Are You A Lark, Owl or Hummingbird? Know Your Chronotype!
The book Brain Rules is full of interesting stuff. Last night’s chapter (ironically read at 3am last night) dealt with the importance of sleep to our mental functioning.
“What’s that got do do with birds,” you ask?
Not a whole lot, really – except that their names provide nifty labels for our chronotypes: the sleep/alertness patterns that determine if we’re the type to chirp happily in the morning, or stay up all night staring at the stars.
About ten percent of us qualify as larks – rising early without an alarm (often around six am-ish) and singing through a caffeine free breakfast. These morning people are most productive in (you guessed it) the mornings, at their sharpest around noon, and drowsy in the early evening, going to bed around 9pm.
Twenty percent of the population are more owl-ish in their patterns, being at their best in the evenings and even late night hours. They’d rarely rise before 10am or even noon, if given their druthers, so in our day-shift, 9-5 culture, they not only need an alarm clock, they may need several alarms and a gallon of coffee to function at all during the hours their body wants to sleep.
Hummingbirds account for the rest of the population, flitting somewhere between the other two types, some prefering to stay up a little later, some prefering to wake a little earlier.
These natural types determine not only our natural sleep patterns, but when we’re at our most alert, productive and creative, as well as when we’re most likely to benefit from a nap. Chronotypes seem to be mostly hardwired, and likely have a genetic factor. We may force ourselves awake at unnatural hours, but we will never function at our best that way – and may even make ourselves sleep deprived to the point of psychosis (One lark friend of mine dang near wound up in the psych unit after six months of attempting to work graveyard)
Which brings us to an applied example, and why I was reading Brain Rules at 3am, in the first place. I’m a hummingbird with lark-ish tendencies. Left to my own devices, I wake best in early to mid morning, fade a little by afternoon, wind down in early evening, and crash by 10-11pm. But I am married to an extreme owl, who loves working third shift, stays up until dawn regularly, and struggles with being alert before 1-2pm.
Being the more adaptive personality, I wind up forcing myself to be quiet and still in the mornngs, and stay awake late nights, the best I can. It isn’t a productive strategy – after 9pm, I have trouble focusing. Even during early evening hours, I tend towards quiet stillness, so I wind up with about 4 hours when I can actually function, be physically and mentally active. Lately, I’ve found myself in an odd forced type of insomnia; like an overtired toddler, I just wont go to bed, and I haven’t been able to figure out why. Now I think I have a clue – I’ve been forcing myself so far out of my natural chronotype, that even though I’m not technically sleep deprived, it is definitely taking its toll.
How about you?
Which chronotype best represents you, what hours are best for your productivity?
Does your lifestyle allow for your natural patterns, or do you force yourself into alien patterns?
And do you have any suggestions for coping with mismatched work, marriage, family patterns? I could use some help here!