Have you ever felt like you come from a different planet just because you wake up when everyone around you goes to sleep? Have you been feeling jet lagged for as long as you can remember without really traveling? Maybe you are never really awake and ready to work before noon and all your mornings are a mess of teary-eyed yawns and caffeine buzzes. While you are definitely on the right planet, your biological clock runs differently from the people around you. What can you say, except, that is your chronotype?
Chronotype sounds like a fancy term, but it is a portmanteau of two simple words. It defines the internal calibration of your biological clock. If your internal clock runs 4 hours behind the external cues, it is no wonder you always feel drowsy, tired and out of whack. While coffee, Redbull, and caffeine pills won’t do much to reduce this jetlag; you can still reduce your tedium by following the intrinsic rhythm of your biological clock. It is much easier for people with home offices and flexible work hours. Millions of people around the globe often feel the pangs of having a “misplaced” chronotype since they have to adhere to a 9 to 5 routine forcefully.
What Determines Your Chronotype?
Your chronotype is hardly the result of habit or external stimulus. So contrary to what the older generation believes and says your social jetlag is not a result of laziness or the lack of a “morning habit.” It is a function of the PER3 gene. The longer the gene is the more are your chances of becoming an early riser. A longer gene also generally means you need about 7 hours of sleep to feel fresh in the early hours of the day.
A shorter PER3 gene often corresponds to shorter hours of sleep among late risers. A night owl is hardly a result of practice or needs. A conflicting social schedule often arises from shorter versions of the PER3 gene, and it’s unique protein products that dictate more late-night activity among the carrier individuals.
As of now, researchers know for sure that the different chronotypes are results of the functions of the suprachiasmatic nuclei (SCN) which is a part of the hypothalamus. The PER3 and NR1D2 genes control the light response via signaling of the peripheral clocks.
Entraining the central clock with the help of external cues is possible. People often find it difficult to train their bodies to the external cues because they have multiple peripheral clocks that reside in the form of circadian signal receptors in almost all vital organs. Your pituitary gland, adrenaline glands, liver, skin, and even hair follicles contain several of these peripheral body clocks that control the responses to several environmental stimuli.
Therefore, the molecular oscillations at the peripheral clocks do not determine the direct measure of the central oscillator. They only act as a proxy, and they vary substantially between individuals. The areas of circadian clock-dependent behavior modifications and decision making are still not as clear as the genetic mechanisms of circadian rhythm.
How Does your Internal Clock Influence your Chronotype?
Your sleep-wake cycles and daily body rhythms are a result of the interactions between circadian rhythms and homeostatic drive. Each individual has an internal molecular pacemaker that dictates the states of sleep and arousal. Each person differs from the other considerably at a molecular level. The variation of these timings of the individual rhythms results in chronotypes.
Depending on the chronotype, a person’s response to a stimulus can vary significantly during different times of the day which is the reason why morning larks often perform cognitive tasks better early in the day and the night owls perform better at night. As per the homeostatic drive, the energy store of an individual gradually depletes over the duration of the day and the energy levels peak at varying hours of the day depending on the circadian drive. As a result, your awakeness and drowsiness is not just a result of your circadian rhythm.
What are the Different Chronotypes that Exist Today?
In case you are looking for a reason for a chronotype rather than the cause of it, you are in luck. Recent research by the American Sleep Association shows that your circadian rhythm might be a result of years of evolutionary process. It is Mother Nature’s way of showing when your body needs rest.
In nature, there are several groups of people with a variety of wake-sleep cycles. It must have helped the survival of cohorts and communities in the early Stone Ages. While one group rested, the others could keep a watch, gather and prep food and take care of the children. Naturally, there are several groups predominant among the urban communities right now. It is a simple matter of heredity and adaptation.
- Lions.These are the individuals, who are most active during the daytime. They are not as active during the night. They hit the hay quite early at night.
- Wolves. These are the complete night owls. They wake up late, sleep late and work through the evening and night. They are most active during the evening when the morning birds are going to sleep.
- Bears. They have a natural energy cycle that is very much in tune with the external light cues. The energy levels of these individuals rise and fall with the sun.
- Dolphins. While the real cetaceans often sleep with one brain hemisphere on, the people belonging to this group usually sleep with one eye open. They are the lightest sleepers, and they always seem to wake up even when you tiptoe around them.
