You may have heard of early birds and night owls, and maybe you already have an idea of which one you are. But sleep chronotypes — your natural tendency to go to sleep and wake up earlier or later in the day — are much more than just morning and night people, and much more than just your sleep routine.
Below, we’ll dive into what chronotypes are and how you can find out yours. Plus, we’ll share how the RISE app can not only help you figure out your chronotype, but help you harness it to be more productive, have more energy, and live a healthier life.
Your chronotype is your natural tendency to go to sleep, wake up, and feel alert earlier or later in the day. But there’s more to it than just early birds and night owls. In fact, chronotypes can be measured on a continuous scale.
There are extreme morning people and extreme evening people and bedtimes may be as far as 12 hours apart on the extreme ends of the scale. But many of us sit somewhere in between the two.
Chronotypes, also known as circadian typology, can be broadly classified into:
Morning types wake up early, feel their most alert and productive in the morning, and go to bed early. Evening types are the opposite, being late sleepers and waking up and feeling their best later in the day.
Some research states about 40% of the adult population sit in either the extreme morning or evening group, while 60% of us are in between.
There’s no set division for chronotypes, however, so some studies divide the population into five groups to account for those of us or skew slightly one way or the other, but aren’t extreme early birds or night owls. These groups include:
But, although these broad classifications exist, you might see many more types out there. These include the lion chronotype, bear chronotype, wolf chronotype, and dolphin chronotype — made popular by sleep specialist Dr. Michael Breus — or the hummingbird, swift, and woodcock, found in some research.
These additional animals are designed to try and group together those of us who don’t fit into morning people and evening people. While more useful than simply having early birds and night owls, these additional animals still don’t account for the entire spectrum of chronotypes.
But there isn’t one agreed-upon set of animals or chronotype groups. In fact, much of the research on the topic uses different ways to measure chronotypes, let alone classify them.
Because it can be hard to study markers of individual chronotype at scale (like actual sleep behavior) or biological markers, most studies use self-reported surveys to measure morningness-eveningness, or your preference for waking up, sleeping, and doing activities in the morning versus the evening. But your chronotype is much more than simple preference, and your behavior doesn’t always match your preference, either.
Your chronotype is determined by:
A quick science lesson: Your chronotype dictates in part the timing of your circadian rhythm, which is your body’s roughly 24-hour internal clock. Your circadian rhythm controls things like your sleep-wake cycle, when your body produces certain hormones (including the sleep hormone melatonin), and when your body temperature fluctuates.
Everyone’s circadian rhythm reacts differently to zeitgebers based on their chronotype, and the timing of when you expose yourself to a zeitgeber can shift your circadian rhythm earlier or later. For example, bright light close to bedtime can push your circadian rhythm and melatonin production back, meaning you have trouble falling asleep at your usual bedtime and go to sleep later, more in line with an evening type.
If you have an early chronotype, your circadian rhythm will skew earlier, and if you have a later chronotype, your circadian rhythm will skew later.
We dived more into the difference between your circadian rhythm and chronotype here.
Heads-up: Your chronotype doesn’t influence how much sleep you need, just the timing of when your body wants to get this sleep. It might look like night owls need more sleep as they sleep for long periods on their days off, but this is often because they’re making up for sleep deprivation from early mornings and short sleep durations during the work week.
You may already have an idea of what your chronotype is based on when you wake up on weekends or days when you have no commitments, or based on when you feel most alert and productive during the day. Want to know for sure? There are a few ways to find out your chronotype:
You may not be able to guess where exactly you sit on the continuous scale of chronotypes, but you can probably guess whether you skew towards more of a morning or evening type.
If possible, try going to bed when you feel tired and waking up without an alarm for at least a week, ideally two. Take note of when you naturally wake up and fall asleep, and when you feel your most active and alert during the day. This should help you determine whether you’re more of an early bird or night owl.
This simple experiment can be hard to pull off, though. Most of us don’t have the luxury of not setting an alarm for more than a few days, let alone an entire week or longer.
Plus, it’s easy to mistake bad habits for genetic predisposition. For example, do you stay up late and have sleep problems because you’re more of a night owl or are those afternoon cups of coffee to blame? One study found when self-proclaimed night owls were exposed to natural light only, avoiding screens and artificial lighting, their circadian rhythms shifted earlier and looked closer to those of early birds.
Google “what is my chronotype?” and you’ll be inundated with online quizzes promising to tell you yours in just a few clicks. While these can be fun, they’re about as accurate as you making an educated guess.
They’ll prompt you to think about questions such as when you have the most energy over the course of the day and when you’d naturally like to wake up, and then assign you a chronotype based on a few answers.
More formal questionnaires exist that are used in scientific research. Two of the most popular questionnaires include:
One of the creators of the Munich Chronotype Questionnaire, Till Roenneberg, says it should be used when studies want to determine the phase of entrainment, or in non-science speak, how someone’s circadian rhythm is synchronized to the outside world. He said the Morningness-Eveningness Questionnaire, on the other hand, should be used when studies want to look at the differences in psychological traits between chronotypes.
