definitely need their coffee before you speak to them in the mornings. Late to bed and late to rise, about 15% of the population is a wolf chronotype.
A typical wolf schedule is:
730 – 830 am: wakeup
830 – 11 am: less productive, lighter tasks
11 am – 1 pm: creative work
1 – 2 pm: workout
2 – 330 pm: power nap
330 – 9 pm: focused productivity
9 pm – 1 am: unwind, relax
1 am: bedtime
Chronotypes Differ on More than Sleep Schedule
Alright, this is getting a little horoscope-y. But at the same time, there’s some actual scientific evidence for health and personality differences between different chronotypes.
Evening chronotypes tend to have more critical/creative thinking abilities.
Chronotype is directly- and inter-related to the ability to live a physically active and healthy lifestyle.
There is a positive correlation between evening chronotypes and intelligence.
There are 22 genetic variants associated with chronotypes, most of which occur near genes for photoreception and circadian rhythm.
The tendency to nap during the day seems to be a result of modern humans interbreeding with archaic humans like the Neanderthals.
The daily minimum body temperature occurs at 4am for morning chronotypes and 6am for evening types.
Pretty interesting, huh? It also appears as though we can’t change our chronotypes. At the same time, it also appears as though our chronotypes change with age. Everything’s a matter of growth!
Applying Your New Chronotype Knowledge to Your Life
We all want to be the healthiest we can be, and sleep is a huge part of that. There’s a lot to be said for listening to your body, and there’s nothing wrong with your daily life not fitting into an exact formula. Figure out your sleep-spirit animal and cater to it; you’ll notice positive changes along the way.
Tweak meal times; save your cup of coffee for the part of your day you’re a little less pepped for; adjust your sleep and wake schedule; save your most involved/difficult daily tasks for your focus window. Meal planning and setting up workout clothes every night for the next day can make these changes really easy. And so can a supportive mattress that offers a custom sleep experience.