Although there are huge variations between the sleep-wake cycles of this chronotype, there is little diversity when it comes to working hours. If you have always felt that the 9 to 5 schedule was never suitable for you, you are right. Your internal circadian clock dictates the hours you are most likely to be awake, active and most alert.
Work Schedules Make it Difficult for Evening People to get Enough Rest
Listening to your internal clock can give you better rest. Almost 70 million Americans suffer from some kind of sleeping disorder, and millions more have not had a good night’s rest in the last few months. Good sleep does not just depend on the hours of falling asleep and waking up. It also depends on the quality of sleep. Sleeping soundly throughout the night and not waking up every couple of hours to the slightest sound or experiencing nightmares defines good sleep.
Research shows that one of the simplest ways to achieve good quality sleep is by following your chronotype. Your circadian rhythm can tell you exactly when you should be asleep and when your brain should be able to offer you a better sleep quality. Sometimes, that means not sticking to the conventional 24-hour cycles as the rest of the world does. However, there is no replacement for a good night’s rest, and that is exactly what modern-day studies on human biological clocks show.
In several industrialized societies people take up shift jobs. The current job scene is gradually obliterating the traditional working hours. Media companies, international relations companies, IT solution providers and online marketing agencies are providing round the clock services to their clients. People working in similar sectors often have rotating shifts and erratic working hours. It often leads to sleep-wake disturbances among them.
The rotation of work hours has been causing sleep disorders, irritable bowel syndrome and increasing susceptibility to several “lifestyle” diseases. Occurrences of diabetes, high levels of cholesterol, high blood pressure and obesity are increasing due to the lack of importance towards chronotype and circadian rhythms.
Are you Getting Enough Rest as per your Biological Sleep-Wake Cycle?
About 50% of the world’s population consists of Bears, and about only 15% are Lions. So why do almost all workplaces stick to work hours that are fit for Lions? Is there a way you can find out your actual internal circadian clock and improve your sleep quality? You will find several quizzes and studies that aim at helping people find their rhythm.
Here is a brief look at the sleep cycle you should be idealizing as per your chronotype.
- The average sleep cycle lasts for about 90 minutes for all types of sleepers.
- Lions and Bears get about 5 cycles each which translate to 5 cycles of 90 minutes each.
- Lions are the early risers and bears are often somewhere in the middle of the road.
- Lions are up, and active by 6 am, whereas the Bears are awake and working by 7 am.
- Since each of them needs about 470 minutes or about 8 hours of sleep, lions need to be in bed by 10:00 pm and bears need to be in bed by 11 pm.
- Dolphins and Wolves usually experience 4 cycles of 90 minutes each.
- Therefore, they need about 400 minutes to sleep (including 40 minutes to fall asleep).
- Dolphins and Wolves need to be in bed by 12:00 am, and 11:50 am for waking up at 7 am and 6:30 am respectively.
Investigations into sleep quality and pattern among the different types of sleepers show that Dolphins are more likely to stay up late. Most Dolphins are either insomniacs or self-diagnosed insomniacs. They can spend an hour or longer in bed worrying about past incidents, their upcoming day, plans and random things.
In case you identify with these tendencies, you can spend 30 minutes each evening writing in your “worry journal.” Rather than pushing the thoughts and anxieties at the back of your mind, you should haul them up front and be done with them once and for all.
Recent researches show that people who are more likely to work on their next day’s to-do list or a worry list right before bed are more likely to fall asleep earlier and experience better sleep than the ones who struggle every day to not think about similar matters. The release of information is all it takes to clear your mind and fall into a “dreamless” sleep that can refresh you next day.
Can Internal Circadian Clocks Dictate Sleep Disorders in Children and Adults?
While some people are morning larks and some are night owls, places of employment and education rarely give them the opportunity to accommodate a full 8-hours sleep.
A recent study claims that high school students lose about 70 minutes of sleep each night at an average due to school timings and extracurricular activities. The Lions and the Wolves are at the opposite ends of the pole. It is difficult for either one to conform to the biological rhythm of the other. As a result, several people fall under the spectrum of sleep disorders.
