Have you ever had the weird feeling like you’re on a different schedule than everyone around you?
Maybe you’re always yawning when your friends are just getting ready to go to dinner. Or no matter how many hours of sleep you get, you never really feel awake at work before noon.
Say hello to your chronotype, or your body’s biological clock. When you work against your natural inner schedule, and you’ll sort of have the feeling like you’re permanently jet-lagged. But when you work with it, you can sleep better at night, feel more energized during the day, and unlock your hidden potential, says sleep expert Michael Breus, PhD, in his new book The Power of When.
We talked with Dr. Breus to learn more about what chronotypes are, how to uncover yours, and why working with it—instead of against it—is the real recipe for sleeping well and feeling great.
When you work with [your chronotype], you can sleep better at night, feel more energized during the day.
Marygrace: What is a chronotype, and how does it influence when you feel tired and when you feel awake?
Dr. Breus: Your chronotype is a classification of when your genetic propensity is to sleep. It’s determined by the PER3 gene. If you have a long PER3 gene, you’re an early riser, and you need at least 7 hours of sleep to feel good. If you have a shorter PER3 gene, you’re a late riser, and can get by on less sleep.
If your social schedule is conflicting with your chronotype’s sleep schedule, then the times when you feel alert or sleepy are going to be more often and intense. As an example, if you are a naturally a night owl (what I call a Wolf) you will NOT be a morning person.
MG: How does your chronotype play a role in your ability to achieve quality sleep?
Dr. Breus: Your chronotype is the natural way of showing you WHEN to sleep. If you sleep when your chronotype dictates it, then your sleep will be of higher quality. You’ll fall asleep faster, have fewer awakenings throughout the night, and maybe even sleep more deeply.
On the other hand, if you’re trying to sleep or wake up at times that go against your chronotype, you may not sleep as well, and you might feel worse when you’re awake.
Some signs that your chronotype might be out of sync with your schedule include feeling tired when you want to be alert, or frequently having to drink coffee or energy drinks. You might also catch a second wind when everyone else is slowing down, or you start to slow down when everyone else is speeding up.
MG: Are early birds and night owls the only chronotypes?
Dr. Breus: No. Since back in our caveman days, we’ve needed a range of chronotypes to ensure our survival. I call these chronotypes Dolphins, Lions, Bears, and Wolves.
- Dolphins are light sleepers, and tend to wake up at the slightest noise.
- Lions naturally wake up early. In prehistoric times, these people would take the morning shift of guarding the group.
- Bears have an energy cycle that rises and falls with the sun. They’re most productive in daylight.
- Wolves naturally stay up later and sleep later. They’re just starting to drift off when Lions are waking up.
MG: What are some of the other surprising ways your chronotype can affect your daily life?
Dr. Breus: Everyone has hormones that “run” on a 24-hour cycle. The cycle is tied to when levels of certain hormones go up, and when levels of certain hormones go down. The starting point for this cycle is when you wake up from sleeping.
Of course, your chronotype influences more than just sleep. In my book, I map out 50 different activities that fall under categories like health, sleep, food, work, money, fun, relationships, fitness, and creativity. Your chronotype plays a role in all of these things.
MG: What are some clues that can tell you what your chronotype is?
Dr. Breus: You can probably begin to tell by paying attention to when you naturally like to go to sleep and when you naturally like to wake up. But if you aren’t quite sure, take our chronotype test at thepowerofwhenquiz.com. It only takes a minute.
MG: If your schedule doesn’t mesh with your chronotype, can you change your chonotype? Or at least take steps to sleep better and feel more energized?
Dr. Breus: It’s hard to fool nature, but there are things you may be able to do. For instance, using light therapy during the day could help you feel more energized.