We all understand on some level, that our biological clocks inform the quality and depth of our sleep, but it might be worthwhile to explore the gears a little bit.
Our biological clock is actually a collection of nerves called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN.) The SCN resides in the hypothalamus, and every morning when rays of the sun make contact with our eyes, our SCN awakens and begins its reign over a plethora of other biological operations, namely, cortisol and adrenaline production, body temperature, melatonin, and the regulation of our blood pressure. The variations in the rhythms and functions of the SCN are ultimately beholden to genetics, with the differences being neatly (and recently) defined as chronotypes.
The circadian secret
Chronotypes are the biologically driven, behavioral manifestations of our circadian clocks. For years, we’ve limited the intricate classification via two broad terms: night owls and early birds. New research has delayered the nature of these varying sleep patterns, all of which are dictated by the length of our PER3 genes. Understanding our chronotypes allows us to maximize our performance and the effects of different sleep and dietary functions based on our hormones.
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Clinical psychologist and sleep specialist, Michael Breus, posits that there are four chronotypes: Lions, Dolphins, Wolves, and Bears. Our biological rhythms regulate how well we respond to everything from sleep, copulation and even a cup of coffee.
Breuer writes, “Have you ever noticed that there are certain times when you prefer to do certain things—and that those preferences don’t necessarily align with others’ around you? You like to hit the ground running first thing in the morning, while your partner takes his time to shake off sleep. You eat your three square meals every day, while your co-worker snacks and grazes. You feel a boost of productivity and energy in the evening, while your roommate just wants to relax quietly and watch TV after dinner. You sleep soundly, straight through the night, while your best friend is constantly complaining about restless sleep.”
Research on route to be published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences furthers data on the four variations of sleep cycles. Beginning with a survey of 1,305 participants, the team of researchers came across similar discrepancies between the biomedical systems cited above. “Afternooners,” evidenced energy dips in the mornings and evenings while ” morning ‘larks” were most productive between 9 am and 11 am and then fully tuckered out by the time the sun fell down. This is important because many people misinterpret the meaning of “quality sleep.”
Consistency carries a lot more weight when it comes to sleep health than the specific time that you fall asleep does. There’s nothing inherently unhealthy about being a night owl, as long as your behaviors, diet and sleep schedule are accommodating your personal window of activity.
The study’s lead author Arcady Putilov, explains, “Such tools for unidimensional assessment of morning-evening preference do not account for those who are sleepy all day round and who are alert all day round.” While woodcocks are tired pretty much all the time, swifts feel energized from the moment they wake up until their head hits the pillow at night,”
What’s your chronotype and how much sleep you should be getting?
The system to determine the optimal bedtimes that correspond to each chronotype is a fairly simple one- devised by the Sandman himself, Dr. Breues.
Breues takes the number of sleep cycles based on typical chronotypes and then subtracts it from appropriate chronotype wake up times. Lions and bears typically get around five cycles and Dolphins and wolves receive around four. Before you take a look at the chronobiology metrics below, be sure to take the Breuses’ 45-second diagnostic survey designed to identify your unique biological rhythm.
The Lion (medium sleep drive): “The CEOs of the world.” Fifteen to 20% of the population are the practical optimists that fall beneath the Lion moniker. Lions are driven and focused early risers that rarely nap and are most alert at noon.
Up at 6:00am – 470 min = 10:10 pm
The Dolphin (low sleep drive): Ten percent of the population is the neurotic, intelligent dolphin chronotype. Dr. Breus defines these as problem sleepers, with no specific time of day associated with optimal function. The majority of dolphins are insomniacs, as they more often than not wake up feeling unrested.
Up at 6:30am – 400 min = 11:50 pm
The Bear (high sleep drive): Members of this classification account for 50% of the population. They are typically extroverts that optimally perform around mid-morning to early afternoon.
Up 7:00am – 470 min = 11:10 pm
The Wolf (medium sleep drive): Wolves account for the remaining 15-20% of the population. They’re impulsive, creative, moody night owls, that don’t require a lot of sleep to function.
Up at 7:00am – 400 min = 12:00 am