If you find it difficult to wake up every morning and your sleep schedule interferes with your daily routines, you might have a sleep disorder too. Circadian rhythm disorders are not as rare as we would like them to be. There are several common disorders that people often ignore as stress from work or laziness. Two of the most commonly occurring sleep disorders include;
- Advanced sleep phase syndrome (ASPS). This is where a person feels sleepy earlier than the socially accepted bedtime. A person can feel drowsy, lethargic and experienced cognitive impairment by as early as 7 pm every evening. To classify as a disorder, your early sleeping tendencies should recur for 3 months or more. These people are also extreme early risers. They are usually awake, and alert by 3 am to 4 am. They experience complete 8 hours of sound sleep as long as they go to bed as per the demands of their biological clock.
- Delayed sleep phase syndrome (DSPS). People with DSPS often self-diagnose themselves as insomniacs. Delayed sleep disorder causes people to lay awake at night until 12 am to 2 am. However, when they fall asleep, they are likely to experience good quality restorative sleep for 8 hours. It is only possible for most people to sleep on weekends. The natural wake-up time for people suffering from DSPS varies between 8 am to 10 am. People with more chronic cases of DSPD often find it difficult to fall asleep before 4 am and wake up before noon.
Troubled sleep or bad quality sleep is not the problem for either DSPS or ASPS. The problem is the “improper” timing of sleep. People with ASPS often report feeling isolated or socially aloof due to their early bedtimes. Their impaired cognition in the early evenings also takes a significant toll on their social lives.
People suffering from DSPS are often irritable by the end of the day due to the lack of enough sleep in the mornings. Their school routines or workplace requirements usually cut their morning sleeping hours short by more than one hour on a regular basis. People suffering from either of these conditions often find themselves suffering from chronic sleep deprivation and chronic fatigue.
When Does the Shift of Chronotype Usually Occur in Human Beings?
The body clock starts to shift noticeably during the adolescent years. It is a result of hormonal changes, social demands, and peer pressure. Increasing need for rest, variation in eating habits and levels of physical activities determine a considerable part of the sleep-wake schedule of the teens and the young adults. However, it is all about the individual’s genetic makeup.
In case, your teenage child likes to sleep in till late or does not fall asleep before 12 am, you can entirely blame it on their genes. They are not lazy, especially since their early school time clashes with their natural need for rest. Most adolescents are likely to be late risers due to the changes their bodies are going through. Forcing them into an irregular schedule can lead to behavior problems, learning problems and discipline issues.
You could say, a lot of adolescents “grow out” of this phase. After all, 50% of the people in the world have an 11 pm to 7 am sleep-wake cycle. Nonetheless, several offices, managers, and even schools are finally giving importance to the “sleep problems” that are ravaging productivity among their employees and students. It is a result of the wide-ranging investigations and studies on adolescents, young adults, and adults, who report feeling out of sync with their school hours and work hours.
Several organizations are helping people work with their internal wiring and not against it. One of the leading reasons is the increasing levels of productivity that comes with the re-adjustment of work schedules.
Can your Circadian Rhythm Determine your Physiological Health?
Finding your chronotype is critical for your health. Not recognizing the demands of your body can wreck your health. There is a strong correlation between sleep disorders and chronotypes in all ages. A recent study shows a healthy relationship between eveningness and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children belonging to several ethnic groups. Several investigations have highlighted the relationship between chronotypes and obesity. Apart from physical health, the lack of proper sleep due to unusual sleep-wake cycles can potentially affect mental health as well.
The natural cycle of your body determines the rise and fall of several hormone levels in your system. One of the most important hormones is melatonin that controls your sleep onset and wakefulness throughout the day. Higher melatonin levels at night help you fall asleep, and lower levels during the morning-day keep you alert. As a result, your sleep pattern can impact your general mood, increase or decrease instances of depression, increase your binge eating habits and impact your blood glucose levels. Chronotype mismatch increases your chances of getting Type 2 diabetes. It is an important factor in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and obesity.
A recent study involving over 400 normal weight participants belonging to several chronotype classes shows that the morning birds consumed most of their calories in the mornings with breakfast and some with lunch. The eveningness group usually consumes higher calories during dinner. In overweight individuals, the eating habits are more erratic. Overweight early birds typically consume more calories at night and overweight night owls usually consume more calories in the mornings.