Many questionnaires have the same problems of guessing, however. It’s hard to tell what behavior is down to your chronotype and what’s down to your lifestyle or habits. Plus, self-reported data is notoriously inaccurate, making it hard to rely on a quiz to find out your chronotype.
In a lab, researchers can measure markers of your circadian rhythm, and therefore determine your chronotype.
These markers may include:
Of course, this isn’t something we can do ourselves at home and it’s usually reserved for sleep studies. If you do pursue a lab test, be warned they can be time-consuming (up to three weeks!), expensive, and they’re not usually covered by insurance.
New tests are being developed, however, including a blood test that measures gene expression markers in your blood. This test isn’t widely available yet, though.
Want something more accurate than an online questionnaire and less time-consuming and expensive than a lab test? The RISE app can help.
At RISE, we don’t give you an animal that encapsulates your chronotype. Instead, we show you a prediction of your circadian rhythm across the entire day. You can then see when your body naturally wants to wake up and go to sleep.
In between, you can also see when your energy levels will rise and fall and when the best time is to do everything from deep work to a tough workout, from avoiding caffeine to winding down for bed.
How does RISE predict your circadian rhythm exactly? It uses your previous sleep-wake times and algorithms based on the SAFTE model (Sleep, Activity, Fatigue, and Task Effectiveness), which was developed by the US Department of Transportation and the Department of Defense.
It also uses the St Hilaire mathematical model of core body temperature and your inferred light exposure to work out your DLMO. From this, we predict what we call your Melatonin Window, the roughly one-hour window of time when your body’s rate of melatonin production will be at its highest. As melatonin primes your body for sleep, this is the best time to head to bed as you’ll have an easier time falling and staying asleep.
RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to see their circadian rhythm on the Energy screen.
You’re not going to wake up one day and find you’re suddenly a night owl if you’ve always been an early bird, but your chronotype will shift as you age.
Research from 2017 looking at morningness-eveningness found that children begin to “turn towards eveningness” at an early age and then begin turning back towards morningness in adolescence. The study found in participants aged 0 to 1 years old, 70% were morning types and about 1% were evening types. But at age 16, only 5% were morning types and 19% were evening types. Anyone who’s tried to wrestle a sleepy teenager out of bed early can attest to how few of them are early birds.
Other research from 2017 found people’s chronotypes shift later in adolescence, reaching its latest at about 19 years old. After this, chronotypes start shifting earlier.
As your chronotype is based largely on genetics, it can’t be changed exactly. But research shows your chronotype is a “stable state” not a “trait,” meaning that it is malleable to some extent with certain behaviors.
And remember, your chronotype may not totally be to blame for your late nights. Poor sleep hygiene (more on this soon) or your work schedule and social life play a huge part in your sleep-wake times. But that’s good news! You may not be able to change your genetics, but you can tweak your lifestyle and sleep hygiene habits.
So, with a few key behaviors, you can work on changing the timing of your circadian rhythm to look like that of a different chronotype if you find yours doesn’t match your lifestyle.
For example, you might be a night owl who has to be up early due to your work schedule. You don’t need to quit your job and search for night shifts. Instead, by paying attention to certain zeitgebers like getting early morning light and avoiding light close to bedtime, you can shift your sleep cycle earlier.
As you have a night owl tendency, however, you’ll have to actively work to keep your circadian rhythm at an earlier time. When these behaviors stop, or you allow yourself to snooze late into the day, you may “relapse” or shift back to becoming more of a night owl with a later bedtime.
We’ve covered how to reset your circadian rhythm here and we’ll guide you through all of this in the RISE app. But the main things you need to know are:
If you’re a night owl who wants to become an early bird (or one who is forced to be by work or family obligations), we’ve got tips just for you in our guide on “How to Become a Morning Person.”
There is no one chronotype that’s the “best.” You might hear plenty of people saying you need to be a morning person to be more successful or productive, but night owls (and everyone in between the two extremes) can be just as successful and productive — as long as they keep their sleep debt in check.
Heads-up: Sleep debt is the measure of how much sleep you owe your body compared to your sleep need, the genetically determined number of hours of sleep you need. On the RISE app, we measure sleep debt over your last 14 nights and work out your individual sleep need to give you a number to aim for in hours and minutes.
RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to view their sleep need.
RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to view their sleep debt.
For one, evening people are more likely to lose out on sleep than morning people. They might go to bed late, only to wake up early to get to work by 9 a.m., take the kids to school, or simply force themselves out of bed because they feel guilty about their late sleeping habits.
