We’ve talked about chronotypes before in our previous blog Am I Sleeping Too Much. It’s a critical concept because it has such a significant impact on your quality of sleep.
Here's a quick refresher, "chrono" means "time," so your chronotype refers to your internal body clock. It's also important to note that your chronotype is based on your PER3 gene, which impacts your sleep patterns, and it encompasses all the primal aspects of daily life.
In addition to controlling your sleep time and waking up, chronotype influences your core body temperature, appetite, and exercise. It's responsible for you to feel tired and more alert during certain parts of the day.
This 24-hour cycle is our very own personal circadian rhythm, which serves as that internal clock; it syncs up with light and darkness, ultimately influencing far more than sleep. It controls hormone production, alertness, body temperature, and organ function.
Now that you better understand what a chronotype is, let's turn our attention to a more critical question: which chronotype are you?
We'll try to help you answer that question and how understanding your chronotype can help you enhance sleep quality.
While there are different philosophies and opinions around chronotypes, conceptually the idea is the same no matter what the chronotypes are called. Your chronotype is the inherent timeline you should follow for sleeping (and for other activities like eating and sex, too).
Below, we reference three unique chronotypes, and the first two should be fairly obvious:
These sleepers go to bed earlier and wake up earlier.
These sleepers go to bed later (and don’t necessarily wake up later).
These sleepers are early bird/night owl hybrids that have flexibility.
This is obviously a generalization; there are spectrums within these three options. Furthermore, your chronotype can also determine how much sleep you need.
So your first step toward improving deep sleep is determining your chronotype. That way you can rigidly follow your body clock -- while finding the best sleep position for you to sleep comfortably -- and get on your ideal sleep cycle.
In my Tedx talk, I discussed how it took me time to create my own sleep “recipe.” I view sleep as the perfect combination of the right ingredients, so once you know your chronotype, that means following it to optimize the stages of sleep. We’ve done a deep dive on how to increase deep sleep, but here’s a quick refresher:
“Bedtime” is when melatonin is released, and your body is primed for sleep. Your body also reaches its highest temperature, which triggers your “sleep switch.”
This is the most restorative stage of sleep, one where your core body temperature will drop to its lowest point. So many good things happen during deep sleep: spinal fluids wash toxins away from your brain, your DNA heals, your memories are filed, and more.
Getting consistently good REM sleep strengthens your ability to learn, bolsters your memory, and leads to a positive mood. During this stage you’re also rising out of that “valley” as your core body temperature starts to warm up.
So the key to developing your recipe is listening to your body—and your chronotype—and preparing appropriately for that bedtime stage. That means avoiding bright screens, heavy meals, and caffeine. In other words, replace that last TV show or scroll through Facebook with meditation, yoga, or journaling to calm the mind.
There are benefits to knowing your chronotype. It can help give you insights into your wake and sleep cycles during peak productivity times. Benefits include:
No matter which chronotype you are, the most important thing is to create a strict sleep schedule for going to bed to maximize the different types of sleep. If you’ve ever gotten your second wind at night, it’s probably because you missed your ideal sleep window.
This affects your sleep latency—how long it takes to fall asleep—and negatively impacts how much deep sleep you’re getting on a nightly basis. If you’re falling asleep later, it only makes sense that you’re cutting into your deep sleep. This also has a domino effect—deep sleep can start “stealing” from REM sleep, which is obviously not ideal, especially over the long haul.
Since body temperature plays such an important role in your personal sleep pattern, you can use sleep systems to regulate your temperature during those deep sleep and REM sleep stages. As we noted above, deeper, more restorative sleep occurs as your body core temperature slowly drops during deep sleep, so giving it an assist can keep you in the deep sleep stage for long periods.
Ultimately, by following your chronotype, you have a better chance of being at your cognitive and physical best each and every day. While using temperature-regulating sleep systems can help, the most important step, as it relates to your chronotype, is following that bedtime routine religiously, or it’s all for naught.
You probably know if you’re an early bird or a night owl; if you don’t, try to reset as daylight. I’m a sunrise and I go to bed between 9 and 10 pm each evening, so if you’re daylight maybe shoot for between 10 and 11 pm, and then work to dial in what timeframe works best for you.
Once you feel like you’re on the right track, you can introduce sleep technology and tracking apps for the second and third stages, all for the sake of perfecting your sleep patterns.