A night owl, morning bird, or permanently exhausted pigeon (as some like to characterise themselves), you have a sleep pattern that’s unique just to you. It determines when you feel the most active, and when you feel like it’s time to hit the hay. It dictates your activity levels, affects your appetite, and can even go so far as to impact your focus and creativity.
That sleep pattern is otherwise known as a chronotype.
Determining your chronotype and adjusting to it can help you improve cognitive and physical performance
, boost your energy levels, and enhance overall life quality.
So, let’s take a closer look at the different chronotype categories, and see how you can benefit from knowing the one you fall into.
Understanding What a Chronotype Is
To understand what a chronotype is, it’s primarily important to know what a circadian rhythm
is. Put plainly, it’s your internal clock that regulates the sleep/wake cycle. This rhythm is innate to virtually all living things – humans, animals, plants, even some microorganisms.
It follows a roughly 24-hour pattern and is mostly dependent on the light/dark cycle and temperature, although outside influences can impact it as well.
Chronotypes are the behavioural manifestation of the circadian rhythm. They regulate your activity levels throughout the day, acting almost as timetables. Your chronotype will dictate when you’ll feel the most productive when you’ll feel creative, when the optimal time for physical activity is, and more.
The Differences Between Chronotypes and Circadian Rhythms
If it seems to you that circadian rhythms and chronotypes are one and the same, you’re not entirely wrong. The difference is very subtle.
Since the circadian rhythm is so dependent on the light/dark cycles, virtually all human beings follow the same sleep/wake patterns. When the sun rises, your body starts producing higher levels of cortisol, which should naturally wake you up. On the other hand, when it sets, your melatonin production increases
, and you start feeling sleepy.
However, it’s evident that not everyone actually sleeps during the night and feels energised in the morning.
Due to artificial lighting, shift working, thriving nightlife, and social obligations, we can’t all stay true to our circadian rhythms. So, we need to adapt our sleep/wake cycles and develop chronotypes that will keep us functional.
While your chronotype can match up with your circadian rhythm, that’s not always the case.
The Four Variations of Chronotypes
Most people know only about two chronotypes, the early birds and the night owls (Yes, the names are a little funky). However, in reality, there are at least four chronotype categories. You might belong to different categories at some point in your life – after all, your chronotype is a behavioural manifestation and is therefore mostly determined by outside factors. However, you’ll rarely fluctuate between opposing categories.
Bear is by far the most common chronotype. It lines up with the circadian rhythm and follows the light/dark cycle.
Bear chronotypes will have a sleep/wake pattern that’s dependent on the sun. People in this category will find it easy to wake up in the morning and fall asleep in the evening, often experiencing a slight drop in their activity levels in the late afternoon.
If you belong to the bear category, your peak productivity will be in the morning hours, before noon.
Wolf, most closely resembling the “night owl”, is the exact opposite of a bear. If you belong to this category, you’ll have a difficult time waking up early in the morning, functioning at your best when you get up a little before noon.
You’ll be in your top shape until three/four in the afternoon and might experience an energy boost in the early evening.
Lions are what would traditionally be associated with the “early birds”. Those belonging to this category often find it easy to wake up before dawn. They’re productive in the early morning hours until noon, and you’ll often find them in bed by 9 pm.
Dolphins, not unlike the permanently exhausted pigeons, don’t truly have any specific sleep pattern. They get easily woken up by the slightest noise or the dimmest light. Any outside factor can easily disturb their sleep.
While people in this category find it hard to adjust to any particular schedule, the silver lining is that they have a huge performance window. You can feel in top shape anywhere between early morning and late evening.
How to Figure out Which One You Are
As mentioned, you can belong to different categories at different points in your life, but you’ll mostly have a fixed pattern. Most teens and young adults are either dolphins or wolves, while older individuals often find themselves matching up with bears and lions.
Your chronotype can vary according to the environment, outside influences, age, sex, genetics, and more.
If you’re unsure about your category, you can take one of many online quizzes designed to help you along.
How to Use This Information to Your Advantage
When you know your exact chronotype, you’ll find it easier to adjust your daily schedule to your needs. You’ll get better sleep, and can improve your physical and mental wellbeing
Determining your chronotype can even help you make a better career choice. If you’re a dolphin, perhaps freelancing would suit you best or a career that offers a more flexible work schedule. If you’re a bear, you’ll find it easy to adjust to the traditional 9 to 5.
Additionally, you can adjust your social life to suit your chronotype. Don’t try and force yourself into a social schedule that doesn’t suit you. Adapt it to your innate needs and ensure you get enough sleep.
While it’s usually best to stick to sleeping at night and waking in the morning, that doesn’t always come easily to most people. If you find yourself struggling to adapt to a schedule, try to monitor and control your light exposure, and ensure that your bedroom is primed for sleeping when you need it – curtains shut and noise blocked.