Sleeping patterns, behaviors, and characteristics all vary from person to person based on age, activity level and sleeping conditions. These behaviors are classified with “chronotypes,” or the specific circadian rhythms that define individual levels of alertness and activity throughout the day.
“Chrono,” meaning “relates to time,” and “type,” refers to one of four ways that chronotypes are classified: the lion, the dolphin, the wolf, and the bar. Each of these animals corresponds with a certain type of person and their activity levels. Are you a morning type person or the evening type? Do you need that afternoon nap, or do you power through the day and make it an early night? Are you focused and driven in the early morning, or do you prefer to snooze in your cozy bedding until the afternoon? Knowing your chronotype can not only boost your productivity, but it can also help you better understand your body’s needs.
Instead of fighting your body’s natural rhythm with a sleep schedule that doesn’t work, it’s best to work with your chronotype. Understanding the advantages and disadvantages of a personal sleep chronotype starts with knowing yours.
A chronotype is a classification system used to help understand sleep and productivity schedules, including when you’re most active and alert throughout the day. While there is still some research to be done on what exactly determines your chronotype, experts including sleep coach Alex Savy agree that they are genetically preconditioned, “courtesy of the PER3 gene that defines one’s circadian patterns.”
In addition to your PER3 gene, your chronotype is measured through your body’s biological clock. This means that being a night owl or early riser is not only a personal preference, but is also based on your body’s natural activity, alertness, and rest rhythms.
People typically fall into one of four chronotype categories: the bear, the wolf, the lion, and the dolphin. Each chronotype is loosely based on the relative animal’s sleep patterns and habits, so let’s dive in to discover which chronotype you most closely align with.
Much like its namesake, the bear chronotype follows the solar cycle, and usually doesn’t have much trouble waking up in the morning or sleeping through the night. This chronotype is most productive in the morning, and will typically struggle with an afternoon slump after lunch, generally around 2–4 p.m. Eight hours of sleep is typical for a bear, and normal sleep hours are usually between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m.
The ideal bear schedule looks like:
Fifty-five percent of the population falls into this category. If bear types fail to get enough sleep at night, they may feel lethargic throughout the day and go to bed earlier than normal. Typically, bear chronotypes are extroverts and can maintain energy throughout conversations.
If you’re a bear, make sure you get enough sleep to sustain your energy levels — unlike your namesake, you don’t get a months-long nap each winter.
Just like their real life counterparts, wolf chronotypes are most productive at night. The wolf needs more time to hit snooze in the morning to get all the energy they need to sustain their two bursts of creative energy: the first around noon, and the second coming around 6 p.m. when most others have finished their work for the day.
Similar to what is considered a “night owl,” this evening chronotype doesn’t get going until the sun sets, and they may have difficulty waking up naturally when it comes back up. Wolves are often happy to go to bed at midnight, or well past it, to help fuel their creativity.
The best schedule for a wolf is:
Only about 15 percent of the population identify as wolves. This type of person is usually more reserved and introverted.
The early lion gets the worm. This chronotype feels most alive in the morning with energy levels peaking before noon, and is typically able to complete massive amounts of work before lunch. Waking up early is a breeze for lions and everything tends to run smoothly until midday. Just as fast as energy for a lion is gained, it’s lost.
The afternoon slump hits this group hard, often needing a power nap to recharge, and by the evening they feel drained. It’s important for lions to have an evening wind-down routine to help them decompress from the day, before calling it an early night around 10 p.m. Lions generally need around eight hours of sleep per night to sustain their high energy levels in the early morning.
The ideal daily schedule for a lion looks like:
Fifteen percent of the population considers themselves lions. Usually seen exercising early and the first in the office, they’re early risers and have a lot of energy during their prime hours. Almost always type-A people, lion chronotypes typically harness charisma and are usually seen as leaders by their peers.
The insomniac of the water, actual dolphins sleep with half of their brain on at a time — this helps them stay alert and aware of predators. Dolphins have a hard time waking up in the morning, but once they get going, their productivity reaches its peak around mid-morning.
Similar to their nocturnal counterpart, there is always underlying tiredness for dolphins due to their anxious sleeping behaviors — including having a hard time falling asleep each night and rarely getting a full night of sleep. A power nap to boost productivity may be beneficial for a dolphin chronotype to combat this ongoing daily tiredness. Dolphin chronotypes will usually fall asleep because their body needs to, not because they willingly give in to sleep. Because of their sporadic sleeping habits, dolphins can’t sleep easily and often have poor sleep quality. It’s recommended they sleep from about midnight to 6 a.m.
If you identify with the characteristics of a dolphin, your ideal schedule looks like:
If you identify with the characteristics of a dolphin, your ideal schedule looks like:
Only 10 percent of the population is considered dolphins. Generally highly intelligent, dolphin types will ruminate about the day’s successes and failures while in bed. This chronotype can be seen as distant and uninterested during social interactions.
After reviewing the characteristics and attributes of each chronotype, you may feel like you have more questions than answers — and that’s okay! It’s normal to identify with characteristics of more than one chronotype versus fitting neatly into one. Perhaps you have the late creative surges of a wolf, the late-night ruminations of a dolphin, and the mid-morning focus of a bear. In truth, chronotypes are a spectrum with some people being in between two types. Researchers have identified in-between people or those with characteristics of two types as intermediates or as “Hummingbirds.” If you want to learn more about how to find your chronotype, we’ve gathered some resources for you.
