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What Your Chronotype Can Do for Your Sleep

The CDC says that more than a third of Americans don’t get enough sleep, mostly thanks to stress—yet the pursuit of sleep can itself be a source of stress and sleeplessness. Getting enough good-quality sleep is key to good health. Knowing your chronotype (AKA “circadian rhythm” or “body clock”) and adjusting to it—or using some workarounds—is a natural strategy to help you get the healthy sleep you need. 

What’s a Chronotype? 
Your chronotype is your natural inclination to sleep or be alert...

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The CDC says that more than a third of Americans don’t get enough sleep, mostly thanks to stress—yet the pursuit of sleep can itself be a source of stress and sleeplessness. Getting enough good-quality sleep is key to good health. Knowing your chronotype (AKA “circadian rhythm” or “body clock”) and adjusting to it—or using some workarounds—is a natural strategy to help you get the healthy sleep you need. 

What’s a Chronotype? 
Your chronotype is your natural inclination to sleep or be alert and active at particular times of the day (think “early bird” vs. “night owl”). You already know your preferences—whether you like to get up & at ‘em early in the morning and hit the sack early as well, or hit your best stride late in the day and into the night, retiring late and rising late, too. It’s embedded in your genes and likely shared by other family members.

Researchers are learning how chronotype drives your natural sleep-wake cycle and affects your performance throughout your life. Did you know that your chronotype actually changes with age? Children are mostly early birds (as parents well know); by the late teens to early twenties, most people have swung to the night owl side. Over time, adults gradually return to the early bird type as they age, so that by the time they’re grandparent age, their chronotype actually tends to match that of the grandkids. (Convenient!)

Advantage Day or Night? It’s Both
Does the advantage go to the early bird or the night owl? While the rhythms of the early bird generally match traditional business hours, they’re no guarantee of success—just as the late riser isn’t lazy simply because their highest energy happens later in the day (or at night). When your circadian rhythm is out of sync with your life, making you constantly tired and a little off your best game, you may be feeling what sleep researcher Till Roenneberg has called social jet lag.

Roenneberg thinks that praising early-rising go-getters and scorning late-sleeping layabouts are holdovers from old, daylight-centered agrarian societies, but such attitudes don’t mix with modern 24/7 culture. Our sleep patterns are biological, not signs of good (or bad) character. It follows, then, that anyone who can more closely sync their daily activities with their chronotype can realize a truly useful advantage.

Adjust Your Chronotype and Sleep Better
It would be great if we could all tailor our daily schedule to our personal chronotype. Morning people could be up with the sun and end their day early; night people could work in the late hours when their mind is sharpest. But when you can’t adjust the rest of the world to the sleep-wake cycle your body prefers, you can use some effective strategies—including supplements—to establish a healthy, restful sleep routine. 

  • You can adjust your chronotype to an extent by moving your wakeup and sleep times gradually, in 15- to 30-minute increments, over a couple of weeks; that’s very helpful if you’re planning to travel. At home, starting your day an hour earlier or later may hit a better point in your sleep-wake cycle and help you feel more energetic throughout your day. 
     
  • Figure out the sweet spot in your day and protect that time. Focusing on your most important work during your sharpest time may yield a noticeable difference in your productivity.
     
  • You’ve got a bedtime routine, right? Establishing a few simple habits that signal it’s time to retire can help your body relax and your mind release from the day.
     
  • Another good habit: Get tomorrow off your mind by listing to-do’s and concerns on a pad and leaving it by the bed. (Good for jotting down dream-driven ideas, too.)
     
  • Avoid sugary snacks before bed—instead, try foods like cherries, tomatoes, walnuts, olives, barley, strawberries, or milk. These contain melatonin, which can help you get sleepy.
     
  • “Nap” isn’t a bad word if you use it wisely. Limit daytime naps to 30 minutes max; it’s enough to refresh you without interfering with your sleep that night. 
     
  • A melatonin supplement may help reset your body clock, especially when you’re traveling or adjusting to a new schedule for school or work. Melatonin tells your body what time it is and supports your body’s own timely melatonin production. 

Consciously adjusting your schedule to your chronotype can help you fall asleep (and wake up) in your own natural rhythm. Being flexible with ideas that more closely sync your body clock to your lifestyle (and vice versa) will pay dividends in health and happiness throughout your life—and isn’t that the ultimate goal?


Resources
Discover more about chronotype and quality sleep in the resources that we tapped for this article. Good days and sweet dreams!
Eric Jaffee, “Morning People vs. Night Owls: 9 Insights Backed by Science,” May 19, 2015. Accessed Jul. 17, 2017.
Greg Richter, Penn Medicine News, “You’re Not Yourself When You’re Sleepy,” PennMedicine.org, Jul. 17, 2017. Accessed Jul. 18, 2017.
Kayla on Reverie Sleep Systems Blog, “31 Tips in 31 Days: Better Sleep Month at Reverie,” Reverie.com, May 4, 2015. Accessed Jul. 13, 2017.
Lindsay Kellner, “Is Sleep More Important Than Nutrition, Exercise & Mindfulness?” MindBodyGreen.com, Apr. 10, 2017. Accessed Jul. 13, 2017.
Maria Popova, “The Science of Internal Time, Social Jet Lag, and Why You’re So Tired,” May 11, 2012. Accessed Aug. 1, 2017.
Reverie Staff, “Night Owls vs Early Risers: Who’s More Productive?” Reverie.com, Oct. 1, 2015. Accessed May 4, 2017.
Wikipedia, “Chronotype,” Wikipedia.com, Jul. 7, 2017. Accessed Aug. 1, 2017.

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