- The sleep doctor Michael Breus says there are four different chronotypes, each with an ideal daily routine.
- Breus labels the four chronotypes “lions,” “dolphins,” “wolves,” and “bears.”
- Learning your chronotype can help you boost your health, happiness, and productivity.
A few years ago, my life changed for the better when I read “The Power of When” by Dr. Michael Breus.
Breus, who calls himself the “sleep doctor” and has a practice in Los Angeles, guides readers in understanding their chronotype: their biological predisposition to be a morning person, an evening person, or somewhere in between. He assigns each chronotype an animal – bear, lion, wolf, or dolphin – and explains the ideal daily routine for each. (You can take the quiz on Breus’ website.)
Learning your chronotype, and the schedule that goes along with it, can help you improve your health, happiness, and productivity – not just your sleep. You can make changes like waiting until mid-morning to drink coffee and putting away screens in the hour before bed.
Organizations around the world are starting to recognize the importance of chronobiology and let employees craft their schedules around when they work best, according to The New York Times' Emily Laber-Warren.
To be sure, if you don't work in one of these organizations, it may not be realistic for you to make all the changes below. If your boss needs a report on their desk by noon, "but I'm a wolf" probably isn't a valid excuse. That said, if you can make even one or two tweaks over a few weeks, you're likely to reap the benefits.
So which one are you: bear, lion, wolf, or dolphin?
I learned that, like roughly half the world's population, I'm a bear. That means I'm generally a good sleeper and my body clock tracks the rise and fall of the sun.
The ideal day for a bear starts at 7 a.m. Bears should eat a high-protein breakfast soon after waking and shouldn't consume caffeine until about 90 minutes after they get out of bed.
As for the workday, tasks that require lots of focus and concentration are best tackled in the morning, while creative tasks are better saved until the afternoon.
Instead of eating dinner around 6 p.m., bears should use that time to exercise and then eat a relatively light meal, using the hours before bedtime to wind down.
Breus said many people have "lion envy," meaning they want to be the type of person who naturally wakes up and gets going early. But many lions lament that their energy starts flagging in mid-workday.
According to Breus, lions should eat and hydrate when they wake up, before planning the rest of their day. The morning is best spent on analytical tasks, and the afternoon on brainstorming and journaling or other creative activities.
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And instead of exercising first thing in the morning, lions should wait until about 5 p.m. to work out, then prepare to hit the hay around 10 p.m.
Wolves are the stereotypical night owls, meaning they have a hard time launching into the workday at 9 a.m.
So Breus recommends wolves kick-start their day with breakfast around 8 a.m., then get some physical activity outside. Coffee shouldn't make an appearance until 11 a.m.
Since wolves typically don't hit their mental peak until later in the day, they should spend the morning planning the rest of their day and gathering their thoughts. The late afternoon is an ideal time for wolves to meet with coworkers or present ideas to their boss, since they're naturally more energetic than most people at this point.
Dinner can wait until 8 p.m. - but wolves would do well to avoid alcohol then, since it can interfere with going to sleep around midnight.
Dolphins are frequently diagnosed with insomnia, since they often have trouble sleeping, Breus said. He suggests dolphins exercise first thing in the morning, before eating a high-protein breakfast.
Instead of spending the morning on focused work, dolphins should try brainstorming or thinking big-picture. Afternoons, when their energy rises, are perfect for doing research or other tasks that require deep concentration.
Dolphins can use the hours between dinner and bedtime - about 7 to midnight - to shut off screens and wind down.
Putting it all together
The key takeaway here is not to fight your internal rhythms but work with them as much as possible. Instead of getting frustrated that you can't hop out of bed at 5 a.m. to run six miles, find a time that works better for you.
No one's saying it will be easy, but chances are it will be worth it - and your manager and coworkers will recognize the difference.