You’re probably familiar with the terms “morning lark” and “night owl.” Morning larks, or those who are early to bed and early to rise, are people who feel most active in the morning and feel naturally sleepy in the evening. Night owls, on the other hand, feel most active at night and tend to fall asleep well past midnight. The rest of us are neither morning larks nor night owls, instead falling somewhere in the middle.
But there’s a lot more to these labels than you might think. As it turns out, there are multiple distinct “chronotypes” that define our body’s natural inclination to sleep and wake at certain times, and some sleep experts believe that knowing yours could be the key to a happier, healthier life.
Whether you’re up at the crack of dawn or you prefer to snooze under your weighted blanket until mid-morning, knowing your chronotype can be a gamechanger for your sleep. In this guide, we’ll explain what chronotypes are and how to find your chronotype so you can get the best sleep of your life.Shop Our Weighted Blankets
What Are Chronotypes?
So, what is a chronotype, exactly? Before you can understand chronotypes, you first need to understand circadian rhythms.
Inside each of our brains is a master circadian clock that coordinates the rest of our biological clocks, keeping them all in sync. These biological clocks follow a roughly 24-hour cycle, called a circadian rhythm. Circadian rhythms affect several bodily processes, including your sleep patterns, hormones, body temperature and eating habits.
While everyone’s circadian rhythms run on a 24-hour schedule, the individual timing of these cycles varies from person to person. Enter chronotypes. Your chronotype is simply a natural tendency for your body and brain to function at certain times of the day.
Scientists usually separate people into two chronotypes: evening-types and morning-types, known colloquially as “early birds” and “night owls.” But in reality, there is a full spectrum of chronotypes, and most people fall somewhere in between these two extremes.
What Determines My Chronotype?
Genetics, mostly. In fact, scientists have even managed to pinpoint the exact gene that they believe predetermines your chronotype: the PER3 gene.
So, does this mean your chronotype is set in stone? Well, not exactly. Research shows that chronotypes often change as we get older. Teenagers, for example, are more likely to be evening-types who are late to bed and late to rise. (Interestingly, this revelation has led many school districts to consider starting school later in the day to help teens make the most of their natural sleep/wake cycle.) Seniors, on the other hand, are more likely to be morning-types who are early to bed and early to rise.
Benefits of Knowing Your Chronotype
If you want to be happier, healthier and more successful, it’s well worth your time to identify your chronotype. Knowing your chronotype can provide key insight into the best times to do certain activities, which can help set you up for success in different areas of your life.
Benefits of knowing your chronotype include:
- Improving your sleep. People who are forced to follow a daily schedule that doesn’t match their chronotype may experience something called social jetlag, which can make them feel permanently tired. By knowing your body’s preferred time to sleep, you can take steps to improve your sleep and mitigate the effects of social jetlag.
- Boosting your productivity. Anticipating a busy day at the office? Studies show that peak cognitive performance can vary based on our chronotypes. Identifying your chronotype can give you a better idea of when your brain is operating at peak performance so you can schedule your most challenging tasks around these times.
- Supporting a healthier lifestyle. A growing body of research suggests that chronotypes can influence your health. For instance, research shows that night owls may have a higher risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes compared to early birds because they tend to consume more unhealthy foods. If you’re a night owl, you can develop a nutrition plan that supports your long-term health.
How to Find Your Chronotype
Figuring out your chronotype could be as easy as asking yourself what your sleeping habits might look like on your days off. If you had no obligations or requirements, how late would you prefer to sleep in? How late would you stay up in the evening?
Most people already know whether they’re an early bird or a night owl. However, if you don’t know for sure, or you simply want a little more insight into your chronotype, there are plenty of quizzes and questionnaires that can help you better understand your natural sleep patterns. One test that is commonly used by researchers is the Morning Evening Questionnaire (MEQ). The Munich ChronoType Questionnaire (MCTQ) is also readily available online for anyone who wishes to take it.
Dr. Michael Breus, a clinical psychologist and sleep expert, developed one of the most popular online quizzes for determining chronotypes. In his Power of When Quiz, Dr. Breus breaks down chronotypes into four categories: lions, bears, wolves and dolphins.
Let’s take a closer look at these four distinct chronotypes.
1. The Lion Chronotype
If you’re a lion chronotype, you’re in famous company: Maya Angelou, Benjamin Franklin and Apple CEO Tim Cook are all said to have this early-to-bed, early-to-rise chronotype. Lions typically wind down in the evening and go to bed around 9 p.m. so they can be up and at ’em in the morning.
Extroverted, friendly, natural-born leaders, lions are usually the envy of everyone else. People with this chronotype tend to make plans and are good at sticking to them. They’re also more likely to prioritize their health and fitness since they need to be on their A game in order to reach their goals.
Lion chronotype schedule:
- Wake-up time: 6 a.m.
- Peak productivity: 8 a.m.-12 p.m.
- Wind down and relax: 4-9 p.m.
- Go to bed: 9-10 p.m.
2. The Bear Chronotype
The bear chronotype is the most common, accounting for approximately 55 percent of the population. People with this chronotype typically have a sleep/wake that follows the sun. This gives bears a major advantage in life because society is designed in a way that caters to their chronotype.
