Your circadian rhythm is a cyclical sleep and wake cycle that impacts your appetite, concentration, exercise, and other core body functions. However, your chronotype relates more closely to your own personal, or natural, inclination to sleep at a certain time. For example when we say someone is an 'early bird' or 'night owl', often these habits occur naturally on a more permanent basis. Although your circadian rhythm can be trained to develop a different pattern, scientists consider it very difficult, or impossible, to purposely change your chronotype - although it can shift throughout the course of your life.
The amount and quality of sleep you are able to get within your circadian rhythm will directly impact productivity. Chronotype does not influence total sleep time, but it does impact your life if your chronotype does not adhere to a traditional schedule. For example, if most adults need around seven to nine hours of sleep a night, this will be much easier to accomplish for an early bird rather than for a night owl, who has trouble falling asleep before 1 am. Night owls have historically faced more difficulty adapting to typical work schedules.
The Four Chronotypes
Dr. Michael Breus describes four kinds of chronotypes. Based on sleep-wake patterns seen in animals, answering his online chronotype quiz will help you find out whether you are more of a bear, wolf, lion, or dolphin.
- Lion: The lion chronotype stands in for the early bird. These individuals wake up early and are most productive in the morning, but may have more trouble following a social schedule in the evenings.
- Bear: According to Dr. Breus, the bear chronotype makes up about 55% of the population. People with this intermediate chronotype tend to follow the sun. They do well with traditional office hours but also have no problem maintaining a social life in the evenings.
- Wolf: The wolf chronotype is equivalent to the classic night owl, and is believed to make up approximately 15% of the population.
- Dolphin: The dolphin chronotype is based on the ability of real dolphins to stay alert even while sleeping. Human “dolphins” are best described as insomniacs.
Finding your chronotype is the first step. With this baseline information, you can take a deep dive into mastering your most productive schedule. Here are some tips on how to help improve your productivity based on your Chronotype.
Bears are most productive in the morning and into the afternoon, they will start to lose steam after lunch and into the evening. Picture their productivity level like a bell curve - starting low and getting stronger throughout the day, with a peak in the middle of the day followed by a decline. If you’re a bear, it’s advised to try and ease into the day and ease out of it.
The best time to schedule important meetings for a bear is mid-morning, and anything after lunch should include easier tasks that require less intense thought and creativity.
- 7:00-8:00 a.m.: Wake up
- 10 a.m.-2 p.m.: Focus on deep work
- 2:00 -4:00 p.m.: Work on lighter tasks
- 4:00-10 p.m.: Relax and unwind
- 10-11 p.m.: Get ready for bed
- 11 p.m.-7 a.m.: Sleep
If you’re a wolf, try to avoid scheduling your most important tasks or meetings early in the day. This group is slow to start and can take a while to fully wake up and get going. Wolves will peak in the later part of the day. Late afternoon and into the night is when the best work is done by wolves.
Seeing as this isn’t always possible during the work week, breaking up the day is important for a wolf — such as going for a quick walk in between tasks to recharge. If possible, consider finishing your most demanding tasks after dinner where you can be at a creative peak.
An ideal wolf schedule might look like:
- 7:30-9 a.m.: Wake up
- 10 a.m.-12 p.m.: Focus on lighter tasks
- 12-2 p.m.: Complete deep or creative work
- 2-5 p.m.: Focus on lighter, less intense tasks
- 5-9 p.m.: Engage in creative tasks
- 9-10 p.m.: Unwind from the day
- 10 p.m.-12 a.m.: Prepare for bed
- 12-7:30 a.m.: Sleep
Lions are up bright and early. They have the energy and time to get everything important out of the way first thing in the morning. If you fall into this group, it’s essential to get all pressing tasks done early in your day and avoid big meetings in the late afternoon if possible. When a lion is on, they’re on — but this energy fades quickly in the evening. To help keep energy flowing in the later parts of the day, a full night of sleep should be a priority along with a dedicated bedtime routine each night to signal to your body that it’s time for bed.
An ideal Lion schedule might look like:
- 6–7 a.m.: Wake up
- 8 a.m.–12 p.m.: Focus on deep work
- 12–4 p.m.: Focus on lighter tasks
- 4–9 p.m.: Daily unwind and relax
- 9–10 p.m.: Get ready for bed
- 10 p.m. – 6 a.m.: Sleep
The best advice for dolphin chronotype is learn to conquer one thing at a time. Easing into the day with simple tasks will warm up the brain for those with this chronotype, and help it get ready for more intense tasks. A dolphin type’s brain is always on, so it can be hard to nail down when the most effective time to work is.
For a dolphin, creative sparks can hit randomly throughout the day and it’s important to take advantage of them. When it’s time for bed, this chronotype should unwind and avoid distractions that could keep them from falling asleep, considering it is generally difficult for this group to sleep.
An ideal dolphin schedule might look like:
- 6:30-7:30 a.m.: Wake up
- 8:00-10 a.m.: Engage with easy to-dos
- 10 a.m.-12 p.m.:Focus on demanding tasks
- 12-4 p.m.: Complete less demanding tasks
- 4-10 p.m.: Relax, unwind from the day
- 10-11:30 p.m.: Prepare for bed
- 12-6:30 a.m.: Sleep