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Here's What Your Sleep Cycle Says About You

Your sleep cycle dictates your chronotype. Here's what to know.

Nasha Addarich Martínez Managing Editor
Nasha is a Managing Editor for CNET, overseeing our sleep and wellness verticals. She is a nutrition, mental health, fitness and sleep science enthusiast. Her passion for mindful and holistic practices transcends her personal life and profoundly influences her editorial approach, as she weaves evidence-based insights with practical advice to inspire readers to lead healthier, more balanced lives. Throughout her career, she's covered various topics including financial services, technology, travel and wellness.
Expertise Sleep | Mental health | Personal care | Fitness | Nutrition Credentials
  • Sleep Science Coach Certification from The Spencer Institute.
Nasha Addarich Martínez
6 min read
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If you've made your way here, chances are you're looking for remedies to sleep better. You've tried melatonin, spicing up your nighttime routine and even waking up early in hopes of getting rid of your insomnia. But what if your body naturally prefers a different daily schedule? This happens because everyone is programmed to function better during different peak hours. 

People fall into different groups, known as chronotypes, based on their body's natural preference for the morning or evening. Chronotypes are categorized into four groups: bear, dolphin, lion and wolf. The names of these groups are all related to the animal's natural sleep-wake cycle. Knowing your chronotype could lead to better sleep. Here's what we know.

What is a chronotype?

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Your chronotype dictates when your body naturally feels like falling asleep and waking up during the day. This may sound familiar, and some may even refer to this as circadian rhythm -- a term for the body's internal clock. So you might be wondering, are they the same? Simply put, not quite. 

Think of your circadian rhythm as your physiological 24-hour cycle, while your chronotype is your natural, or preferred, biological behavior during those 24 hours -- like sleeping, eating and productivity levels at certain times of the day. 

Research shows that your chronotype determines your peak cognitive and physical performance during the day. Understanding your internal clock can help you optimize your daily schedule and activities to use your time more efficiently and even boost productivity.

The four animal chronotypes

We've all heard the terms "early bird" and "night owl." Well, there's some truth to that. The four chronotype groups -- bear, dolphin, lion and wolf -- are all connected to that animal's sleep-wake cycle, and can shed light on human behavior, too. 

We'll dive into the common traits and ideal schedule for each to help you maximize your productivity and help you catch those zzzs. The following descriptions for each chronotype are based on bestselling author and board-certified sleep specialist Dr. Michael Breus' book, The Power of When.

The Bear Chronotype

The Bear Chronotype
photo by Paul Souders/Getty, graphic by Sarah Tew/CNET

People with this chronotype follow the rise and fall of the sun. Bears spend most of their day awake and sit pretty much in the middle in terms of sleep-wake schedules. As for productivity, bears are most productive during the late morning and early afternoon. 

If you're reading this, chances are good that you fall into this chronotype. According to Dr. Breus, roughly 50% of the adult population falls under the bear chronotype. It's easy to see how this group dominates our social schedules when they account for over half of the population. 

The Lion Chronotype

The Lion Chronotype
photo by JRLPhotographer/Getty, graphic by Sarah Tew/CNET

The lion chronotype is the definition of "early bird" -- lions feel their best when they wake up early in the morning and finish their to-do list before noon. The lion chronotype wakes up with a lot of energy. You know, that one person that is suspiciously happy at 6 a.m.? Yep, probably a lion. If you fall into this group, it's best to schedule important meetings or activities before noon. Even though lions spend most of the early day with lots of energy, they often feel exhausted and find it hard to concentrate by the afternoon. Around 15% to 20% of people identify with this chronotype.

The Wolf Chronotype

The Wolf Chronotype
photo by Anagramm/Getty, graphic by Sarah Tew/CNET

If you consider yourself a "night owl" and get those spikes of energy after everyone else is winding down, you're probably the wolf chronotype. Like an actual wolf, this chronotype is known for getting most of their activities done late during the day. Wolves like to stay up late at night and struggle to wake up early. For this very reason, the wolf has a hard time adhering to a typical nine-to-five work schedule. The wolf's productivity peaks from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. and spikes again at around 6 p.m. Around 15% to 20% of the population falls into this chronotype.

