June 14, 2024

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Sleep Chronotype 2024 – Forbes Vetted

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You’ve probably heard about early birds and night owls. Both are references to sleep chronotypes, or the body’s natural inclination to be awake or asleep at certain times. “Your chronotype is driven by your circadian rhythm—the body’s approximate 24-hour internal clock,” says Terry Cralle, a certified clinical sleep educator. “Ideally, we consistently sleep and wake according to our chronotypes, leading to better sleep which in turn leads to better health, well-being and quality of life.”

Dr. Michael Breus, a clinical psychologist with a speciality in sleep disorders, developed the concept of four sleep chronotypes to describe characteristics unique to each. “It’s a schema that’s based on the sleep-wake patterns of animals and is a unique categorization,” says Dr. Catherine Darley, a naturopathic sleep expert. We spoke with Dr. Breus and a trio of sleep experts for a deeper understanding of the four sleep chronotypes. Whether you’re a lion, bear, wolf or dolphin, learning more about your sleep chronotype could help you enjoy better rest.

What Is A Sleep Chronotype?

Sleep chronotypes are largely based on genetics, says Cralle, and intrinsically tied to the body’s internal clock, or its circadian rhythm. “The circadian rhythm is fundamental in regulating biological functions, including sleep-wake preference, body temperature, hormonal secretion, food intake and cognitive and physical performance,” she says.

According to Jack Dell’Accio, a Hippocrates Health Institute-certified sleep expert, identifying your chronotype and understanding your natural sleep-wake patterns can help you plan how to optimize your sleep quality and overall well-being. That reduces the risk of sleep-related issues and enhances daytime function.

Since chronotypes are largely dependent on genetics, age and other factors, they vary from one person to the next—and actually change throughout the course of one’s life. “Babies are lions, toddlers are bears, high school-age kids are wolves and once you reach about 25, it sticks for about 30 years and then starts changing again,” says Breus.

To identify your chronotype, consider personal factors like sleeping preferences, how your energy levels fluctuate throughout the day and when you tend to be hungry. Compare this information with characteristics of the four animal chronotypes to see which one most aligns with your sleep habits.


Sleep Tips For Your Chronotype

The four sleep chronotypes have unique attributes and characteristics that influence typical sleep schedules.

Lion

Breus describes the lion chronotype as early risers with a strong sleep drive. They have peak productivity in the morning and generally prefer earlier bedtimes. “Most don’t need an alarm clock and experience the highest energy in the first half of the day,” says Cralle. A typical schedule for a lion would be a bedtime of between 9 and 10 p.m. and a wake-up time of around 5 or 6 a.m. She says lions make up approximately 15% of the population.

Sleep tips for lion chronotypes:

  • Plan early afternoon naps. Breus says that by about 1:30 p.m., a lion’s peak alertness window has closed, which can make them feel mentally fuzzy. “Many lions become desperate for a nap and start to lean on those around them to stay energized,” he says.
  • Plan workouts for the afternoon. Since lions often experience an afternoon slump, physical activity this time of day can give them a much-needed energy boost.
  • Avoid scheduling evening activities. As soon as the evening light dims, says Breus, a lion’s sleep system signals it’s time for bed. “You can still socialize and nurture your soul into the evening, if you have the energy for it,” he says, “but for most lions their internal clock has already begun preparing for their 10 p.m. bedtime.”

Bear

The bear chronotype has a balanced sleep-wake cycle, which means they’re alert during the day and often experience an energy dip in the afternoon. “Their sleep and wake cycles coincide with the sun’s rising and setting,” says Cralle, which means a typical schedule is a bedtime of between 10 p.m. and midnight with a wake-up time of 6 to 8 a.m. Cralle says that bears make up approximately 55% of population.

Sleep tips for bear chronotypes:

  • Wake up with the sun if possible. Breus says that bears often wake in a daze after hitting the snooze button once or twice, but the ideal wake-up time is with the sun. “Sleep in no later than 8 a.m. to avoid any impacts on your sleep schedule,” he says.
  • Prioritize an afternoon nap. “Many bears experience a sharp energy decline around 2 p.m., making it the perfect time for a nap,” says Breus. “With high sleep drives, bears tend to catch up on extra sleep via napping.”
  • Go to bed by 11 p.m. According to Breus, it’s the ideal bedtime for a bear. He recommends spending an hour or so winding down beforehand.

Wolf

The wolf is the night owl—energetic in the evening with difficulty getting started early in the day. This chronotype stays up late and wakes up late, says Cralle, and is most productive in the evening and nighttime hours. “Wolves have trouble waking up early and prefer to sleep until noon,” she says. A typical schedule is a bedtime between midnight and 2 a.m., with a rise time of between 8 and 10 a.m. About 15% of the population falls into the wolf chronotype.

Sleep tips for wolf chronotypes:

  • Get up before 7:30 a.m. “If you sleep in later than that, you’ll struggle to fall asleep at night,” says Breus. On the weekends, he advises avoiding sleeping in past 8:15 a.m. to avoid sabotaging your sleep schedule.
  • Set two alarms. According to Breus, the wolf chronotype benefits from setting two alarms: one to wake you up and one to let you slowly drift into consciousness.
  • Avoid naps. “Naps are not ideal for wolves whose energy peaks in the afternoon,” says Breus. “If you want to fall asleep by midnight, avoid naps in general. If you really need a refresh, opt for early afternoon at the latest.”