There are many resources and quizzes available to learn exactly which chronotype you are, with the most popular being “The Power of When”. This chronotype quiz is based off the foundings psychologist and board-certified clinical sleep specialist Michael Breus, Ph.D., makes in 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.
In his book, Dr. Breus shares not only how to find your chronotype, but how to use it to your advantage: when you should schedule meetings, take lunch, aim to be in bed, and more. If you want to know how your chronotype can help you be more productive both while sleeping and awake, we’ve outlined some tips below.
Every chronotype has its strengths and weaknesses. Knowing when you’re going to be most productive will not only help make you more efficient, but it will also help you complete more tasks. It’s also important to know when the best time is for you to take a break and recharge.
Below, we cover when each type should load their schedules up for maximum productivity, including when it’s best for you to engage in “deep work” vs. when you should aim to cross off some of your easier to-dos.
Bears work best during the morning and start to lose steam after lunch. Think of their productivity level like a bell curve—starting low and getting stronger throughout the day, with a steep decline. If you’re a bear, it’s advised to try and ease into the day and ease out of it.
The best time to schedule important meetings for a bear is mid-morning, and anything after lunch should include easier tasks that require less intense thought and creativity.
If you’re a wolf, try to avoid scheduling early high-stakes pitches, creative briefs, and other important meetings. It takes a while for this group to wake up and get going, with a peak in the later part of the day. Late afternoon and into the night is when the best work is done by wolves.
Seeing as this isn’t always possible during the work week, breaking up the day is important for a wolf — such as going for a quick walk in between tasks to recharge. If possible, consider finishing your most demanding tasks after dinner where you can be at a creative peak.
Lions are the morning chronotype. Able to easily sleep through the night and wake up bright and early, lions have the energy and time to get everything important out of the way first thing in the morning. If you fall into this group, it’s essential to get all pressing tasks done in the early hours and avoid big meetings in the late afternoon, if at all possible.When a lion is on, they’re on — but this energy fades quickly in the evening. To help keep energy flowing in the later parts of the day, full nights of sleep should be a priority for those in this group, along with a dedicated bedtime routine each night to signal to your body that it’s time for bed.
The best thing dolphins can do is learn to conquer one thing at a time. Easing into the day with simple tasks will warm up the brain for those with this chronotype, and help it get ready for more intense tasks. A dolphin type’s brain is always on, so it can be hard to nail down when the most effective time to work is.
For a dolphin, creative sparks can hit randomly throughout the day and it’s important to take advantage of them. When it’s time for bed, this type should unwind and avoid distractions that could keep them from getting shut-eye, considering it’s generally difficult for this group to sleep. That said, dolphins can surely benefit from our How to Sleep Faster guide for better sleep.
Biology plays a significant role in determining your chronotype. Chemicals in the brain influence your circadian rhythm, i.e., your body’s internal clock, and heavily influence your chronotype. Because of these intertwined biological phenomena, it’s hard to fully switch chronotypes. While circadian rhythm can be “trained” through a strict sleep-and-wake schedule, the person’s underlying chronotype is more permanent.1 For example, a typical night owl or wolf chronotype may be able to wake up and keep a 7:00 AM work schedule, but they won’t be productive until later in the day. Wolf chronotypes traditionally have trouble keeping a regular shift work schedule.
That being said, there are steps you can take to slightly shift a chronotype and minimize the drawbacks that come with each type. First, eating at appropriate times can curb unwanted sleepiness. A high-protein breakfast shortly after waking will get bodily cycles running and help metabolic functions work smoothly. Early, carb-loaded dinners will prepare the body for sleep by helping digestive functions happen before bed — not when you’re trying to sleep.
In addition, staying away from caffeine can help sync the body back up to a normal routine. While an afternoon coffee may provide a quick pick-me-up, these late caffeine indulgences can hurt a night’s sleep and even evolve into a harmful cycle.
Lastly, going to bed and sticking to a set bedtime can truly help. While some chronotypes stay up later, slowly easing into a new, earlier bedtime can eventually help them feel more awake in the morning. The same is true if someone wishes to stay up later.
It’s important to note the difference between chronotypes and circadian rhythms when talking about sleep patterns. While similar, both of these play a unique role in sleep and can be looked at to understand your habits and boost productivity.
Circadian rhythms pertain to drowsiness and alertness levels. Controlled by the brain’s hypothalamus and also considered “sleep/wake cycles,” these internal clocks control when you want to sleep and when you feel like waking up. In most adults, circadian rhythms are lowest between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. — but this can change based on whether you’re a night owl or an early bird.
Chronotypes, on the other hand, are a guide to how circadian rhythms play a role in everyday life. They are typically seen as a productivity tool and can help you understand how sleep schedules affect your life, including your alertness, activity levels, and when it’s best for you to complete certain tasks.
Studies surrounding chronotypes started in the 1970s, and have since been expanded and standardized to the four animal chronotypes that exist today. These animals help group and generalize circadian rhythms found in nature.
While chronotypes aren’t an exact sleep science, they’re an interesting way to learn more about yourself. Generally, people will fall into one of the four categories, but it’s common to have subtle traits of more than one.
Circadian rhythms and chronotypes are relatively constant, but day-to-day energy has too many variables to define exactly when tasks should be completed. Hopefully you can use this guide to better understand your work tendencies and become more efficient in the process. Regardless of your type, it’s important to feel comfortable in bed and get a good night’s rest.
Sources: Sleep Foundation. Chronotypes. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/chronotypes