The Dolphin Chronotype

The Dolphin Chronotype
photo by SValeriia/Getty, graphic by Sarah Tew/CNET

If you have a hard time falling asleep, waking up or following a structured sleep schedule, you most likely have the dolphin chronotype. Of all the chronotypes, this is the rarest -- around 10% of the population identifies with the dolphin chronotype. Dolphins often have a hard time staying asleep because they tend to be very sensitive to external factors like noise and light and are likely to be diagnosed with insomnia. These people also frequently sleep less than the recommended eight hours. The good news is that they have a wide productivity window. Dolphins feel the most productive between 3 p.m. and 9 p.m. 

What is my chronotype?

According to one study, chronotype is influenced by many factors like age, sex, environment and even genetics. The same study found that "women were on average earlier chronotypes than men until the age of 40 but later types thereafter." Teens tend to identify with later chronotypes, while adults are likely to switch to an earlier chronotype with age.

The easiest way to find out what's your chronotype is to take a chronotype quiz:

  • MEQ Self-Assessment: The Morningness-Eveningness Questionnaire has a total of 19 questions and an assigned number of points for each answer. At the end of the quiz, you will add the total for your score. You'll be categorized as morning type, evening type or intermediate type based on that number.
  • AutoMEQ: This is the automated version of the Morningness-Eveningness Questionnaire. You'll answer the same 19 questions about your daily sleep-wake habits, and you will receive personalized feedback once you finish.
  • The Power of When Quiz: This chronotype quiz was designed by the Sleep Doctor himself, Dr. Breus. The main goal of this quiz is to determine your chronotype to help you work with your body's natural cycle.

How to work with your chronotype for better sleep and productivity

Not everyone runs on the same "biological time." Therefore, many of our school or work schedules are not in sync with our chronotype. This can cause a misalignment between our internal clock and sleep-wake schedule, especially on weekdays. Research shows that "social jetlag," or switching schedules between the school or work day and the weekend, may negatively impact your health, as it's linked to metabolic disorders, obesity, diabetes and even cardiovascular diseases.

Understanding your chronotype can be a game-changer for getting better sleep and boosting productivity. Knowing what time your body naturally feels more energized can help you organize your daily schedule around your peak hours.

Below is a list of the ideal daily schedules for each chronotype according to Dr. Breus.

Ideal daily schedule for bears:

  • Wake up: 7 a.m.
  • Breakfast: 7:30 a.m.
  • Peak hours: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
  • Lunch: 12 p.m.
  • Exercise: 6 p.m.
  • Dinner: 7:30 p.m.
  • Go to bed: 11 p.m.

Ideal daily schedule for lions:

  • Wake up: 5:30 a.m.
  • Breakfast: 6 a.m.
  • Peak hours: 7 a.m. to 12 p.m.
  • Lunch: 12 p.m.
  • Exercise: 5 p.m.
  • Dinner: 6 p.m.
  • Go to bed: 9:30 p.m.

Ideal daily schedule for wolves:

  • Wake up: 7:30 a.m. (with the help of four alarms)
  • Breakfast: 8 a.m.
  • Lunch: 1 p.m.
  • Peak hours: 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.
  • Exercise: 7 p.m.
  • Dinner: 8 p.m.
  • Go to bed: 12 a.m.

Ideal daily schedule for dolphins:

  • Wake up: 6:30 a.m.
  • Breakfast: 7:30 a.m.
  • Peak hours: 3 p.m. to 9 p.m.
  • Lunch:12 p.m.
  • Exercise: 6 p.m.
  • Dinner: 7:30 p.m.
  • Go to bed: 11:30 p.m.

Too long, didn't read

Your chronotype can tell you a lot about your body's natural sleep-wake cycle. However, even though these types can give you an idea of your ideal schedule, they may vary from one person to another or even change throughout the same person's life. Whether you are a bear, lion, wolf or dolphin, understanding your chronotype can help you maximize productivity, catch a good night's sleep and even improve your overall quality of life.

For more sleep tips tips: Home Remedies for Insomnia and Melatonin Makes You Groggy, Try These Sleep Supplements Instead

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.