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If you feel a little groggy as you’re reading this, Dr. Michael Breus, who bills himself as “The Sleep Doctor,” feels your pain. His Los Angeles-based clinical psychology practice is dedicated to helping people understand their chronotypes and learn to manage them better. Your chronotype is your biological predisposition to be a morning person, an evening person, or somewhere in between.
We’ve used the terms “lark” for morning people and “night owl” for night people for years. Dr. Breus has identified four distinct chronotypes: Lions, Bears, Wolves and Dolphins. You can take the quiz here to find your own type.
Dr. Breus says that when you understand how your body is programmed for optimal performance, you can start to work with it instead of against it, increasing your effectives, productivity, and well-being. His book The Power of When, helps you determine the best times of day for you to work out, eat, have difficult conversations, work on complex tasks, even – er – mate. According to his research, changing your daily schedule if you’ve been out of synch can transform your life.
When I took the quiz, I came out as a Lion (along with an estimated 15 percent of the general population.) Lions are morning-oriented driven optimists with medium sleep drive, often hard-charging, get-it-done leaders. It’s true that I’ve been a morning person since I was a young child; I rise with the sunlight and feel at my best first thing in the morning. I’m usually at my desk by 6:30 AM, since that’s when I do my best thinking and planning. By mid-afternoon, my concentration falters, so I save routine, repetitive work for that time. Dr. Breus says I should also work out then, to get my energy up for the evening. That explains why early morning workouts just don’t work for me, even though I’m up and alert.
According to Breus, most people are Bears. Fifty percent of the population are “go-with-the-flow ramblers, good sleepers, and anytime hunters. This name fits fun-loving, outgoing people who prefer a solar-based schedule and have a high sleep drive.” Normal daytime work hours suit Bears fine, and their dominance in the population explains why the business world is built around a 9 to 5 schedule.
Pity the Dolphins. Breus writes about them: “Actual dolphins (the marine species, not the human chronotype) sleep ‘unihemispherically.’ This leaves one side of the brain functioning at all times, keeping them alert for predators. Dr. Breus used this animal to represent the 10 percent of humans who struggle with insomnia and other sleep disorders.” Dolphins are often Type As who simply can’t turn off their minds in order to get the rest they need.
Wolf Chronotypes make up 15 percent of the population. “They’re the night-owls who stand guard like sentries while the rest of sleep.” They tend to be creative types, including authors, artists, entrepreneurs, musicians, and bartenders; also security guards, sentries, and other people who literally take the night shift. Many are introverts. You know who you are, if this is you. Mornings just don’t work for you; you come awake, alive, and alert just as the sun starts to set. Day jobs are for other people.
Here’s a great graphic (courtesy of naturalstacks.com) that helps you schedule your most productive day by chronotype.