Can Understanding Your Chronotype Help You Do Everything Better?

Learn what your chronotype is and how to schedule activities for optimal performance

Overworked and tired woman

Did you ever wonder why the 8-5:00 workday never seems to work for you? No matter how much sleep you get, that 8:00 am start time finds you bleary-eyed and groggy. Then, just when you start cranking, your colleagues have abandoned you for lunch. Sound familiar?

The problem may not be how long you sleep and how long you work but when you sleep and when you work. That’s the argument author, 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. 

According to Breus, we all fall into one of four different categories of “chronotype.” Your chronotype is your genetically prescribed biological rhythm that regulates your sleep and wake times and other daily functions that rely on the ebb and flow of hormones, enzymes, and circulatory activity for their timing. Your chronotype determines the optimal times for you to work, be creative, socialize, eat, drink – pretty much every activity that fills your day.

Working against your chronotype can feel like slogging through quicksand all day and all night long. But understanding your bio-rhythm and working with it can make you sleep better, work more efficiently, have more energy, and ultimately achieve more success in just about everything you do.

So, which chronotype are you? 

The Power of When
The Power of When

Find Your Chronotype

  • Bears make up about 50-55% of the population. As the largest group, their bio-rhythm dictates the modern societal schedule, and their chronobiology follows the movement of the sun. Bears wake up easily near sunrise, ready to start the day and begin to power-down as the sun sets.
  • Lions make up about 15-20% of the population. They tend to be early morning people, optimistic and cheery in the morning – you know, the kind of people that make the rest of us look bad in the morning. They make fitness and health a priority. Lions like to get things done by making a plan and sticking to it. They often land leadership positions because they are the go-getters who motivate others. They are ready for bed early at night because of their high activity early in the day.
  • Wolves make up about 15 – 20% of the population. They are the creative visionaries who think outside the box and tend to be risk-takers. They get a lot of things done but not necessarily according to a plan. If they do make a plan, they rarely stick to it. They are socially introverted but are loyal friends. They wake a little later than bears and lions and take much longer to “get going” in the morning. Their energy level lasts well into the evening, so they tend to prefer later bedtimes.
  • Dolphins make up 10 % of the population and often feel tired when the rest of the world is humming along. That’s because their cortisol levels (the “fight or flight hormone”), blood pressure, and body temperature all work against sleeping at the “normal” times for most people. In spite of their near constant fatigue, they are highly intelligent accomplished people. They can be obsessive-compulsive and strive for perfection which can actually decrease their productivity. Dolphins are light, erratic sleepers but not by choice. They crave longer periods of sleep and often think of themselves as insomniacs. They can be fast talking, well read, and fun to be around.

Recognize yourself? Confirm your analysis by taking Dr. Breus’s quiz to find out which chronotype best describes you. Once you know your chronotype, you can determine the best times to do, well, everything including sleep for optimal performance.

Take Quiz

Let’s look at some of Dr. Breus’s recommendations.

The best times to do activities by chronotype

Best times to… Go to bed Drink caffeine Brainstorm Make a presentation Make a major decision
Bear 11:10pm (7:00am wake time) 9:30 –11:30am

AND

1:30 – 3:30pm

6 – 8 am

AND

9 – 11pm

4 – 4:30pm 3 – 11pm
Lion 10:10pm (6:00am wake time) 8 – 10am

AND

2 – 4 pm

4 – 6am

AND

8 – 10pm

10 – 10:30am 6 – 11am
Wolf 12:00am (7:00am wake time) 12pm – 2pm

(no caffeine after 2pm)

7 – 9am

AND

10pm –1am

5 – 5:30pm 5pm – 12am
Dolphin 11:50pm (6:30am wake time) 8:30 – 10am

AND

1– 2pm

5 – 8am

AND

2 – 4pm

4 – 4:30pm 4 – 11pm

Change your chronotype or change your schedule?

Unless you’re a bear, you may struggle to meet the demands of a normal workday, at least some of the time. Early start times, meetings scheduled when you’re in an energy slump, and close of business when you’re just hitting your stride – all can wreak havoc on your productivity and performance, not to mention your sense of well-being. But you don’t have to settle for less than optimal performance.

It is possible to nudge your bio-rhythms to more closely coordinate with your work schedule. Things like strategically-timed light therapy and caffeine fixes (see chart above) can help you adjust your genetically predisposed chronotype. But, Dr. Breus cautions that in many cases, simply adjusting your daily schedule and planning tasks for times that are optimal for your chronotype whenever possible may yield better results.

It is possible to nudge your bio-rhythms to more closely coordinate with your work schedule.

See Dr. Breus’s discussion of chronotypes and learn why knowing when to do something is as important as knowing how to do something.

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Have you tried to change your bio-rhythm or your daily schedule to improve your sleep or work performance? We’d love to hear your story. Please share in the comments section below.