Sleeping patterns, behaviors, and characteristics all vary from person to person based on age, activity level and sleeping conditions. These behaviors are classified with “chronotypes,” or the specific circadian rhythms that define individual levels of alertness and activity throughout the day.
“Chrono,” meaning “relates to time,” and “type,” refers to one of four ways that chronotypes are classified: the lion, the dolphin, the wolf, and the bar. Each of these animals corresponds with a certain type of person and their activity levels. Do you need that afternoon nap, or do you power through the day and make it an early night? Are you focused and driven in the early morning, or do you prefer to snooze in your cozy bedding until the afternoon? Knowing your chronotype can not only boost your productivity, but it can also help you better understand your body’s needs.
Instead of fighting your body’s natural rhythm with a sleep schedule that doesn’t work, it’s best to work with your chronotype. Understanding the advantages and disadvantages of a personal chronotype starts with knowing yours.
What Is a Chronotype?
A chronotype is a classification system used to help understand sleep and productivity schedules, including when you’re most active and alert throughout the day. While there is still some research to be done on what exactly determines your chronotype, experts including sleep coach Alex Savy agree that they are genetically preconditioned, “courtesy of the PER3 gene that defines one’s circadian patterns.”
In addition to your PER3 gene, your chronotype is measured through your body’s biological clock. This means that being a night owl or early riser is not only a personal preference, but is also based on your body’s natural activity, alertness, and rest rhythms.
People typically fall into one of four chronotype categories: the bear, the wolf, the lion, and the dolphin. Each chronotype is loosely based on the relative animal’s sleep patterns and habits, so let’s dive in to discover which chronotype you most closely align with.
The Bear Chronotype
Much like its namesake, the bear chronotype follows the solar cycle, and usually doesn’t have much trouble waking up in the morning or falling asleep at night. This chronotype is most productive in the morning, and will typically struggle with an afternoon slump after lunch, generally around 2–4 p.m. Eight hours of sleep is typical for a bear, and normal sleep hours are usually between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m.
The ideal bear schedule looks like:
- 7–8 a.m.: Wake up
- 10 a.m.–2 p.m.: Focus on deep work
- 2–4 p.m.: Work on lighter tasks
- 4–10 p.m.: Relax and unwind
- 10–11 p.m.: Get ready for bed
- 11 p.m.–7 a.m.: Sleep
Fifty-five percent of the population falls into this category. If bear types fail to get enough sleep at night, they may feel lethargic throughout the day and go to bed earlier than normal. Typically, bear chronotypes are extroverts and can maintain energy throughout conversations.
If you’re a bear, make sure you get enough sleep to sustain your energy levels — unlike your namesake, you don’t get a months-long nap each winter.
The Wolf Chronotype
Just like their real life counterparts, wolf chronotypes are most productive at night. The wolf needs more time to hit snooze in the morning to get all the energy they need to sustain their two bursts of creative energy: the first around noon, and the second coming around 6 p.m. when most others have finished their work for the day.
Similar to what is considered a “night owl,” this chronotype doesn’t get going until the sun sets, and they may have difficulty waking when it comes back up. Wolves are often happy to go to bed at midnight, or well past it, to help fuel their creativity.
The best schedule for a wolf is:
- 7:30–9 a.m.: Wake up
- 10 a.m.–12 p.m.: Focus on lighter tasks
- 12–2 p.m.: Complete deep or creative work
- 2–5 p.m.: Focus on lighter, less intense tasks
- 5–9 p.m.: Engage in creative tasks
- 9–10 p.m.: Unwind from the day
- 10 p.m.–12 a.m.: Prepare for bed
- 12–7:30 a.m.: Sleep
Only about 15 percent of the population identify as wolves. This type of person is usually more reserved and introverted.
The Lion Chronotype
The early lion gets the worm. This chronotype feels most alive in the morning with energy levels peaking before noon, and is typically able to complete massive amounts of work before lunch. Waking up early is a breeze for lions and everything tends to run smoothly until midday. Just as fast as energy for a lion is gained, it’s lost.
The afternoon slump hits this group hard, often needing a power nap to recharge, and by the evening they feel drained. It’s important for lions to have an evening wind-down routine to help them decompress from the day, before calling it an early night around 10 p.m. Lions generally need around eight hours of sleep per night to sustain their high energy levels in the early morning.
The ideal daily schedule for a lion looks like:
- 6–7 a.m.: Wake up
- 8 a.m.–12 p.m.: Focus on deep work
- 12–4 p.m.: Focus on lighter tasks
- 4–9 p.m.: Daily unwind and relax
- 9–10 p.m.: Get ready for bed
- 10 p.m. – 6 a.m.: Sleep
Fifteen percent of the population considers themselves lions. Usually seen exercising early and the first in the office, they’re early risers and have a lot of energy during their prime hours. Almost always type-A people, lion chronotypes typically harness charisma and are usually seen as leaders by their peers.
The Dolphin Chronotype
The insomniac of the water, actual dolphins sleep with half of their brain on at a time — this helps them stay alert and aware of predators. Dolphins have a hard time waking up in the morning, but once they get going, their productivity reaches its peak around mid-morning.
Similar to their nocturnal counterpart, there is always underlying tiredness for dolphins due to their anxious sleeping behaviors — including having a hard time falling asleep each night and rarely getting a full night of sleep. Dolphin chronotypes will usually fall asleep because their body needs to, not because they willingly give in to sleep. Because of their sporadic sleeping habits, it’s recommended they sleep from about midnight to 6 a.m.
If you identify with the characteristics of a dolphin, your ideal schedule looks like:
- 6:30–7:30 a.m.: Wake up
- 8–10 a.m.: Engage with easy to-dos
- 10 a.m.–12 p.m.: Focus on demanding tasks
- 12–4 p.m.: Complete less demanding tasks
- 4–10 p.m.: Relax, unwind from the day
- 10–11:30 p.m.: Prepare for bed
- 12–6:30 a.m.: Sleep
Only 10 percent of the population is considered dolphins. Generally highly intelligent, dolphin types will ruminate about the day’s successes and failures while in bed. This chronotype can be seen as distant and uninterested during social interactions.
What’s My Chronotype?
After reviewing the characteristics and attributes of each chronotype, you may feel like you have more questions than answers — and that’s okay! It’s normal to identify with characteristics of more than one chronotype versus fitting neatly into one. Perhaps you have the late creative surges of a wolf, the late-night ruminations of a dolphin, and the mid-morning focus of a bear. If you want to learn more about how to find your chronotype, we’ve gathered some resources for you.
There are many resources and quizzes available to learn exactly which chronotype you are, with the most popular being “The Power of When”. This quiz is based off the foundings psychologist and board-certified clinical sleep specialist Michael Breus, Ph.D., makes in his book The Power of When: Discover Your Chronotype — and the Best Time to Eat Lunch, Ask for a Raise, Have Sex, Write a Novel, Take Your Meds, and More.
In his book, Dr. Breus shares not only how to find your chronotype, but how to use it to your advantage: when you should schedule meetings, take lunch, aim to be in bed, and more. If you want to know how your chronotype can help you be more productive both while sleeping and awake, we’ve outlined some tips below.