Are you operating at peak potential on your current schedule? Are you bursting with energy and getting high-quality sleep? Having as much energetic sex as you’d like? Killing it at work? Enjoying excellent communication in relationships? Avoiding colds and the flu? Able to focus and concentrate as well as you’d like? If not, your bio-time might need a reset.
Your bio-time or circadian rhythm is your internal biological clock; the ebb and flow of hormones and enzymes, and the changes in circulatory activity over the twenty-four-hour day. Every person has a master biological clock ticking away inside his or her brain, and dozens of smaller biological clocks throughout his or her body. Impacting numerous functions of the body, the biological clock, indirectly determine optimal times for everything from eating, to sex, to exercise. Knowing how to follow your biological clock can thus impact optimal performance across all aspects of life.
But not every person’s biological clocks keep the same time. Your friend’s inner clocks might run at a different pace than yours, or your partner’s, or your kids’. You know this already; you’ve observed that some people wake early, or don’t feel hungry when you do, or are full of energy when you are winding down. Different people fall into different classifications, called “chronotypes,” based on general morningness and eveningness preferences. According to conventional wisdom and historical definition, there are three chronotypes:
- Larks, the early risers
- Hummingbirds, neither early nor late risers
- Owls, the late risers
Sleep specialist and psychologist, Michael Breus, Ph.D., has redefined the chronotypes based on 15 plus years of clinical practice and in-depth research. Dr. Breus redefined the idea of the traditional chronotypes and broke them down further into four distinct groups. Playing on the fact that humans are mammals and not birds, he chose to name the groups as Dolphins, Lions, Bears, and Wolves.
- Dolphins, real dolphins sleep with only half of their brain at a time (which is why they’re called unihemispheric sleepers). The other half is awake and alert, concentrating on swimming and looking for predators. This name fits insomniacs well: intelligent, neurotic light sleepers with a low sleep drive who wake easily to the smallest noise. Dolphins account for 10% of the population and historically provided the early warning of danger for the group.
- Lions, real lions are morning hunters at the top of the food chain. This name fits morning-oriented driven optimists with a medium sleep drive. The lions make up 15 – 20% of the population and historically took the morning shift of guarding the group.
- Bears, real bears are go-with-the-flow ramblers, good sleepers, and anytime hunters. This name fits fun-loving, outgoing people who prefer a solar-based schedule and have a high sleep drive. Bears account for 50% of the population, and their cycles are solar-synced matching the rise and fall of the sun; they served as the hunter and gathers.
- Wolves, real wolves are nocturnal hunters. This name fits night-oriented creative extroverts with a medium sleep drive. Wolves account for 15-20% of the population and would serve as the night watch of the group, falling asleep as the most extreme of the lions began to rise.
Beyond personality and sleep traits the chronotype is determined by genetics – specifically the PER3 gene. If you do not recognize yourself in the descriptions, do you recognize one of your parents? The chances are likely that you inherited your PER3 gene from one of them. If you have a long PER3 gene, you will require at least seven hours of deep sleep to function and tend to rise early while those with a short PER3 can get by on light or little sleep and tend to rise later.
If you are curious to why there are so many types, consider human evolution spans tens of thousands of years of clock free-living and hardship. These types were necessary for species survival with each type having its purpose and contributions to the larger group. We may have clocks now and no longer stand watch over the group, but our genetics have not changed much over time especially over the last few hundred years of “clock” time and enhanced security.
If you answered no to many of the initial questions and think you need to reset your day to match your biological clock watch for the coming article “What is my Chronotype” which will feature a quiz to determine if you are a Dolphin, Lion, Bear, or Wolf. Armed with knowing your specific chronotype you can begin to reprogram your day to match your biological clock.