About the Author: Michael J. Breus, Ph.D., is a board-certified sleep specialist. His book, The Power of When: Discover Your Chronotype—and The Best Time to Eat Lunch, Ask for a Raise, Have Sex, Write a Novel, Take Your Meds, and More, explores how to use your body’s bio time to improve your health, happiness, productivity, and relationships.
Have you ever noticed that there are certain times when you prefer to do certain things—and that those preferences don’t necessarily align with others around you? You like to hit the ground running first thing in the morning while your partner constantly searches how to boost energy the moment they wake up. You eat your three square meals every day while your co-worker snacks, grazes, and wonders aloud how to survive shift work. You feel a boost of productivity and energy in the evening, while your roommate just wants to relax quietly and watch TV after dinner. You prefer to fall asleep around 8PM and get up early, while your best friend prefers to be up past midnight, waking up later than usual.
These preferences are expressions of your body’s powerful biological rhythms, which regulate an incredible range of activity and behavior. These preferences are generally grouped into three categories, which are known as chronotypes. They are the early birds, who prefer mornings, the hummingbirds, who have an in-between preference, and the night owls, who prefer evenings.
If you’re looking for better overall sleep, check out these sleep solutions validated by sleep experts. Or, get a better understanding of your sleep chronotype to determine what type of sleeper you are and what habits work best for you. Read through to learn about the four types of sleep chronotypes.
Your sleep chronotype is essentially your preference for going to bed and waking up a certain time during a 24-hour period.
Some people are more alert and productive during the morning, while others accomplish more at night and prefer to sleep in. Unlike your body’s circadian rhythm, your sleep chronotype doesn’t change based on external factors, such as your schedule and your exposure to light. Understanding your sleep chronotype and how to improve your sleep hygiene are two important aspects of improving sleep.
Long-held conventional wisdom says that there are only these three chronotypes: early birds, hummingbirds, and night owls. My clinical experience has led me to a different conclusion. I have come to recognize a fourth chronotype, one that’s typically overlooked and often misunderstood: the restless sleeper, or the insomniac.
I have created four archetypes (using fellow mammals, not birds) to represent these four distinct chronotypes. They are:
- Lion Chronotype: Morning types
- Bear Chronotype: Middle of the road types
- Wolf Chronotype: Nighttime types
- Dolphin Chronotype: Difficult sleepers
What Are the Types of Chronotypes?
In order to get the best sleep every night, it’s important to understand how your chronotype impacts your sleep. But first, you must understand the differences between different chronotypes to determine which chronotype you align with most.
The lion chronotype is what’s commonly known as the “early bird.” Lion chronotypes get up early in the morning and are most productive during these hours, but they’re also ready for bed around 8 or 9 pm.
The bear chronotype is the most common of the sleep chronotypes. Bear chronotypes wake up when the sun comes up and go to bed when it gets dark outside. Bears typically do an excellent job with schedules, including office hours and school.
Wolf chronotypes are the opposite of the lion, as they’re considered the “night owl.” If you’re a wolf chronotype, you stay up late into the night and wake up in the late morning or early afternoon. Wolves may have a difficult time adhering to a strict schedule, which can make things like working a traditional 9-5 job or going to school difficult.
Finally, there’s the dolphin chronotype. The dolphin is known as the erratic sleeper of the bunch, following no particular pattern. Dolphins are often light sleepers and feel like they need more sleep. Unfortunately, dolphins also have the most difficult time sticking to a sleep schedule and getting restorative sleep, and often include those who suffer from insomnia.
What Is My Chronotype?
Your sleep chronotype depends on your genetic makeup. More specifically, your sleep chronotype is determined by the length of your PER3 gene. Individuals with a longer PER3 gene tend to be lion chronotypes, while individuals with shorter PER3 genes are often wolves who need less sleep. Understanding your chronotype is an important part of figuring out your ideal sleep schedule and getting a good night’s sleep every night.
If you’re not sure which sleep chronotype fits you, you can learn more by tracking your sleep habits. Do you feel better when you wake up early or sleep in? When do you feel like you get the most work done? If you didn’t have to set any alarm, and could be free to go to bed at any time, what times would you choose? Answering these questions can help you figure out what kind of sleeper you are. To get a better understanding of your sleep chronotype, you can take the chronotype quiz that we’ll discuss in the next section.
