What are sleep chronotypes? Understanding them could improve your sleeping habits

Sleep chronotype. (Getty Images)
Which sleep chronotype are you? (Getty Images)

Did you know there are four sleep chronotypes, all of which are based on animals? Understanding which one you are and working with it, not against it, could be key in ensuring you drift off easily and sleep soundly each night.

But what exactly are sleep chronotypes and how can being aware of them help transform our sleeping (and waking) lives? Here, Thomas Høegh Reisenhus, sleep specialist and sleep counsellor, explains all you need to know.

What are sleep chronotypes?

"A good place to start when it comes to prioritising sleep is to identify your chronotype, which is the natural inclination of your body’s sleep-wake cycle. Adapting your daily routine to align with it can have a transformative effect on your life, as it improves sleep quality, which can in turn boost cognitive function and a whole host of other benefits," says Reisenhus of TEMPUR.

Our sleep-wake cycle is thought to be determined by our circadian rhythm, the body's internal clock.

"Your chronotype will depend on factors such as genetics, physiology, and environment, and influences areas of your health like your appetite, physical and mental performance, and core body temperature. It is largely responsible for why we feel more alert at certain times of the day and sleepier at others."

And apparently, one of the most popular and easiest ways to differentiate between the different chronotypes is based on sleep-wake patterns seen in animals.

"Though we all undoubtedly share the same desire to get more sleep, every person’s natural sleep schedule is different and what works for one person, might not work for another. The key to better sleep lies with understanding your chronotype,' emphasises Reisenhus.

Now, it's time to identify which sleep chronotype you are.

What are the four sleep chronotypes?

woman looking at dawn
'Lions' are the definition of early risers. (Getty Images)

1. Lion

"The quintessential early bird, those with a lion chronotype are early risers. Typically starting their day around 5am, they are thought to reach peak productivity between 8am and 12pm," explains Reisenhus.

"Lions should use the ample time they have in the morning to set their day up and start it 'right'. After all, what could be better than an early morning stretch, walk, or run in the park to ensure a healthy hit of endorphins and a reduction in stress before the day has even begun?

"There is also ample time to prepare a healthy, nutrient-rich breakfast – porridge topped with apples and cinnamon, a protein packed smoothie made with banana, nuts and yoghurt, or eggs with tomatoes and spinach – which will contribute to increased energy and improved concentration levels throughout the day.

"That said, rising early can mean lions struggle to stay awake past 9pm, which can have a negative impact on their social lives."

To remedy this, Reisenhus suggests they should consider taking a 20-minute power nap in the afternoon on days when they have evening social plans or commitments. "This will help keep them bright-eyed and bushy-tailed into the night."

2. Bear

Happy woman stretching in bed after waking up.
'Bears' are led by the sun. (Getty Images)

"Those with the bear chronotype tend to follow the sun, rising at 7am and heading to bed around 11pm," says Reisenhus.

"Most people are thought to have this chronotype and, with their highest levels of productivity thought to be between 10am and 2pm, they are often believed to manage traditional office hours well, whilst also being able to maintain a busy social life after work too.

"Having said this, aligning one’s sleep cycle with the sun’s rise and fall becomes more difficult in the autumn/winter months when the days are shorter and darker. Therefore 'bears' may benefit from investing in a sunrise alarm clock, designed to mimic natural sunlight; one of the most important factors when it comes to regulating and maintaining your circadian rhythm."

3. Wolf

Young woman sitting on bed using mobile phone late at night, suffering from insomnia, chatting in social media network. Internet addiction concept
Sleep hygiene should still be important when you go to bed late, rather than just scrolling your phone. (Getty Images)

"The equivalent to the classic night owl, those with a wolf chronotype are most productive in the afternoon and prefer to go to bed late, around 12am," according to Reisenhus.

"It’s important to be mindful of any late-night drinking or snacking – this can impact your ability to achieve a quality night of sleep. An over-reliance on sugary snacks can leave you feeling wired, the last thing you need when trying to wind down for bed.

"Similarly, caffeine, a stimulant, can remain in your bloodstream for as long as 10 hours after consumption and whilst many enjoy an alcoholic nightcap (and some even think it improves sleep), an alcohol-induced slumber tends to be of a much lower quality."

And while wolves may head to bed in the early hours of the morning, the need for good sleep hygiene – e.g. a relaxing, de-stressing bedtime routine – is just as important when it comes to ensuring a great night’s sleep.

4. Dolphin

Exhausted young man came home after work flopped down on sofa
The sleep schedules of the 'Dolphin' can change and may need some support to improve. (Getty Images)

"Dolphins are sensitive sleepers who often have fragmented sleep patterns and rarely keep a regular sleep schedule," says Reisenhus.

"As a general guide, those with this chronotype wake around 6am and are most productive between 3pm and 7pm. Whilst they may attempt to get to sleep around 11pm, it can be hard for them to drift off and enjoy a quality night of rest.

"As such, the most important thing they can do is invest in a self-care toolkit to ensure that when they can’t sleep, they are engaged in relaxing and restorative activities as opposed to tossing, turning, and stressing about the fact they can’t sleep.

"A warm – not hot – bath, a milky drink, reading a well-loved book, mindfulness exercises or a gentle stretch are all great ideas and, if they aren’t your bag, simply choose something you enjoy that isn’t overly stimulating. The last thing you want to do is 'wake' yourself even more."

A universal 'sleeptype'

"Sleep is vital when it comes to your body’s ability to repair and recharge; a lack of it can negatively impact overall mental and physical wellbeing," says Reisenhus.

This means that regardless of your preferred routine, the most important thing is to make enjoying an adequate amount of quality sleep a priority.

"Though most of us know that we should be looking to gain a minimum of seven hours sleep every night, this can often feel like a far-fetched dream rather than a reality – with many of us struggling with the tasks of either getting to sleep or staying asleep," Reisenhus acknowledges.

"Sleep hygiene is one of the most straightforward ways to tackle this tussle, no matter what your chronotype. Stick to the same sleep-wake cycle (even on the weekends), get into the habit of winding down with relaxing activities ahead of bedtime, and practise healthy habits – daily exercise, a balanced diet, and time outdoors in nature, for example.

"Ensure that your sleep environment – and everything within – is well-equipped to foster a great night’s sleep too. Your bedroom should be dark, cool, and quiet, resembling a cave, and your mattress and pillows should be made with adaptive, reactive, and pressure-relieving material. This will help to ensure optimal levels of comfort, facilitating a long, quality, and restorative sleep, night after night."

Ready to drift off?

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