In today’s digital world of online influencers and entrepreneurs promoting “hustle culture,” we see sleep portrayed as a self-indulgent activity for the lazy and unmotivated.
Motivational quotes telling us to “never rest until you succeed” cloud our Instagram feeds, and even Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, has become famous for tweeting how he begins his workday around 4 am, something the media has spread as a key to his success.
Although some may find that early mornings are their most productive time of day, others feel like they cannot perform even the most basic of tasks until mid-afternoon.
In this blog post, we set out to explain the importance of healthy sleep, create a better understanding of how sleep varies from person to person, and decrease feelings of shame or self-criticism one might have over not being an early bird.
How Does Sleep Affect Mental Health?
It is no secret that sleep plays an essential role in maintaining our physical health. Lack of sleep leads to health consequences such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure.
Often overlooked is the effect sleep has on our mental health. Studies have shown that those who struggle to sleep enough hours each night are more likely to feel anxious, depressed, or suicidal. At the same time, those who suffer from anxiety or depression often find it hard to establish healthy sleep habits.
This loop of poor sleep can lead to several negative consequences:
- Increased feelings of anxiety or depression
- Increased feelings of irritation
- Feelings of loneliness and isolation
- Lack of energy
- Inability to focus on day-to-day activities
Unfortunately, breaking out of this cycle of poor sleep is not as easy as going to bed and waking up earlier. In order to remedy these issues, it’s essential to understand that sleep is a spectrum and that we all have different chronotypes.
What are chronotypes?
A chronotype is a system used to help understand an individual’s sleep and productivity schedules. Unlike the circadian rhythm, which controls our sleep-wake cycle by releasing melatonin in response to environmental cues such as sunlight, chronotypes vary from person to person and are influenced by factors such as age and genetics.
This means that being a night owl or early-riser is not just a personal preference or a matter of willpower. It results from one’s biological activity, alertness, and rest patterns.
What is My chronotype?
People typically are one of the four chronotype categories, each loosely based on the sleep patterns and habits of the animal they are named after.
Developed by Dr. Michael Breus, the online chronotype quiz can help you find which chronotype best describes you.
Bear Chronotype Characteristics
Those who fall in the bear chronotype do not have much trouble waking up in the morning or falling asleep. The bear follows the sun’s cycle, meaning people with this chronotype are most productive in the morning, may have afternoon slumps, and find it easy to sleep at night.
Studies show that 55% of the population falls into this category.
Wolf Chronotype Characteristics
Wolf chronotypes are most productive once the sun has set. No matter how many hours of sleep the wolf may get, they may feel fatigued and lack energy in the morning. The wolf benefits from two bursts of energy throughout the day, the first around noon and the second after 6 pm.
Wolves may find it challenging to sleep regularly, as their second wind of energy often lasts well past midnight.
Approximately 15% of the population identifies with the wolf chronotype.
Lion Chronotype Characteristics
The lion chronotype excels in the morning, with energy levels peaking before noon. Waking up before the sun is natural for lions, and they can complete massive amounts of work before lunch. Afternoon slumps hit this group the hardest, and lions often turn in early to sustain their high energy levels in the morning.
15% of the population considers themselves lions.
Dolphin Chronotype Characteristics
Dolphins in nature can sleep with one half of their brain at a time. This ability helps them stay alert of their surroundings as they float in the ocean. Due to this reason, dolphins are called the insomniac mammal.
This chronotype finds it the hardest to wake up in the morning or establish steady sleep schedules. Once they are up, however, the dolphin chronotype can stay focused and productive until mid-afternoon.
The dolphin chronotype may suffer from feelings of underlying tiredness due to anxious sleeping behaviors.
10% of the population identifies with the dolphin chronotype.
How To Be More Productive and Energized
The typical structure of our current society favors the chronotypes energized in the mornings. School hours begin early, and businesses typically cease operations after 5 pm.
Instead of establishing difficult habits not aligned with your biological clock, consider the strengths and weaknesses of your chronotype.
Below are some valuable schedules to consider for maximizing your productivity based on your specific chronotype.
- 7 am: Wake Up
- 9 am -1 pm: Focus on intensive tasks
- 1 pm – 4 pm: Work on light tasks
- 4 pm – 10 pm: Relax
- 10 pm – 11 pm: Prepare for bed
- 11 pm – 7 am: Sleep
Remember that bear chronotypes need plenty of sleep to keep a steady stream of focus in the morning.
- 8 am – 9 am: Wake up
- 10 am – 12 pm: Work on light tasks
- 12 pm – 2 pm: Focus on intensive tasks
- 2 pm – 5 pm: Work on light tasks
- 5 pm – 8 pm: Focus on intensive tasks
- 8 pm – 10 pm: Relax
- 10 pm – 12 am: Prepare for bed
- 12 am – 8 am: Sleep
Wolves may find it hard to stay asleep if they engage in activities in the evening and need more time to unwind than most for a successful morning.
- 6 am: Wake Up
- 7 am – 12 pm: Focus on intensive tasks
- 12 pm – 4 pm: Work on light tasks
- 4 pm – 9 pm: Relax
- 9 pm – 10 pm: Prepare for bed
- 10 pm – 6 am: Sleep
Lion chronotypes need to have an evening wind-down routine to help them go to bed early to sustain their high level of energy in the morning.
- 7 am: Wake up
- 8 am – 10 am: Work on light tasks
- 10 am – 3 pm: Focus on intensive tasks
- 3 pm – 5 pm: Work on light tasks
- 4 pm – 10 pm: Relax
- 10 pm – 12 am: Prepare for bed
- 12 am- 7 am: Sleep
Establishing a working sleep routine is key to dolphin chronotypes who find it difficult to fall asleep. Having a long session of intensive tasks early in the morning will help you fall asleep later in the day.
Seeing a Professional about Sleep Disorders
Understanding your unique chronotype is a fantastic way to start developing habits that will help you succeed and feel more energized. If you are consistently having difficulty sleeping, falling asleep, or staying asleep throughout the entire night, consider speaking to a professional who can help you identify any underlying stressors or behaviors.
Reach out to Resilience Lab’s Care Coordinator team to start your journey. Our mission is to connect you to a therapist specifically tailored to your needs.
Get started by emailing CareCoordinator@resiliencelab.us
Interested in working with a licensed therapist but unsure where to start? Check out Dahlia Mayerson, LMSW’s latest post on What To Expect When You Start Therapy. The most diverse collective of New York-based therapists are sharing their insights and offering advice covering a wide range of topics here in the Thought Lab.