Knowing your chronotype may be the key to your success

March 21, 2017

There is so much obsession these days with the “morning routine”. It’s become almost a badge of honor to have a very early and very elaborate morning ritual that you adhere to in the quest to be your best and most productive self. Every self-help “guru” extolls the virtue and power of the morning routine. They have dedicated blog posts, podcasts, webisodes and entire chapters to its power. We have been reminded that everyone from Anthony Robbins to Oprah to Steve Jobs has a morning routine that supposedly contributes to their incredible success. Our collective obsession with productivity and success has led to an almost obsessive compulsive ideation of the morning ritual as if it is the magical ingredient to a successful life. If you aren’t awake by five am to do exactly 12 minutes of high intensity interval training followed by 3 minutes of dry skin brushing while simultaneously chanting kundalini mantras and then jumping into an ice cold shower for just long enough to avoid hypothermia, well then, you may as well kiss your day goodbye. You suck. Go back to bed because your going nowhere fast, and not even your MCT oil infused vegan latte can save you. So what if you’ve tried this kind of early morning routine and all you got out of it was exhaustion and a mild case of IBS from the stress of it all? What about those of us who no matter how many days in a row we try to get up early and greet the rising sun with a namaste, we end up feeling more tired and less productive than ever? Turns out there is a very good reason for this. We are not all built for Anthony Robbins 5 AM power hour. According to scientific research, we all have a “chronotype” that determines our circadian rhythms. In other words, there is truth to the old saying that you are either an early bird or a night owl.  Researchers James A. Horne and Olov Östberg developed the Morningness-eveningness quiz (MEQ) in 1976 in order to study the circadian rhythm differences among people. They’re research laid the foundation for the current research done by  clinical psychologist and sleep specialist Michael Breus. He claims that our “chronotype” or circadian rhythm is actually genetically determined and knowing  your chronotype is actually the key to your success. His research takes it further than just early birds and night owls. He has identified four different chronotypes that he refers to as the Lion,  Bear, Dolphin and Wolf. So are you curious to know which one you might be? Here is a brief description of each one, but if you really want to know for sure then take this quiz.

The Lion chronotype

  • Lions are your proverbial early birds. Like lions who rise early to hunt, this chronotype often wakes before the sun is up and tend to be very productive in the first part of the day.
  • They are very practical and conscientious
  • They tend to not need naps
  • They are most active at noon
  • They fall asleep easily
  • They tend to be overachievers, a lot of CEO’s and entrepreneurs are lions
  • Optimistic
  • Tired in the late afternoon
  • They prioritize fitness and are very goal oriented.

The Bear chronotype

  • Bears are the most common chronotype comprising about 50% of the population.
  • Bears are extroverted, optimistic and cautious.
  • They wake early but are very groggy and take a bit to wake up. They tend to like the snooze button.
  • They tire in the early evening and fall asleep very easily.
  • They prioritize sleep as it’s very important to them.
  • Most productive and active mid morning to early afternoon
  • They need at least eight hours
  • Often hungry and need food to fuel their day, can often be slightly overweight
  • Very social, make great friends

The Dolphin chronotype

  • Dolphins in the wild only sleep with half of their brain at a time. The other half remains awake looking for predators. The dolphin chronotpye are very light sleepers.
  • They can operate on very little sleep.
  • They are highly intelligent and are perfectionists.
  • They are prone to anxiety related insomnia.
  • They make great partners and parents.
  • They have fast metabolisms and are very rarely overweight.
  • They are generally more introverted.
  • They wake up tired, have bursts of productivity throughout the day, and are their most alert and productive in the evening.

The Wolf chronotype

  • Wolves are nocturnal animals that come alive at night. Wolf chronotypes are the quintessential night owls. They find going to sleep before midnight very difficult, and tend to want to sleep late into the morning.
  • They are risk takers and pleasure seekers.
  • They are not hungry when they wake, and are ravenous at night. They can be prone to weight issues for this reason.
  • They are super creative, a lot of artists are wolves.
  • They tend to be impulsive and more prone to mood disorders like depression and anxiety.
  • Wolves are most alert after 7 PM.

Whats really interesting is that your chronotype may be genetically driven, but it still changes throughout your lifetime. For example a lot of elderly people become Lions. They rise early and are most productive early in the day without needing a lot of sleep. This is possibly a product of the reduction in melatonin that is experienced with age. Most teenagers will go through a Wolf stage. I was a wolf my entire life. My parents tell me stories about how I would wander the house in the middle of the night when I was two years old. In high school I would hide under the covers and talk on the phone to my fellow night owl girlfriends until one in the morning, then sleepwalk my way through the first half of my day until I could nap at my free period before lunch. In college, I scheduled my classes for after 11 AM. My husband is also a wolf, and neither of us went to bed before 2 AM for years, unless an early workday demanded it. Late night was our time. We used to be so confused as to why anyone would want to see a movie before 10:30 PM. Our most productive and creative time was always late at night. As an actor and  musician respectively, that tended to work for our lifestyle for the most part. However, now that we have become parents, our chronotypes have completely changed. Having my daughter has turned me into a straight up dolphin. I literally sleep with one eye open (okay maybe not one eye, but certainly half my brain), and jump up at the slightest noise. Often times I can’t get back to sleep for a couple of hours which is infuriating when you know your toddler is going to be raring to go in four hours. I am still most productive at night (it is 10:30 as I work on this post), but I rise early in the morning and have bursts of productivity throughout the day. Granted they are mixed in with bursts of debilitating fatigue, but that’s the way it goes when you have little ones. My wolf is still alive in there somewhere, but for now I am a dolphin. 11:30 is as late as I can swing it these days. It would be even better if I could force myself to be a lion and go to bed at 9pm. I have tried on numerous occasions and always wake up 3 hours later feeling like I could run a marathon or take the MCATS or something. Just fully ready to go! So for now I will live like a dolphin. Asleep later than the Lions and Bears, but before the Wolves. I will wake tired but will find moments of productivity throughout my day, and when I put my little love bug to bed at 7PM I will come alive for a few hours and try to get some things done. I am going to honor my body and what it needs from me, and according to Michael Breus, that is all I need to do to optimize my productivity and therefore my success. He wrote a book about it called The Power Of When that goes into the different chronotypes in-depth. He claims that there is an ideal time for most things including exercise, sex, work productivity, even when to ask for a raise. So if you’ve tried to force yourself into the early morning routine trend and just found yourself pissed off and desperate for a nap, you may be a wolf or even a dolphin. Don’t fight it!  Once you know your chronotype you can then use that information to work with your own circadian rhythms, optimizing your chances of being successful! Pretty interesting. What chronotype are you?



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