In addition to their healthy sleep drive, bears are known for getting work done in a timely manner. They’re also simply fun to be around. Bears are usually extroverted, easy to talk to and optimistic about the future.
According to Dr. Breus, bears can be further broken down into two categories: early bears and late bears. Early bears identify more with the lion chronotype, while late bears identify more with the wolf chronotype.
Bear chronotype schedule:
- Wake-up time: 7 a.m.
- Peak productivity: 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
- Wind down and relax: 4-10 p.m.
- Go to bed: 11 p.m.
3. The Wolf Chronotype
If you feel like you do some of your best work at night, you may be a wolf chronotype. Essentially the equivalent of a night owl, wolf chronotypes prefer to stay up late and love to sleep in when given the opportunity. People with this chronotype usually feel energetic after they wake up and get another energy boost in the evening.
Wolf chronotypes are often described as being creative, introspective and introverted. If you’re a wolf chronotype, you may be more prone to risk-taking and pleasure-seeking behavior.
Wolf chronotype schedule:
- Wake-up time: 8-9 a.m.
- Peak productivity: 12-1 p.m. and 6-9 p.m.
- Wind down and relax: 9-11 p.m.
- Go to bed: 12 a.m.
4. The Dolphin Chronotype
If you have an irregular sleep schedule, you may be a dolphin. This chronotype often struggles to get enough sleep each night due to an oversensitivity to light, sound and other disturbing factors. Consequently, many dolphin chronotypes are self-diagnosed insomniacs.
Dolphins are often described as being highly intelligent, well-read and fun to be around. They can also be obsessive-compulsive worriers who are avoidant to taking risks. According to Dr. Breus, dolphin chronotypes make up only 10 percent of the population.
- Wake-up time: 6:30-7 a.m.
- Peak productivity: 3-9 p.m.
- Wind down and relax: 4 p.m.-10 p.m.
- Go to bed: 11 p.m.-12 a.m.
How to Make the Most of Your Chronotype
Not happy with your chronotype? While you might not be able to change what’s hardwired into your DNA, you can take steps to improve your situation. Here are a few tips to help you make the most of your chronotype:
1. Use lighting to your advantage.
Light plays an important role in regulating our circadian rhythms. If you struggle to fall asleep at night, consider wearing a weighted sleep mask to bed. In addition to blocking out artificial light, this soothing sleep mask uses the power of deep touch pressure therapy to lull you to sleep. It’s great for occasional naps, too (hint, hint).
Exposing yourself to bright light first thing in the morning is also important, especially if you’re a dolphin or a wolf. Research suggests that exposure to bright light in the morning can support a good night’s sleep.
2. Listen to white noise.
Whether you live on a busy street, share a bed with a noisy partner or are simply tired of being woken up by every little noise during the night, a white noise machine is an effective way for dolphins and other light sleepers to get more shut-eye. White noise machines play constant, soothing sounds — like the sound of crashing waves or raindrops — to help listeners fall and stay asleep. If you don’t want to buy a white noise machine, consider downloading a white noise app to your smartphone.
3. Tap into your peak performance times.
Golden hours, peak performance times, work prime times — whatever you want to call them, we all have certain times of the day when we’re feeling extra-focused and productive. During this timeframe, everything seems easier to us. Why not take advantage? Determine when you’re most productive based on your chronotype and schedule your most important tasks within that timeframe.
For example, instead of a business dinner, a lion can propose a business lunch with a client so they can be better positioned to bring their A game. A wolf might reserve their more creative tasks for the later half of the day when they know their creative juices will be flowing.
4. Try a weighted blanket.
Everyone can benefit from using a Gravity weighted blanket, regardless of their chronotype. That said, sleeping with a weighted blanket is particularly beneficial for dolphins since they tend to be chronic worriers, ruminators and self-diagnosed insomniacs.
One of the ways they can benefit dolphins is by grounding them out of their 2 a.m. anxiety loops. The soothing pressure of the weighted blanket helps calm your body and mind, helping you shut off your busy brain so you can finally fall asleep.
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Tailor your job to fit your sleep needs.
People with night owl tendencies have a greater risk for a slew of diseases, including psychiatric disorders, hypertension, obesity and type 2 diabetes. But this isn’t because night owls are naturally unhealthy. It’s because night owls are often forced to work jobs that aren’t aligned with their biological clock.
To get the sleep you need, look for a job that works with your biology rather than against it. Night owls, for example, often thrive in careers with night shifts (think nurses, flight attendants and security guards).
If finding a new job isn’t feasible, consider asking your boss for flexible work hours or a later start time. Try to frame the conversation in a way that emphasizes the benefit it will have on your overall productivity.
Unlocking the Secret to Better Sleep
At the end of the day, each chronotype has its unique advantages and disadvantages. Evening-types tend to be more creative and original, while morning-types have the obvious benefit of living in a world that is tailored to their sleep needs. But whether you’re a wolf, a bear, a lion or a dolphin, one thing is clear: getting a good night’s rest is vital.
Ready to get the best sleep of your life? Gravity Blankets is here to help. Check out our entire selection of high-quality weighted blankets and start getting the sleep you crave.