The term “chronotype” is used to characterize your natural sleep-wake cycle and sleep patterns. It determines whether you’re a night owl or an early bird or something else. Chronotypes were recently made popular by Michael Breus in his book, The Power of When.
There are four general chronotypes and each one refers to a different pattern of sleep-wake cycles. The four types are bears, wolves, lions, and dolphins.
Bears sleep and wake according to the sun, feeling most active during the day and sleepy at night. They feel the most productive midmorning and experience an energy dip as a mid-afternoon slump.
WOLVES (NIGHT OWLS)
Wolves fall asleep later and wake up later. A night owl will stay awake until midnight or later and feels energetic just as others are going to bed. Night owls typically have a hard time getting up in the morning and will sleep in or oversleep, given the opportunity.
LIONS (EARLY BIRDS)
Lions rise with the sun and prefer to start the day then because that’s when they feel most active and creative. They get most of their essential tasks done before noon, feel naturally sleepy by early evening, and are often in bed before everyone else.
Dolphins are most productive from midmorning to the early afternoon. They have a harder time staying asleep at night, making it difficult for them to follow a regular sleep routine.
Each chronotype has its benefits, and one is not necessarily better than the others. Your chronotype is based on your biology and genetic makeup, and it is said that because we’re born with it, it cannot be changed.
CAN A CHRONOTYPE BE CHANGED?
I want to challenge the idea that you are stuck with the chronotype you have been born with if you feel it is no longer serving you.
I was born a night owl. I spent most of my life working on creative projects into the wee hours of the night and finally going to bed hours after midnight. I have always had a hard time getting up in the morning, and typically slept as late as possible until I had to get out of bed to go to work.
In my late twenties, I started struggling with insomnia symptoms and found it tough to fall asleep, no matter how tired I was. It was really only a few years ago that I learned about sleep and did the work to improve my sleep habits. My relationship with sleep is completely different now, and so is my tendency to want to go to bed earlier.
My experiment might have worked because of my age, but I have switched from being a wolf (a night owl) to a lion (an early bird) over the past few years and I am happier for it.
I don’t want to be a night owl. There’s nothing happening after midnight that can’t be done earlier in the day. Not in my world anyway. I love my sleep, and I want to get those valuable before-midnight hours that are said to count as double.
This is not meant to judge anyone who’s a night owl. This is about me. If you are a functioning night owl, and you love it and it’s working for you, keep doing what you’re doing. This is for the people who are ready for a change because it’s not working for them or are just curious as to how I made the change from one chronotype to another.
BECOMING A LION
Going to bed earlier than I used to has improved my sleep. Especially because it can typically take me up to 30 minutes to fall asleep. I go to bed around 10:30 PM and wake up around 7am. Sticking to this schedule has changed my internal body clock, and I can wake up without an alarm.
If you aren’t tired enough to go to bed earlier, then don’t do it. Go to bed when you’re tired. I just found that most nights I was staying up so late because I was too “in the zone” of whatever I was doing to stop, not because I wasn’t tired enough to fall asleep.
It is said that night owls get an energy burst at night, but what if you’re already in bed and sleep when that burst comes? Are you waking up suddenly ready to write another chapter of your memoir, or does it go away because you’re fast asleep? I’m wondering if it’s like hunger. If you’re staying up hours after dinner, you’re going to naturally get hungry. But if you’re asleep you won’t feel that hunger and it will wait until morning.
Pay attention to when you naturally feel tired. If you’re yawning at 9 PM but forcing yourself to stay up til 1 AM because you think you have better things to do, maybe it’s time to reevaluate your relationship with sleep. Experiment with your bedtime. Don’t be afraid to do something different. You might find it works better for you.
WHY I LOVE BEING AN EARLY BIRD
Over time, I have found that getting up early and working on my passion projects is more enjoyable for me than staying up late and working on them. I love waking up before everyone else in the house. I love the sun. I love having a hot drink that would have had me running to the bathroom all night if I had had it in the late evening.
I love going for a walk in the morning or doing a workout in my bedroom that gives me energy for the rest of the day.
I love the morning hours and that time spent doing things I love to do. It’s the best way for me to start my day. It makes me want to go to bed at a good time, so I can get a good night’s sleep, so I can get up and have a fabulous morning.
The part about night owls oversleeping or sleeping-in… that tendency has changed for me as well because I want to get up and have my enjoyable morning instead of feeling rushed.
Sure, mornings are sleepy, and I don’t always want to get out of bed, but being motivated and excited about my morning routine makes my early mornings less torturous. Becoming a morning person has been an ongoing choice.
ENJOY YOUR LIFE. PERIOD.
The whole point of this post is to say YOU are in charge of your sleep habits. Your sleep patterns may have been pre-determined at birth, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make some changes here and there.
If you’re going to spend a third of your life sleeping, your waking hours should be as enjoyable as possible. That’s all I’m sayin.