Your Chronotype: The Productivity Game Changer
Do you struggle to nod off to sleep or are you out like a light as soon as your head hits the pillow? Are you up before the roosters or are you more of a night owl? Your chronotype is part of your biological clock and dictates when you fall asleep and when your body functions at its best.
Everyone’s body is different and identifying your unique chronotype can help you understand and build your day around your natural sleep/wake cycles, ensuring you get a good night’s sleep and make the most of your productive hours.
Here we take a look at what chronotypes are, how they affect our everyday life, and how you can use your chronotype’s preferred schedule to your advantage and improve your productivity.
What is a Chronotype?
A chronotype is part of a classification system that can help you understand your body’s natural sleep and waking cycles. It’s closely linked to your circadian rhythm, the body’s internal clock that regulates sleep patterns. The circadian rhythm is based on melatonin production levels and light exposure, with more melatonin being produced at night so you sleep and less produced in the morning to help you wake up.
On the other hand, chronotypes aren’t affected by any outside influences — just your genetic makeup. They affect every aspect of your daily life from your appetite and body temperature to the ideal time for sex and your peak productivity times.
Why Chronotypes Are Important
By identifying your unique chronotype, you get an insight into your wake/sleep cycle and can determine when your body needs to rest and what time of the day you’re most alert. It also helps you understand the best time to do certain daily activities, such as eating, exercising, and drinking caffeine
Knowing your chronotype lets you plan your daily schedule, taking into account when you’re at your peak and most productive, when you’re likely to feel fatigued, and when you should be relaxing or preparing for bed and avoiding caffeine. With proper planning, you can accomplish what you need to at the times when you have the highest energy levels.
The Four Chronotypes
Chronotypes are broken down into categories based on the sleep pattern and habits of four animals: The bear, dolphin, lion, and wolf.
More than half of us fall under the category of the bear chronotype according to Michael Breus, “The Sleep Doctor.” Bears align with the solar cycle, waking as the sun rises and sleeping after the sun sets, and fit in best with modern society’s idea of the ideal work schedule.
Bears generally sleep for 8 hours between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. and are at their most productive during the hours before midday. During the early afternoon, the energy levels wane with bears experiencing a post-lunch lull between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.
If you get a good night's sleep and rise with the sun, you’re probably a bear.
Dolphin chronotypes struggle to follow a regular sleep pattern. These sensitive sleepers are considered highly strung and are easily awakened during the night by outside disturbances, such as light and noise.
Dolphins are the most difficult to create a regular work pattern around due to their irregular sleep schedule and their feeling of laziness during the early morning hours. However, the good news is that Dolphins have a window of productivity between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. when they can accomplish tricky tasks.
You’re potentially a dolphin chronotype if you experience the symptoms of insomnia and feel lazy in the mornings.
When it comes to chronotypes, the early bird is known as the lion. Lion chronotypes are up before dawn and are most productive during the early morning hours. After noon, they tend to hit a low point, requiring time for their energy levels to recover. Lions are most productive when they can get started on their to-do list at the beginning of the day.
In order to rise early, lions begin winding down and relaxing in the early evening hours and tend to be in bed by 9 or 10 p.m.
If “Early to bed, early to rise” is your motto, your natural schedule is likely to be the lion chronotype.
In complete contrast to the lion, the wolf chronotypes are definitely not morning people. Wolves are happy to stay up late and struggle to wake up in the morning, often feeling most energetic when allowed to remain in bed until midday.
The wolf is at its most productive between noon and 4 p.m. They also tend to have a second burst of energy around 6 p.m. and can continue working into the night — just as everyone else is winding down. As such, a traditional 9-5 work schedule doesn’t really suit wolves.
If you continually hit the snooze button in the morning and consider yourself more of a night owl, chances are you're a wolf.
How to Determine your Chronotype
Do you recognize yourself in the description of the wolf, dolphin, bear, or lion? If so, you probably fit exactly into one of the above chronotypes.
However, if you’re unsure which one relates to your sleeping habits, try taking an online chronotype quiz to identify which of the four categories you most fall into. These quizzes help identify when you naturally fall asleep, what time you awaken in the morning, and how you feel during different parts of the day.
Chronotype classification isn’t an exact science. Some people fall entirely into one category while others may exhibit traits from two or more categories.
If you’re in-between chronotypes, don’t panic. Knowing which chronotype is the most prominent can still help you set your daily schedule while giving you some flexibility to factor in traits from other chronotypes.
Use Your Chronotype to Your Advantage
Simply put, everyone's productivity ebbs and flows over the course of a day, but once you’re armed with the knowledge about your particular chronotype, you can work with your body’s natural biological clock and plan your schedule accordingly. You know when you’re going to be at your most energetic and when energy levels will be at their lowest.
The ultimate goal is to use every hour of your day wisely. At peak performance times, plan to tackle complex, creative, and complicated tasks and ask colleagues to avoid disturbing you or scheduling long meetings. During the post-lunch dip or times of low-energy levels, focus on the easier and more menial tasks or take one of your regular breaks.
It’s also vitally important to ensure you’re working with your natural sleep cycle. Without enough sleep, you’re likely to feel fatigued or lethargic during the day which will have a huge impact on performance.
In addition to helping make you more efficient, your chronotype-aided schedule should also help you tick more off your to-do list, thereby improving your productivity.
Top Productivity Tips For Your Chronotype
Taking everything we’ve learned about chronotypes into consideration, let's see how the typical schedule could look for each animal to ensure they’re making the most of their peaks and troughs.
If you’re a bear, focus on deep work between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., tackling the most difficult tasks before midday when you’re at your most alert and productive. During the post-lunch dip, between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m., plan to work on easier, more menial tasks that require less thought, focus, and creativity.
After 4 p.m., bears should be starting to relax and unwind after their workday until 10 or 11 p.m. when it's time to prepare for bed and the regular 8 hours of sleep.
Dolphins should use the early hours for easy items on the to-do list and warming up the brain before turning their attention to more demanding and intense tasks between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. The latter part of the typical working day is also a great time for dolphins to answer emails and carry out other menial jobs.
However, creative peaks can occur at any time of the day so it’s important that dolphins allow some flexibility into their schedule to take full advantage of these moments.
Although their sleeping habits vary, dolphins should be thinking about turning in for the night between 10:30 and 11:30 p.m. As they find it difficult to switch off, they need to use the period between work and sleep to avoid distractions and allow themselves time to completely relax.
Lions are early risers and at their most productive between 8 a.m. and 12 p.m., the hours that should be used for deep work. During the afternoon, lions should avoid complex tasks, instead completing lighter work. If the afternoon slump in energy levels hits hard, an afternoon power nap may be required to help recharge the batteries.
After work, lions need to factor in plenty of time to unwind and decompress in the early evening before retiring to bed around 9 or 10 p.m.
As wolves are most productive later in the day, the hours before noon (if they’re awake!) should be used for straightforward tasks. Midday until 4 p.m. is the best time for wolves to focus on creative or deep work and hold important meetings. After returning to easier jobs for a couple of hours, the second wave of energy at 6 p.m. is another chance to be super productive.
The wolf chronotype will generally begin relaxing and preparing for bed between 10 p.m. and midnight.
Embrace Your Chronotype
Taking a chronotype quiz and identifying which animal you most resemble could be the productivity game changer you’ve been looking for.
So, instead of forcing yourself to abide by a sleep/work routine that doesn’t suit you, work with your body’s natural rhythm and let your chronotype guide your day and ensure you’re as productive as possible.