by Mar De Carlo
What are sleep chronotypes?
Sleep chronotypes refer to individual variations in the timing of one’s natural sleep-wake cycle. They describe when a person feels most alert and awake during the day and when they are most inclined to sleep. Chronotypes are often used to categorize people into different “types” based on their sleep patterns.
What are the 4 different types?
While there are variations in the way sleep chronotypes are categorized, the most commonly recognized classification typically includes three main chronotypes, not four. These three primary chronotypes are:
- Morning Chronotype (Morning Person or Lark): Individuals with a morning chronotype are naturally inclined to wake up early in the morning and feel most alert and energetic during the first half of the day. They tend to go to bed early in the evening and have difficulty staying up late at night.
- Evening Chronotype (Night Owl): People with an evening chronotype have a natural tendency to stay awake late at night and have difficulty waking up early in the morning. They typically feel more alert and energetic in the late afternoon and evening.
- Intermediate Chronotype (Neither Lark nor Owl): Some individuals do not strongly lean towards either extreme of the morning or evening chronotype spectrum. They have a more balanced preference for sleep and wake times and may adapt well to a variety of schedules.
While these three chronotypes are the most commonly discussed, some researchers and experts may use more specific or nuanced classifications based on various scales and assessments. However, the fundamental idea remains that most people fall into one of these three main categories, with intermediate chronotypes representing a middle ground between morning and evening preferences.
One example of a sleep expert who uses more specific classifications based on various scales and assessments is Dr. Michael Breus. He introduced four chronotypes. These chronotypes are dolphin, lion, bear, and wolf. According to Dr. Michael Breus:
- The Dolphin Chronotype
Of all the chronotypes, Dolphin is the hardest to create a set schedule around, since people with this chronotype tend to have trouble finding a sleep schedule that works for them. People with the Dolphin chronotype tend to be very intelligent, but also high-strung, sensitive sleepers who are often easily disturbed by noise or light. A Dolphin’s fragmented sleep patterns often overlap with symptoms of insomnia, which may or may not be indicative of the disorder itself.
But there is good news for all the Dolphins out there! People with this chronotype have an excellent window of productivity— they tend to get things done between 10AM and 2PM each day.
- The Lion Chronotype
“Early to bed, early to rise” is a good way to summarize this chronotype. People with the Lion chronotype tend to wake up early in the morning, and are most productive in the hours before noon. Lions are at their best when they can immediately get started with their day’s to-do list and get things done sooner rather than later.
After finishing their day and winding down in the early evening, Lions tend to fall asleep early, usually by 9 or 10 PM.
- The Bear Chronotype
This is the most common chronotype— about 55 percent of people have the Bear chronotype. People with this intermediate chronotype are generally most productive before noon, and begin feeling declines in energy in the late afternoon, and begin winding down for sleep in the early evening.
The sleep-wake cycle of Bears is aligned with the sun, so it’s more natural for them to rise and set with the sun as well.
- The Wolf Chronotype
Odds are, we know someone who is not a morning person. These people almost certainly have the Wolf chronotype.
People with the Wolf chronotype are most energetic waking up later in the day. They are most productive between noon and 4PM, and also get boosts of energy during the evening.
I’m actually a Wolf chronotype myself. Working according to my body’s unique schedule makes it much easier to get everything I need done during the day, especially if a day is especially busy!
However, recent studies suggest that the existing classification needs to be reconsidered and expanded. A peer reviewed large-scale study, conducted by a team of scientists improved the classification of human diurnal activity and suggested using 6 chronotypes instead of just ‘early birds’ and ‘night owls’. Two thousand participants, including the employees of the Institute of Medicine of RUDN University, were tested in the course of the research.
“Our team conducted a test and asked the participants to choose their diurnal activity types from six suggested options. Based on the results of the test, we studied the dynamics of sleep-wake patterns throughout the day,” said Dmitry S. Sveshnikov, MD, an Assistant Professor at the Department of Human Physiology, Institute of Medicine of RUDN University.
The team conducted a number of online tests with a total of 2,283 participants, and 95% of the respondents identified with one of the six chronotypes. Only 1/3 of them chose either a morning or an evening type (13% and 24%, respectively). The majority of the participants went for the other four types: 15% chose the daily type; 18%–daytime sleepy type, 9%–highly active type, and 16%–moderately active type.
How should you use your chronotype to improve your sleep quality? – How does it relate to circadian rhythm?
Using your chronotype to improve your sleep quality involves aligning your daily schedule, including sleep and wake times, with your natural circadian rhythm. Here are steps to help you optimize your sleep based on your chronotype and its relationship to your circadian rhythm:
Identify Your Chronotype: First, determine whether you are a morning person (lark), an evening person (night owl), or have an intermediate chronotype. You can do this by paying attention to when you naturally feel most alert and when you prefer to sleep.
Align Sleep Schedule: Once you’ve identified your chronotype, try to adjust your sleep schedule to match your natural tendencies. For example:
Morning Chronotype: Go to bed and wake up early to make the most of your peak alertness in the morning.
Evening Chronotype: Allow yourself to stay up later and wake up later to accommodate your natural rhythms.
Intermediate Chronotype: Aim for a balanced schedule that suits both morning and evening activities.
Light Exposure: Light is a key factor in regulating the circadian rhythm. In the morning, get exposure to natural sunlight, as this helps signal to your body that it’s time to wake up. In the evening, reduce exposure to artificial and blue light from screens to signal that it’s time to wind down.
Meal Timing: Try to align your meal times with your chronotype and daily schedule. For example, if you’re a morning person, have a hearty breakfast and lighter meals later in the day. Night owls may prefer a later breakfast and a heartier dinner.
Exercise: Incorporate physical activity into your routine, but be mindful of timing. Morning people may benefit from morning workouts, while night owls might find evening exercise more energizing.
Naps: If you need to recharge during the day, consider short power naps that don’t interfere with your nighttime sleep. Keep them under 20-30 minutes to avoid grogginess.
Consistent Schedule: Maintain a consistent sleep schedule, even on weekends, to reinforce your body’s circadian rhythm.
Bedtime Routine: Develop a relaxing bedtime routine that signals to your body that it’s time to sleep. This can include activities like reading, meditating, or taking a warm bath.
Limit Stimulants: Reduce or eliminate caffeine and alcohol intake close to bedtime, as these substances can disrupt sleep.
Monitor and Adjust: Pay attention to how these adjustments affect your sleep quality. It may take time for your body to adapt, so be patient and make gradual changes as needed.
Understanding your chronotype and its relationship to your circadian rhythm can help you make informed decisions about your daily routine. By aligning your activities with your natural body clock, you can improve your sleep quality, overall well-being, and daytime productivity. If you continue to have sleep issues despite these adjustments, consider consulting a healthcare professional or sleep specialist for further guidance.
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