Dolphin

Dolphins are light sleepers who often have trouble falling and staying asleep. “They might be described as insomniacs and can wake up feeling unrefreshed,” says Dell’Accio. “Dolphins are most alert later in the day and may do their best work in spurts throughout the day.” About 10% of the population falls into the dolphin chronotype.

Sleep tips for dolphin chronotypes:

  • Get up no later than 7:15 a.m. Breus says that dolphins have a low sleep drive. While they typically wake by around 6:30 a.m., they should avoid sleeping in past 7:15.
  • Avoid naps. Like wolves, dolphins should avoid midday naps. “This will make falling asleep at your preferred bedtime easier,” says Breus.
  • Delay bedtime. According to Breus, dolphins are susceptible to being “tired and wired.” He says they tend to experience a rise in core temperature at night and are more prone to wake-ups than most. “Getting in bed too early may result in anxiety-related insomnia, so wait to go to bed until 11:30 p.m.,” he says.

Products To Achieve Better Sleep

If you have trouble waking up or falling asleep at the recommended times for your sleep chronotype, try to pinpoint the different factors contributing to your struggle. Whether it’s too much light or distracting noises in your environment, you can find various products geared toward alleviating the issue. Consider investing in a sunrise alarm clock if you can’t wake up early enough, blackout curtains if there’s too much light in the room or numerous other sleep tech devices to improve your sleep routine—including white noise machines, sleep trackers or a smart bed.


Knowing Your Chronotype Can Help You Rest Better

It can be really insightful to learn about your chronotype. Understanding common characteristics can help you make healthy changes to your sleep hygiene, which can help improve your sleep quality. In addition to ensuring you’re getting sufficient sleep, Cralle says that chronotype consideration offers awareness into peak productivity and performance times, and even safety.

There are bedtimes and wake times that best align to the different sleep chronotypes. Knowing that you’re a bear, for instance, makes it easier to schedule your nightly sleep time to that which corresponds to your chronotype, while also ensuring you’re getting the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep. “The actual sleep stages don’t change, so long as the person is able to sleep at the right time for them,” says Darley.


Why Trust Forbes Vetted

The Forbes Vetted team is deeply invested in helping readers just like you understand the value of a great night’s sleep—and what you can do to make that a regular occurrence. Our robust library of sleep stories is designed to help you find the best mattress and pillow for your sleep style, the most comfortable bedding, the most useful products to support your circadian rhythm and everything else you need in the pursuit of restful sleep.

  • Forbes Vetted contributor Jessica Timmons, the author of this piece, has been writing sleep content for well over a decade. That includes a recent review of the Eight Sleep Pod 3 Cover, a roundup of the best sunrise alarm clocks and expert tips for setting up your bedroom for better sleep.
  • Mattress and sleep editors Bridget Chapman and McKenzie Dillon, who assigned and oversaw this article, are both certified sleep science coaches with years of experience testing mattresses and sleep products.
  • We also spoke to four sleep experts for their insights into sleep chronotypes and how they can improve sleep quality: Dr. Michael Breus is a clinical psychologist with a speciality in sleep disorders and credited with coining the four animal chronotypes; Terry Cralle, RN, is a representative of the Better Sleep Council and a certified clinical sleep educator; Dr. Catherine Darley is a naturopathic sleep expert and the founder of Skilled Sleeper; and Jack Dell’Accio is a Hippocrates Health Institute-certified sleep expert.

Is It Possible To Change A Sleep Chronotype?

It’s possible to change a sleep chronotype, but it’s not easy. “These patterns are influenced by genetic predispositions and internal biological clocks, making them somewhat resistant to change,” says Dell’Accio. “However, with consistent effort and strategies, individuals can shift their sleep schedules to better align with their lifestyle needs or preferences.” He recommends maintaining regular sleep and wake times, even on the weekends, and focusing on the sleep environment and sleep hygiene to make effective changes.

Which Chronotype Has More Sleep Problems?

Generally speaking, dolphins are most likely experience sleep issues because of their anxiety level, says Breus. But he points out that all chronotypes can experience sleep problems.

According to Dell’Accio, dolphins may have trouble falling asleep at a conventional bedtime and often lie awake as a result of stress or an active mind. “Even when they do fall asleep, dolphins tend to sleep lightly, experiencing frequent awakenings throughout the night, which can make their sleep less restorative,” he says.

How Do I Fix My Chronotype?

“Chronotypes are your genetic predetermined sleep schedule,” says Breus. “It’s not something to ‘fix;’ it’s something to identify and follow.” But if your natural chronotype isn’t aligning with your lifestyle, it is possible to make adjustments and modifications. “To effectively make changes to positively impact sleep and challenge your genetic predisposition, you’ll need to focus on sleep environment and sleep hygiene,” says Dell’Accio.

Does Sleep Depend On Your Chronotype?

Yes and no. “Our chronotypes don’t determine the amount of sleep we need, but a better understanding of our individual chronotypes can help schedule/organize/plan our sleep and wake schedules more efficiently,” says Cralle.


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