Do You Know Your Sleep Chronotype? Plus, Top Tips to Support Each Type

Are you a night owl or a morning bird? Here’s why knowing your sleep animal could help!

By: Lexy Parsons

Despite being one of the most important aspects (if not the single most important) of our overall health and well-being, 50 to 70 million Americans don’t get enough sleep. Crucial for brain and mental health, weight and metabolism, heart health, immune function, and nearly every physiological function, getting enough shut-eye is crucial. However, as unique individuals, we all have different needs and preferences — even when it comes to sleep. This may explain why some of us were born “early birds” while others have the predisposition to sleep in and thrive as “night owls”. Could understanding this natural inclination, our “sleep chronotypes,” help to improve our sleep quality and quantity?

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What is a Sleep Chronotype?

Chronotype refers to our natural inclination towards sleep and wakefulness during a 24-hour period. While many factors contribute to our sleep-wake patterns, there’s evidence to suggest that genetics play a significant role in determining our chronotype. While chronotypes and circadian rhythm are closely related, they are not one and the same. The main difference is that circadian rhythm can change and adapt, while an individual chronotype appears to be innate and fixed. Therefore, by understanding your inherent preferences, and aligning your sleep schedule accordingly, you could potentially hack your rest and productivity in a powerful way. 

Your Individual Sleep Needs, Based On The Four Different Sleep Animals

According to research, there are four main chronotypes: lions, bears, wolves, and dolphins. Here’s what this means, and how it can influence your sleep habits:

Early Risers: The Lion

Often referred to as early risers or early birds, lions love an early morning. They naturally wake with the sun, thrive on structure and routine, and feel most alert and productive in the early morning hours. We all know a lion type — they’re the ones that get their 6 AM morning workouts in, schedule appointments first thing, and have half of their day completed before noon! To support this routine, ideally, lion types do best with an early bedtime. This helps to ensure they get adequate rest so they can wake up restored, refreshed, and ready to tackle the (early) day.

If you’re a lion type, here are some tips you may benefit from:

  • If you’re a caffeine drinker, enjoy your coffee or matcha earlier in the day; avoid drinking stimulants in the late afternoon or evening.
  • Consider morning workouts before you start your day, when energy is at its peak.
  • Prioritize your most important (or daunting) tasks first. This can help prevent over-exhausting your body later in the day, when energy is already lower.
  • Adopt a consistent sleep schedule that allows you to prioritize an early bedtime to allow for a restful night’s sleep. This may include eating an earlier dinner, powering down electronics in the evening, and saying no to evening plans when your body is fatigued.

Wakes With the Sun: The Bear

A bear chronotype generally follows the natural rhythm of the sun and tends to wake up at different times based on the season. In summer months, bears may rise early and go to bed late, energized by the increased morning sunshine and longer days. In winter months, however, the darker, shorter days may cause bears to wake up later and retire earlier. Despite the season, bears often thrive in the middle of the day, during the hours when sunshine is at its peak. While more flexible and better able to adapt their sleep schedule compared to lions, they can handle the occasional late night (whether due to work or social obligations) — bears do best with quality rest on most nights.

If you’re a bear type, here are some tips you may benefit from:

  • Exposure yourself to natural sunlight first thing in the morning to regulate your circadian rhythm. 
  • Avoid blue light at night to avoid disrupting melatonin and cortisol levels.
  • Sleeping with the seasons. Try to align your schedule based on the natural sunlight. In summer months, consider rising earlier and adopting a slightly later bedtime. In winter months, allow yourself to wake later and sleep earlier!
  • Exercise in the mid-morning or early afternoon, when the sun is at its strongest. You may find your energy peaks at this time!

RELATED: Surprising Ways Our Circadian Rhythm Affects Health + 8 Ways to Support It

The Nocturnal Sleeper: The Wolf

Better known as the “night owl”, wolves are characterized by their nocturnal tendencies and seemingly thrive during the evening and nighttime hours. In fact, they often find it challenging or dreadful to wake early, and can even struggle to fall asleep early too. For this sleep chronotype, their most productive self is later in the day, during the late afternoon and evening. It’s estimated that 15% of the population makes up the wolf chronotype.

If you’re a wolf type, here are some tips you may benefit from:

  • Establish a consistent evening routine to prepare your body for sleep, but rather than focus on getting to bed early, prioritize the quality of your sleep (make sure you optimize your sleep environment!)
  • Don’t skip breakfast! Because your energy is naturally lower than normal in the morning, a balanced breakfast full of lean protein, healthy fats, and fiber can naturally help boost your energy stores and fuel your morning. 
  • Ease into the morning with a guided meditation or outdoor walk. Avoid early morning HIIT workouts or anything too stimulating too early on.

The Sensitive Sleeper: The Dolphin

The most sensitive of the four sleep animals is the dolphin, accounting for an estimated 10% of sleepers. Often struggling with insomnia or other sleep disorders, dolphin types are quite sensitive to outside stimuli, including sound, light, and any environmental changes. This makes it challenging to maintain a consistent sleep routine, particularly when traveling or due to schedule changes. However, there’s hope for dolphins! Mindfulness practices, such as yin yoga and sleep meditations, can greatly benefit this chronotype, helping to support a restorative rest.

If you’re a dolphin type, here are some tips you may benefit from:

  • Adopt a nightly sleep meditation, such as yoga nidra or breathwork. This can help support your nervous system by reducing sympathetic activity and activating the parasympathetic, our rest-and-digest state. 
  • Consider switching from coffee to matcha, if you’re a caffeine drinker. Or, cut out caffeine altogether! Because your nervous system is already heightened, even small amounts of caffeine could disrupt your sleep. 
  • Incorporate mindfulness practices into both your day and evening, such as breathwork, walking meditations, or simply dedicated moments of silence. 
  • Optimize your sleep environment. Consider a face mask and blackout curtains to block out light, a sound machine or earplugs to minimize noise, and a fan or humidifier to keep it refreshing and cool. 

Understanding Your Chronotype For Better Sleep

Understanding your chronotype can go a long way in helping to support your sleep. Even if you’re not able to sleep and rise at the best time for your chronotype, you can still take steps to better manage your day and support your inherent needs. Whether it’s planning your workouts and appointments later in the day, prioritizing relaxation techniques in your sleep routine, or going to bed earlier to ensure you wake up refreshed and ready to go in earlier in the morning, there are ways to tailor your daily routine to align with your natural sleep-wake patterns. Of course, there are many factors to consider when it comes to sleep. However, knowledge is power! Determine your chronotype based on the above information, and consider optimizing your sleep schedule around it.