One of the main reasons that you may have trouble getting a good night's rest is because you are not sleeping according to your chronotype. Your chronotype is your body's natural schedule for sleep and productivity. Many traditional schedules do not accommodate all chronotypes, so it can be very difficult to adhere to a schedule that best fits yours. But once you figure out what yours is then you can at least begin to create a sleep schedule that works best for you.
Trying to sleep outside of your chronotype can decrease sleep quality and quantity because your body is not ready to go to sleep or to wake up. This can cause a lot of issues with falling asleep and staying asleep. Here's more information on how to find your chronotype and get great rest.
What is chronotype?
Chronotype is your circadian typology which essentially means the individual differences and when our body is naturally shut down to go to sleep and when they wake up and are alert. Chronotype is determined by our internal clocks that drive us towards sleepiness or wakefulness. This is known as our circadian rhythm and it takes place over a 24-hour period. Some people's chronotypes naturally make them more alert in the morning While others make them more alert at night. This is what we refer to as morning birds and night owls respectively.
Chronotype vs. Circadian rhythm
Although our chronotype is guided by our circadian rhythm, they actually differ in what they are. Our circadian rhythms are the main controllers of different hormones that peak in the morning and at night. Our genes control our proteins which control everything else, but they're all on a little bit of a different clock. Therefore they need something to synchronize them which is the job of the Circadian rhythm. Chronotype more so refers to which part of the day we are alert versus sleep - or our sleep-wake clocks.
What determines your chronotype?
Chronotypes are mostly determined by your genetics. So normally families will have several morning birds and several night owls. It is really determined by melatonin release which is determined by the amount of light that reaches our eyes. When light reaches our brain it converts it into a chemical signal and melatonin is suppressed. When the sun goes down and light exposure reduces, the melatonin system can turn back on. If you are a morning bird then this means that your melatonin system comes on much earlier than night owls whose system comes on later at night.
Why understanding your chronotype is important
Knowing your chronotype is important because sleep-related issues can be tied to having an issue with your chronotype. Knowing what time of day you are most alert and what time of day you are more likely to go to bed can be important for your daily functioning.
It's important to do things such as study, workout, and anything else that requires a lot of energy while you are and be more alert phase of your day. If you're unsure of what that is, then this can lead you to trying to do strenuous activities while your body is on the downhill of its energy slope.
If you struggle with insomnia, or severe sleep deprivation, it can be due to trying to go to sleep outside of your chronotype. Normal schedules normally do not accommodate night owls so they may find themselves having trouble with insomnia and excessive daytime sleepiness. There are ways to combat this such as light therapy and trying to get on a consistent sleep schedule, but if you don't know that this is part of the problem when you don't know how to address it.
Where are the different chronotypes?
There are three major chronotypes. Morning birds naturally rise at 5 or 6 a.m. without an alarm and are ready for bed around 9 or 10 pm. Someone who wakes up at 3 or 4 a.m. and finds it difficult to stay awake past 7 p.m. may actually be diagnosed with advanced phase disorder. This is more common in older adults.
Hummingbird chronotype is where a majority of the population is. There are variations in what time they wake up in the morning and the evening but they take a little time to warm up before they are ready to go midday. It's like a sweet spot before they're ready to wind down at the end of the day.
A night owl is someone who is still active and alerts at around midnight and really has issues getting up between 7 and 8 a.m. However the extreme form of this is someone who stays awake until 4:05 a.m. and sleeps until 12 or 1 pm. They may have delayed sleep phase disorder and this can be common in many teenagers.
What is my chronotype?
The best way to find out is to see a sleep specialist. They may ask you to complete a survey or questionnaire, wear a device to track your sleep for several weeks, and other diagnostic measurements to figure out when you are most alert and when you are ready to go to bed. Most of these will require that individuals go to sleep and wake up whenever they please and without alarms. This will give them the best idea of when they're natural chronotype is.
Other questions may involve individuals paying attention to which parts of the day they have the most energy and which parts of the day they start to feel the most tired. These sorts of studies can be difficult to do with life because it's not always feasible to not have alarms, but if you can at least go 2 weeks figuring out what your natural sleep-wake cycle is can really help determine what your chronotype is.
If you feel like your sleep troubles go far beyond just being unable to find a good schedule with your chronotype then there may be something else underlying. Please click the orange button below to take a free online test and talk with a sleep health professional.