Even though we all have an innate 24-hour rhythm, not all of our rhythms are the same. The clearest example of this is the fact that some of us identify as early risers who feel their best when getting up with the sun, while others peak in the deeper hours of the evening. Whether you’re in the first group, the second group, or somewhere in between depends on your “chronotype,” or your genetically programmed preferences for sleeping and waking during a 24-hour period. Choosing a sleep-wake schedule that takes your chronotype into account will help you arrive at a rhythm that supports when you’re naturally inclined to sleep, wake up, and perform.
What is Your Chronotype?
You’re a Lark If…(about 20 percent of people)
- You’re up at the crack of dawn, raring to go.
- You get up before 6 a.m. (without an alarm clock) and tend to get drowsy early in the evening, around 9 p.m.
- You aren’t overly reliant on caffeine in the morning.
- You are most alert and feel most productive at work a few hours before lunch.
- You lose your mental sharpness in the afternoon.
You’re an Owl If…(about 20 percent of people)
- You enjoy staying up way past midnight.
- You wake up naturally closer to 10 a.m. and don’t want to go to bed before 3 a.m.
- You need an alarm clock to get you up earlier in the morning and need lots of caffeine to stay alert during the day.
- Your day really only starts to get going in the afternoon—you are alert later in the day and do your most productive work later in the evening.
You Could Also Be a Hummingbird (about 60 percent of people)
- While Larks and Owls have set preferences, Hummingbirds fall somewhere in the middle with no strong predilections for what time of day they engage in various activities. Some Hummingbirds are more Lark-ish, and others more Owl-ish.
Can You Hack Your Chronotype?
We get it— there’s a distinct advantage to being a Lark. Because of how our society is set up, namely early start times for work and school, Larks tend to get better sleep, and by extension, be healthier and less prone to conditions like heart disease and diabetes. It’s hard to be an Owl in a Lark’s world. But even though your chronotype is built into your genes, it’s technically adjustable. In fact, chronotypes change for all sorts of reasons— the seasons, age, latitude, consistent exposure to bright light at night, and shifting attitudes (commonly the teenage creed: early bedtimes are for little kids). But it’s not always for the better— after all, it’s a piece of your unique physiology. That’s why we recommend first assessing your DNA-determined chronotype and perhaps finding a way to embrace that natural rhythm. However, if it better suits your lifestyle, you can adjust your chronotype— something we’re in favor of if it ultimately means you’ll get more sleep. Just be sure you’re being consistent and committing to this new schedule long-term. Otherwise, you risk self-inflicting social jet lag and sending your sleep rhythm into a tailspin.
Tips for Shifting Your Chronotype
If You’re a Lark:
- Spend time outside in the late afternoon or evening. Going for a walk is ideal.
- Exercise or increase your activity in the later afternoon or evening.
- Socialize in the evenings as a way to naturally energize yourself later in the day.
If You’re an Owl:
- Dim the lights in your home in the evening.
- Sleep with the curtains open so daylight wakes you up, or be sure to expose yourself to early morning light first thing upon waking.
- Go for a walk outside as soon as possible after you get up.
- Avoid sleeping in on weekends. (Which we know you’ll cut back on after addressing social jet lag.)
- Don’t exercise or engage in stimulating activities like watching television or even doing work in the evening.
If You’re a Hummingbird:
- Identify whether it would be beneficial for you to shift more toward a Lark or an Owl and follow those corresponding suggestions.
This is an excerpt taken from my book, Better Sleep, Better You – Little, Brown and Company, 2021.