Have you ever wondered why some people have a harder time getting up in the morning than others? Or why some students prefer to study late at night, whereas others are exhausted by lunchtime? While there are many factors that impact your sleep cycle — like stress, appetite, personality traits, substance use, and more — your sleep and energy levels are also impacted by something called your chronotype. The concept organizes human sleep habits into four distinct categories, and knowing yours can be helpful in understanding how you move through life.
So, what is a chronotype, and why does it matter? According to The Sleep Foundation, a chronotype is “the natural inclination of your body to sleep at a certain time.” The term was popularized by Dr. Michael Breus, a clinical psychologist (sometimes referred to as “the sleep doctor) and in his book, The Power of When, Dr. Breus shares tips for how to adjust and optimize your lifestyle based on your unique chronotype. For example, by taking this online quiz, you can quickly figure out the ideal time of day for you to drink coffee, do homework, exercise, and more!
Similar to how people classify themselves as either “early birds” or “night owls,” each of the four chronotypes has its own unique animal to represent it: the lion, bear, wolf, and dolphin (oh my!). Since every human is different, chronotypes fall on a spectrum and you may feel like you relate to a blend of two animal “types” or more.
Whether you’re wondering how you should schedule your classes or want to optimize your day for max productivity, here’s a breakdown of each chronotype and how to find yours.
The lion is an individual who is most similar to your traditional “early bird.” These types wake up early in the morning and have their most productive hours within the first few hours of being awake. Because of this, lions tend to get very sleepy later in the day and often have difficulty making and sticking to plans in the evening. (Does this remind you of any of your friends? I know it reminds me of some of mine!).
According to Dr. Breus, the majority of the population identify with the “bear” type, which tends to go to bed and rise with the sun. This means that while “bear” types prefer a quality night’s sleep, they can manage to go to work every day from 9:00 to 5:00 while holding some sort of social life afterward. Healthline reports that if you’re a “bear” chronotype, your productivity seems best before noon and you may be prone to the “post-lunch dip” between 2 pm and 4 pm.
A wolf — more commonly known as a night owl — makes up around 15% of the population, according to Dr. Breus. Wolves tend to have a hard time waking up and being productive in the morning, and they feel most energetic later in the day. Healthline reports that the wolf type’s peak hours fall between noon and 4 pm. If you’re a wolf, chances are you’re likely to be more productive at times of the day when most other individuals are “tapped out.”
Dolphins are typically light sleepers and are often Grade-A insomniacs. If you have trouble following a sleep schedule, you may be a dolphin type, so it’s important to plan your day accordingly and notice how your energy levels fluctuate throughout the day. According to Healthline, 10 am-2 pm tends to be a productive time for you to work on tasks.
Why is knowing your chronotype helpful?
Now you may be wondering, “So what? Now I know my sleep schedule resembles some type of animal and I’m even more concerned for myself than before!” In reality, discovering and understanding your chronotype can help you leverage your best waking hours of the day and excel in your career. A 2020 study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health suggests that your chronotype can even help you recognize your eating habits.
Dr. Nate Watson, SleepScore Advisor and co-director of the University of Washington Medicine Sleep Center, tells Healthline about why chronotypes matter for our career paths: “Evening type chronotypes may do best with careers that don’t require an early start time in the morning or careers with flexibility regarding when the work gets done. And morning type chronotypes would do best working traditional hours.” Sorry Boss, I can’t come in at 8 a.m. anymore, my chronotype needs me to rest!
How can I find my chronotype?
To find your chronotype, simply take this online quiz and you’ll receive a breakdown of your unique type. It’s simple, straightforward, and can give you important insight into your sleep schedule, ideal lifestyle, and how your energy fluctuates.
After taking the quiz, I was intrigued to discover that I am a “bear” type — along with over half of the population! This makes sense to me, because I do typically follow the sun’s setting and rising cycle, but I had always coined myself the title of an “early bird.” Take the online quiz to discover what unique chronotype you are — or do what I usually do with online quizzes and proclaim which result you like best! Totally kidding (kind of).
Breus, M. (2016). The Power of when: Discover Your Chronotype–and the Best Time to Eat Lunch, Ask for a Raise, Have Sex, Write a Novel, Take Your Meds, and More. Little, Brown Spark.
Mazri, F. H., Manaf, Z. A., Shahar, S., & Mat Ludin, A. F. (2020). The association between chronotype and dietary pattern among adults: a scoping review. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(1), 68.