Often used in quirky quizzes, sleep chronotypes have become the horoscopes of sleep. Grounded in scientific research but adapted by many in different ways these sophisticated-sounding labels are just another way people decipher whether or not they like waking early or staying up late.
We’ve put together everything you need to know about these sleep style labels below.
What is a sleep chronotype?
Chronotype refers to our preference for the timing of our sleep-wake pattern. Some people wake naturally close to dawn; they are often called early birds or morning chronotypes. Some people don’t feel sleepy until midnight or later, and struggle to wake up early; they are called night owls, evening or delayed chronotypes. Chronotypes exist on a continuum with around 20% of people at the extremes, and most people somewhere in between as intermediates.
The Types of Sleep Chronotype
There are many people who have delved into the research behind sleep chronotypes. One of the most commonly known is Dr Michael Breus who likens the different human sleep patterns to animal sleep patterns.
Dr Breus’ research-based evidence helped him to create a sleep chronotype quiz which deciphers whether you are one of the following:
- Dolphin: These are the insomniacs who never really have a restful sleep
- Lion: These are the ‘early birds’ who are most productive in the morning
- Bear: The bears are most of the population (the intermediates) who are typically middle of the spectrum, the ones who can work all day and enjoy social time afterwards, too
- Wolf: These are the night owls, the ones who come alive when the sun goes down
However, these just provide a new way to label where on the spectrum of sleep preference a human is at. Just with a bit of added fun!
Does Age Affect Your Sleep Chronotype?
Chronotype changes naturally with age. Most young children, and their grandparents, have a preference for waking early. Teenagers tend to have a delayed chronotype which makes it harder for them to wake naturally in time for school.
Although our chronotype is partly determined by our age, gender and genetics, it can also be heavily influenced by our behaviour and environment. For example, if you are exposed to bright light late at night, this will delay your internal rhythm and push your natural wake-up time even later the following day. So, night owls will often reinforce or even accentuate their own delayed sleep-wake patterns by staying up late in a late environment.
How Chronotypes Can Affect Couples
If members of a couple have different preferences for wake-up and bedtimes, it can lead to tension, disagreements and conflict - especially when one or both members of the couple become sleep deprived.
Can You Change Your Sleep Chronotype?
When it comes to changing the way you prefer to sleep, our resident sleep expert, Dr Sophie Bostock, said, “A little bit like horoscopes, it’s true that people will likely identify with a certain pattern, but that does not mean that this is fixed.
“If you are a night owl and you want to change your body clock to become more of an early bird, research shows that you can do this by increasing exposure to early daylight, and reducing exposure to artificial light at night (Wright et al 2013).
“Other measures to shift your body clock forward, for example, by 2 hours, include:
- Set an alarm to wake up at the same time every day, two hours earlier
- Eat breakfast each morning within an hour of waking
- Exercise in the morning
- Eat lunch at the same time every day
- Eat your evening meal at least 3 hours before bed
- Avoid bright lights at least 2 hours before bed
- Go to bed at a similar time each night - aim for a minimum of 8 hours in bed, to give yourself the opportunity to get at least 7 hours sleep”
Healthy sleep routines sit at the heart of the chronotypes conversation, whether you like to use the categories or not.
If you’re someone who works shifts, this can also interrupt your sleeping style and affect your sleep health. Take a look at the health risks associated with shift sleeping according to Dr Sophie.