To unlock the Power of When and use your body’s bio time to guide you to the best times for everything you do, you first must know your chronotype. To discover your individual chronotype, take The Power of When Quiz.
After you take the chronotype quiz, come back to learn about how your chronotype influences your health and the many ways you can take better care of yourself Ready? Here we go.
Understanding your Bio-Time for Optimal Sleep
Just going to bed, “when I’m tired’” may not be the best idea. Instead, consider going to bed based on your bio-time. There are two “rhythms” that will affect your ability to fall asleep, and I’ll go over each of them in detail, showing you how to calculate your ideal bedtime for your specific chronotype and how to deal with anxiety or insomnia as it affects your sleep.
The Calculated Rhythm
For this rhythm, you’ll use my Bedtime Calculator ™ to determine when you should go to bed. To get this bedtime calculation, I take the number of cycles based on typical chronotypes, and I subtract it from appropriate chronotype wake-up times.
If the average sleep cycle is 90 min long (for most chronotypes) let’s look at each chronotype for the number of average cycles. It appears to fall into two categories: Lions and Bears tend to get five cycles, while Wolves and Dolphins tend to get four cycles. We can now do our calculation:
- Lions: Usually 5 cycles x 90 min = 450 min + 20 min to fall asleep = 470 min
- Bears: Usually 5 cycles x 90 min = 450 min + 20 min to fall asleep = 470 min
- Wolves: Usually 4 cycles x 90 min = 360 min + 40 min to fall asleep = 400 min
- Dolphins: Usually 4 cycles x 90 min = 360 min + 40 min to fall asleep = 400 min
Bio-Time Bedtime for Lion and Bear Chronotypes:
If you’re a lion or bear sleep chronotype, here’s how you can figure out your ideal bio-time bedtime.
- Lions: Up at 6:00am – 470 min = 10:10 pm
- Bears: Up at 7:00am – 470 min = 11:10 pm
Lions and bears need to get to sleep at a reasonable hour to wake up feeling refreshed and tackle the day ahead.
Bio-Time Bedtime for Wolf and Dolphin Chronotypes:
Wolf and dolphin chronotypes often stay up later, with ideal bio-time bedtimes of about midnight.
- Wolves: Up at 7:00am – 400 min = 12:00 am
- Dolphins: Up at 6:30am – 400 min = 11:50 pm
Keep in mind that sleep quality can also affect how much sleep you need. If you’re sleeping in a noisy or uncomfortable environment, odds are you won’t get the recommended 7 straight hours of quality sleep your body needs.
The Anxiety/Insomnia Rhythm
This rhythm is when you get stuck in a cycle of worrying that you’re not getting enough sleep, which causes you to stay awake. This is most common in Dolphins, as they tend to be self-diagnosed as suffering from insomnia or just poor sleepers. If this is you and you find your mind racing at night, then you may want to explore a worry journal. This might include dedicating 30 minutes of your evening to writing out your worries, stresses, and problems you’ve been thinking about, as well as ways to solve or address them. Once everything is written down, close the journal and make a concerted effort to not think about these things until the following day. Sometimes, it just takes that release of the information to clear your mind and get you ready for rest.
Understanding these two important rhythms is critical to understanding what your ideal bedtime and wake time is. Keeping these times consistent is another important step to seeing the benefits of utilizing these sleep and wake times.
Conclusion: Finding Out Your Chronotype
Your chronotype tells you about your personal propensity to fall asleep and wake up at a certain time. By understanding your chronotype, whether you’re a lion, bear, wolf, or dolphin, you’ll get a better understanding of what sleeping habits are suitable for your overall sleep and health.
We live in a time of amazing technological and scientific innovation in the fields of health and medicine, with remarkable advances that are changing lives. Using bio-time to track sleep costs nothing, and is entirely within your hands. Bio-time may be a tool to become more aware about your chronotype and support your overall sleep-wake patterns.
What else can you do to help navigate the murky waters of sleep? Download the free SleepScore App for insights on how well you sleep, the quality and quantity of your sleep cycles, and sleep improvement progress with science-backed tips and insights. Personalized advice, goals, and challenges are available with an optional premium upgrade, but you can try SleepScore Premium for 7 days free (for a limited time).