So, the link between late chronotypes and mood disorders or weight gain in some studies may be down to sleep debt more than chronotype. Late types may also have a lot of social jet lag (when your social clock doesn’t match your biological clock) as they attempt to catch up on sleep on the weekends and have irregular sleep times over the course of the week. This leads to being out of sync with your circadian rhythm, which increases your risk of health issues like depression, obesity, and type 2 diabetes.
Beyond thinking about sleep debt and circadian misalignment, studies linking night owls to health problems may also measure chronotypes differently. One paper on the topic states many studies measure chronotype by asking people about their preference for morning or evening activities, rather than actually measuring their sleep behavior or testing for markers like dim light melatonin onset. Self-reported data on questionnaires may also be incorrect. So, more research needs to be done to determine whether being a morning person is in fact better for you.
And remember, even though research suggests being a morning person might be protective against certain health issues, early risers aren’t immune to the effects of high sleep debt. Be sure to keep your sleep debt in check, even if you’re an early bird.
In short, there’s no one chronotype that’s the best. Instead, living in a way that matches your chronotype is how you can maximize energy, productivity, and physical and mental health.
Once you know your chronotype, it’s time to harness that knowledge to get more energy each day, be more productive, and live a healthier, happier life. Here’s how to work with your chronotype, not against it.
Use RISE to get a prediction of your circadian rhythm each day and then you can:
RISE can work out your individual sleep need as well as when your body naturally wants to fall asleep and wake up.
You can check your Melatonin Window each night — the timing can change depending on how regular your sleep schedule is — to see when you should be heading to bed.
By matching your sleep-wake times to your circadian rhythm, you’ll have an easier time falling asleep and keeping your sleep debt low to maximize your energy levels.
RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to set up a reminder to check their Melatonin Window.
Beyond your sleep-wake times, get a prediction of how your energy levels will fluctuate throughout the day. You can use RISE as a personal energy tracker, getting notifications for when your energy will rise and fall or connecting the app to your calendar so you can sync up your daily schedule to match.
For example, try scheduling demanding tasks like coding, writing, or giving presentations for times of the day when you have the most energy. Save easier tasks, such as email and admin, for when your energy levels are lower, like in the early afternoon. You can also see when you should quit work altogether and focus on winding down for bed to get better sleep.
RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to connect their calendar.
What you do during the day — or more importantly when you do it — can impact your sleep and circadian rhythm.
To ensure nothing disturbs your nights and to stay in sync with your circadian rhythm (which can help you do everything from lose weight to get more energy), you can practice sleep hygiene. RISE guides you through 20+ sleep hygiene habits and tells you the exact time to do them to make them more effective.
These behaviors include:
You can learn more about sleep hygiene here.
When you know your chronotype, you can be vigilant about certain habits that may be harder for your type. For example, research suggests early birds get more light in the mornings and night owls get more in the evenings. For night owls, this may push back your circadian rhythm even later if you’re getting blue light from screens or working or relaxing in a brightly lit room late into the night.
If you know you’re a night owl, you can prioritize getting light exposure as soon as possible after waking up to reset your circadian rhythm each morning and try to cut down on late-night light to stop your sleep schedule from drifting later.
Want to know more about the best time to do certain activities? We’ve covered:
RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to set up their 20+ in-app habit notifications.
Online questionnaires aren’t much better than guessing when it comes to finding out your chronotype, but lab tests are expensive and time consuming. The RISE app can help you figure out your chronotype the easy way.
RISE uses your sleep times and algorithms to predict your circadian rhythm each day. You’ll then be able to see when your body naturally wants to wake up and go to sleep.
In between, you’ll see when your energy levels will rise and fall over the day and when to do 20+ sleep hygiene habits to help you meet your sleep need each night and stay in sync with your chronotype, maximizing your energy, productivity, and overall health and wellness each day.
Yes, chronotypes are real and accepted by the scientific community. However, there’s no one set way to measure chronotypes or a set list of chronotypes everyone uses. Chronotypes are broadly classified into morning, intermediate, and evening types, but they can be measured on a continuous scale.
You can find your chronotype by using the RISE app, which uses your sleep data and algorithms to predict your circadian rhythm each day. This then tells you when your body naturally wants to go to sleep and wake up.
The most common chronotype is the intermediate type, which about 60% of the adult population aligns with. This type is neither an extreme morning or evening chronotype.
The best sleeping pattern is one that allows you to meet your sleep need, match your chronotype or social clock, and one you can keep consistently. If you’re a night owl and your schedule allows you to have a later sleeping pattern, there’s no harm in it, as long as you’re keeping your sleep debt low.
Yes, your chronotype is genetic. The heritability of your chronotype may be up to 50%. Beyond genetics, your chronotype is determined by age, sex, and environmental cues like light exposure.
The Munich Chronotype Quiz is an online chronotype quiz you can do to find out your chronotype. To find out more than just your chronotype, use the RISE app, which can predict your circadian rhythm across the entire day, telling you when your body naturally wants to wake up, be more alert, wind down for bed, and go to sleep.
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