What Is a Chronotype? How Knowing Yours Can Help Boost Productivity

Could your lack of productivity be because your natural sleep schedule is at odds with your daily routine? We're talking about chronotypes, which are four types of sleep behaviour that most people can be categorised under. The idea is that each individual person has their own natural sleep schedule that adheres to the sleep behaviours of each chronotype.

For years, we've generally categorised people into two distinct types—night owls and early birds. Recently, however, scientists have begun categorising sleep patterns into four different groups, or chronotypes. They are: Lion, Dolphin, Wolf and Bear. Each chronotype describes a different type of natural sleep schedule, and understanding how your specific chronotype works can go a long way in helping you to feel your best and boosting your overall productivity.

Below, we explore more about the four chronotypes to help you discover if you're a Bear, Wolf, Lion, or Dolphin.

What is a chronotype?

Do you wake up effortlessly before sunrise? Or do you hit snooze ten times before dragging yourself to the nearest caffeinated beverage? Despite what we may have been taught, all of this has a lot more to do with our chronotype than a propensity for laziness or early morning runs.

In short, chronotypes are a classification system that has been developed to help us understand different sleep and productivity schedules.

While we have long looked at circadian rhythms to learn more about the way that we sleep and how our internal body clocks work, circadian rhythms only focus on drowsiness and alertness, or sleep/wake cycles. Chronotypes, on the other hand, focus on how our circadian rhythms impact our everyday life, allowing us to use this information as a productivity tool.

Knowing your chronotype can help you to understand how your individual body clock works, allowing you to adjust your daily schedule and use your time productively based on when you will be at your most efficient for each task. Beyond impacting what time of day you are most focused, your chronotype is also linked to important body processes, such as your hormones, eating habits, cognitive function, and physical performance.

What are the four chronotypes?

The Bear chronotype

The majority of us (roughly 50 per cent of the population) will fall under the category of the Bear chronotype. Bear chronotypes usually have a sleep-wake cycle that follows the solar cycle, which is the rise and fall of the sun. Typically, Bear chronotypes will have no trouble waking in the mornings or falling asleep at night.

When Bear types suffer from a lack of sleep, they will generally feel lethargic throughout the day and need to go to sleep earlier than normal. Bears generally need around eight hours sleep a night, and if their schedule requires them to go without adequate sleep, they tend to try to "catch up" on missed sleep on weekends.

Bears are most productive in the middle of the day when their energy levels naturally rise, but will often suffer from an afternoon slump. For this reason, Bears are recommended to deal with any particularly important or mentally taxing tasks earlier in the day. Working out in the morning, taking regular breaks and getting exposure to sunshine will all help increase a Bear's energy levels.

The Wolf chronotype

If you struggle to wake up in the morning, you might just be a Wolf type. Most similar to the night owl, Wolf chronotypes make up around 15 per cent of the population and often do their best work in the late afternoon and into the evening, with their peak productivity starting around noon and rising again later in the day, around 6 pm.

Since Wolves generally don't feel like sleeping until midnight (or in some cases even later), it's best to avoid scheduling important meetings or projects in the early hours of the day, as it often takes a while for Wolf types to wake up.

As the Wolf's natural rhythm may not be well aligned with the traditional workweek, they need to break up their day to stay energised. Going for short walks can be beneficial for re-energising this chronotype, as well as deferring working on important tasks until later in the evening if possible.

The Lion chronotype

Naturally early risers, Lion types can easily wake before dawn and tend to feel most energised in the mornings before midday. While many of us might be jealous of the 15 per cent of the population who make up this naturally early-rising type, the afternoon slump tends to hit Lions hard, and their energy can be quickly depleted. By the evening Lions often feel drained and prefer to avoid late social engagements, needing to be in bed by 9 or 10 pm, where they have no trouble falling asleep.

Taking advantage of their energy peak and exercising early in the morning can be beneficial for this chronotype, along with regular snacks throughout the day to help boost energy levels. Lions should concentrate the majority of their important work early in the day, moving on to less mentally or physically taxing tasks in the afternoon and evening.

The Dolphin chronotype

If you're part of the 10 per cent of the population who make up the Dolphin chronotype, then it will come as no surprise that this type represents nature's insomniac. Dolphins generally have a hard time following any kind of sleep schedule and are often light sleepers who are easily disturbed.

While they wake early in the mornings, Dolphins regularly feel tired due to their lack of sleep. However, despite this underlying tiredness Dolphins do have a relatively large window of peak productivity, typically between 10 and 2 pm.

Dolphins may experience a drop in their energy levels in the afternoon, which can be naturally combated by taking short breaks or going for a walk at lunchtime. Luckily, a Dolphins energy levels will naturally rise again by the end of the day so they can still enjoy evening tasks and social activities, however, they should generally aim to be in bed by midnight to ensure adequate rest.

Participating in light exercise and taking a morning shower can help to wake up and increase the energy levels of the Dolphin chronotype.

Can you change your chronotype?

If you're a Dolphin who's desperate to be a Bear, the news isn't all positive. Unfortunately, our biology plays a large part in determining our individual chronotype.

While it is possible to subtly shift your chronotype to mitigate some of the traits you might not be so pleased with, there's no way to simply switch your chronotype all together.

That being said, chronotypes are more of a scale rather than an exact science, so you may find you share a few traits of more than one chronotype, giving you a bit of flexibility when it comes to adapting some of the more positive traits.

Avoiding or minimising caffeine intake can assist your body in syncing back up to its natural routine, along with eating high-protein breakfasts to support metabolic function, and early high-carb dinners to prepare your body for sleep. Creating (and ultimately sticking) to a set bedtime can also help you subtly adjust to a sleep schedule that's more aligned with your lifestyle. Just make sure you're still getting a sufficient amount of sleep each night to avoid any unwanted tiredness.

What are the benefits of knowing your chronotype?

The benefits of knowing your chronotype all comes down to insight, and it's what you do with this information that will ultimately decide how much you will benefit.

While most of us don't have the freedom to completely redesign our lives or work schedules to align with our chronotype, there are still many things we can do to take advantage of this information.

From setting a sleep schedule that will leave you feeling refreshed and awake in the morning, to knowing when to schedule specific tasks for optimal performance and maximum productivity, the key takeaway is to learn to work alongside your natural internal rhythms, rather than fighting against them.

If you're not an early riser, stop beating yourself up by setting morning focused goals that realistically go against your natural instincts, instead focus on your strengths and build yourself up by structuring your day more efficiently. Use your chronotype to structure your day to your advantage, rather than falling into the societal rhetoric that the early bird is the only one who gets the worm. You'll get your worm when the timing's right for you.

Enjoyed this? Here are 10 Simple Ways to Enhance the Quality of Your Sleep

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