You wake up at the crack of dawn and power through mornings at work. By the afternoon, though, you’re crashing. Compare that to your work wife, who struggles to keep her eyes open all morning but thrives post-lunch. This difference is largely attributed to your chronotype. So what is a chronotype exactly? Well, it’s really just a fancy scientific word that refers to your body’s natural preference to sleep at a certain time—and yes, it’s a real thing that can have a real impact on your day-to-day life. Here’s the deal on this biological phenomenon, plus how you can adjust your schedule based on your chronotype to maximize productivity.
What is a chronotype?
Chronobiology is a field of biology that studies the way living organisms adapt to solar- and lunar-related rhythms (basically, internal clocks). A chronotype, then, is a biological predisposition to be a morning person, an evening person or somewhere in between. Interestingly enough, your chronotype isn’t fixed: It can change at different points of your life—namely because it’s influenced by age, among other things (like geography, hormonal balances, and genetics). That said, you don’t have a lot of influence over your chronotype at any given time, so night owls who are experiencing early bird envy (or vice versa) should know they’re better off embracing their chronotype, rather than fighting against nature.
What are the types of chronotypes?
According to Michael J. Breus, PhD and sleep doctor to the stars (like Oprah), in his book The Power of When, there are four chronotypes: Lions, dolphins, wolves and bears. (Yep.) Lions wake up early with lots of energy, while wolves are most energetic in the evenings. Dolphins are light sleepers who are often diagnosed with insomnia, and bears need a full eight hours of sleep every night.
What does my chronotype mean?
First and foremost, understanding your chronotype can help you tailor your schedule to your natural circadian rhythm so you’re not swimming upstream when it comes to productivity (more on that later). In addition to the sleep and schedule-related implications, some research suggests that the different chronotypes also correlate to specific personality traits and can even have an impact on physical health.
For example, this 2007 study published in Personality and Individual Differences concluded that evening types score higher than early birds when it comes to creative thinking. Don’t get too excited though, night owls. According to a 2016 study published in The Journal of Biological and Medical Rhythm Research, eveningness can have some pretty negative effects on psychological and physical health—including an increased risk of everything from anger and depression to diabetes and metabolic syndrome.
On the other hand, morning people are more likely to be extraverted, agreeable, conscientious and generally healthier—or so says this 2017 study published in SAGE Open. (Yep, if you didn’t have early bird envy before, you probably do now.) Bottom line: Your chronotype can have an impact on your personality, sleep behavior and general health…and there’s not much you can do about it. You can, however, make small changes such that you and your chronotype are living in harmony.
How do I determine my chronotype?
While you’re probably pretty aware of whether you’re a morning or a night person, this quiz on Dr. Breus’s site can sort you into one of the four animal categories listed above. From there, you’ll get suggestions for how to tweak your routine to best serve your type. For example, Dr. Breus says that bears should wake up at 7 a.m., eat a high-protein breakfast soon after waking and hold off on caffeine until 90 minutes after getting out of bed. On the other hand, wolves don't hit their peak until later in the day, so they should spend the morning planning and gathering their thoughts and save the late afternoon for meetings.
There you have it, friends. Now go forth and find your chronotype—you know, ‘cause knowledge is power (sort of).