Our sleep patterns are so individual. Why is it that some of us are up with the sun, while others repeat-snooze their alarm? The answer lies in your chronotype – your body’s encoded behaviour or preference, toward a specific sleep schedule.
Determining your chronotype can help explain why certain work or lifestyle patterns aren’t working for you and it can help you map out a daily routine that makes the most of your energy. So what are chronotypes and how can we apply them to our everyday? We asked the experts to explain…
What are chronotypes?
“A chronotype is the natural inclination of your body to sleep at a certain time, so it is what time of day is best for you to be productive or sleep. For example, most people either associate themselves as either an early bird (an early riser) or a night owl (more productive at night),” explains Martin Seeley, Sleep Expert and CEO of Mattressnextday.
What are the four chronotypes?
“The four chronotypes are the wolf, the bear, the lion and the dolphin, each chronotype is based on each animal’s sleep patterns and habits, each one being very different to the other. The one that best suits you is your chronotype,” explains Martin.
“Lions, as you can imagine, tend to seize the day, leading the pack; they are typically early risers and will be extremely productive in the morning,” explains Dr. Usman Quresh, Cosmetic Physician, aesthetic doctor and founder of the Luxe Skin Clinic. “They tick all their tasks off the list before lunchtime, then they will slow down a little in the afternoon, potentially needing a cat nap. However, they will usually go to sleep at a reasonable hour, setting them up for an early morning,” he adds.
“Bears account for over half of the population; they love to sleep and will sleep a little longer than Lions. Optimum levels of productivity will happen between around 10am and 2pm. They will typically go to bed before midnight and rise around 7 am,” says Dr Qureshi.
“Wolfs (aka the night owl) will get up at the last possible minute. They stay up late and get up late, they will click the snooze button constantly and feel sluggish first thing in the morning. In the evening is when they will feel most productive and creative, which is why they will struggle with a regular work schedule,” Dr Qureshi explains.
“Dolphins struggle a lot with sleep and can sometimes even have insomnia. They struggle to get to sleep and when they do, they are light sleepers and easily disturbed by their environment. They tend to sleep between around 11pm and 6am when they can, but will often wake up in between,” says Dr Qureshi.
However, Dr Lindsay Browning, psychologist, neurologist and sleep expert at And So To Bed, points out that these four chronotypes are not actually “scientifically robust.” They may be more specific, but scientists think things may be even simpler. “A lark and an owl is more standard in the scientific community at present. Larks are considered to have an early chronotype and owls are considered to have a late chronotype,” she says.
How are chronotypes different from the circadian rhythm?
“Your circadian rhythm controls your sleep cycle and melatonin production,” says Dr Qureshi. “Unlike chronotypes, the circadian rhythm is mainly influenced by light exposure. It typically rises with the sun and goes down again in the evening when it gets dark. This means that more melatonin is produced later at night, which can help us sleep, and during the day, less is produced to help us stay awake,” he explains. “Chronotypes take into account when you are at your most productive, an example would be that you could wake up early at 6am, but you wouldn’t be at your most energetic until later in the day,” says Dr Browning.
What determines our chronotype?
“Chronotypes are different from person to person, this comes down to multiple factors. Genetics and age are common factors for why you might fit in a certain chronotype,” says Dr Browning.
How can we work out our chronotype?
“The best way to find your chronotype is to figure out what time you prefer to wake up and at what hour you feel good and have more energy. If it was a Sunday and you could freely get up at any time, what time would this be? Answering this will help you to pinpoint your chronotype. There are also online questionnaires that can help you determine which chronotype you are,” says Dr Qureshi.
Do our chronotypes change throughout our lives?
“A few factors can impact your chronotypes, such as ageing, pregnancy, and hormonal changes,” says Dr Qureshi. “The majority of children have an early chronotype which is why they often wake up and go to sleep early, this then begins to shift as they get older,” explains Dr Browning. “Think about how much sleep you needed as a teenager and how much you need now; there’s probably a clear difference,” says Dr Qureshi. “This is why you may be a night owl when you’re in your teens and early twenties and an early bird as you mature,” says Martin.
How can knowing your chronotype improve your lifestyle?
“Knowing your chronotype can help you to be more productive for the hours of the day that work for you. Once you know your type, you can then use this to make better decisions when it comes to scheduling sleep, exercise and work,” explains Martin. “A lark should schedule their most difficult tasks earlier in the morning, while an owl should do simple tasks at the start of the day when they are not as alert, and then schedule their difficult tasks and meetings later in the day,” says Dr Browning. Likewise, “if you are a lark, you may not want to allow yourself to go to bed too early, or else you will wake up much earlier than you would like. If you are a night owl, you may need to set a bedtime reminder so you don’t forget to go to bed and get enough sleep. Also, it is important that night owls do not allow themselves to sleep in too late in the morning or they may get into a pattern of struggling to fall asleep until too late and then not being able to wake up in the morning in time for work,” adds Dr Browning.
Aside from sleep, what else can our chronotypes impact?
“Our chronotypes can impact a number of other factors, such as appetite and exercise. It may be the reason you rarely have an appetite early in the morning or late at night. Exercise is the same. Depending on your chronotype, you may want to do more exercise in the morning or in the evening,” says Dr Browning. “If you usually work out in the morning but are a wolf/night owl chronotype, you’re better off switching your fitness schedule to the evenings, where you will have more energy,” explains Dr Qureshi. “You can attempt to boost your alertness by making sure you eat breakfast soon after waking (if you are an owl), or go for a late afternoon walk to help boost evening alertness (if you are a lark),” says Dr Browning.
For more from GLAMOUR’s Beauty Editor, Elle Turner, follow her on Instagram @elleturneruk