The most exciting find was – food preferences varied according to the internal circadian clock. Morning people typically show higher intake of fruit and night owls preferred their proteins. Most overweight people are overweight because they deviate from their natural physiological rhythms. It might point towards the necessity of specific diets for people belonging to different chronotype since their daily energy needs usually vary significantly according to their intrinsic rhythms.
How can People with Eveningness Adjust to a Morning Schedule Efficiently?
Evening people show higher incidences of emotional eating and binge eating. Therefore, they are twice as likely to suffer from insulin resistance, joint inflammation problems, and liver problems. Their systems often withstand more oxidative damage and stress hormones. They are also more likely to become caffeine dependent and alcohol dependent. Therefore, it is no surprise that they often find it more difficult than usual to fall asleep at regular hours.
Problems of the circadian rhythm mismatches are one of the toughest to reckon with, but you can make it better for yourself, your family, friends, and colleagues, by trying a few things.
- Exercise. Exercise is the best way to stimulate your joints and improve your restorative mechanisms of the body. Exercising also helps you to enhance insulin sensitivity naturally and control hunger.
- Proper diet. Manage your calorie intake. A fascinating and somewhat viral study shows that as long as you watch how many calories you are eating per day, the rest of the factors can take care of themselves.
- The right fat. This might confuse you a little bit since dieticians often tell people to avoid fat. However, there is a right kind of fat that you need to consume. Focus on increasing your omega-3-fatty acid intake and reduce your omega-6-fatty acid consumption.
- Gut health. Pay attention to what you are eating, but also pay attention to what’s coming out. Your gut health will determine a lot, and it will dictate your hunger-fullness signals as well. Paying attention to your gut health will help you eat better, sleep better and stay healthier.
If you know by now that you are an evening person, you merely need to cut down the complex carbohydrates and reduce your intake of inflammatory food. Do not drink caffeine at least 3 hours before bedtime. Alcohol often impedes sleep and interferes with sleep quality, so try to refrain from drinking before heading to bed.
Several studies also elicit a complicated relationship between nicotine consumption and sleep quality. Smokers have higher chances of suffering from sleep apnea, interrupted sleep and poor sleep quality. People already suffering from sleep deprivation should try to cut down on alcohol consumption and smoking before starting any therapy or treatment for the improvement of sleep.
Can Therapy Help you Tackle odd Sleep-wake Hours and Sleep Disorders?
Chronotherapy often works wonders for most people suffering from weird daily routines. It includes drug-free rescheduling for insomnia, delayed sleep phase syndrome (DSPS) and advanced sleep phase syndrome (ASPS). It uses slow but steady advancement or delays in bedtimes, changes in daily routines and dietary modifications to help people achieve better quality sleep at socially acceptable hours.
Several cases report long-term relief from sleep disorders and insomnia from patients. Sometimes, chronotherapy includes bright light therapy. It is now a popular fact that intense blue light can reduce the levels of melatonin in an individual’s system. Therefore, exposure to extreme blue light can lead to alertness and sleep deprivation.
Modern studies show that exposure to LEDs, CFLs, and digital screens leads to chronic sleep deprivation in people. Scientists have utilized this fact to induce alertness in people suffering from delayed sleep phase syndrome or the night owls by exposing them to intense blue light box therapy in the mornings.
Melatonin treatment has also proven useful in case of some individuals, who do not respond that well to drugless rescheduling therapy. Drug-based sleep cycle rescheduling is especially necessary for people who have been experiencing chronic sleep disorders for a long time. People with over 4 years of delayed sleep phase syndrome, insomnia, and sleep apnea can shift their bedtime from 4:50 am to 12:20 am upon drug-assisted chronotherapy.
For many patients, melatonin therapy results in long-term relief from sleep disorders which a lesser common chronotype can bring. Doctors usually couple melatonin therapy with sleep medications that do not react with psychoactive agents. However, if you are on other medicines for depression or anxiety disorders, you must always disclose it to your physician before starting your melatonin treatment.
Bright light therapy, sleep rescheduling, and melatonin therapy can work together. In fact, severe sleep disorders often need the help of all therapies and sleep treatments possible for long-term redressal. For undertaking melatonin treatment, it is crucial that you first consult a doctor or a sleep expert.
Self-administration or adjustment of melatonin dosage is highly risky since hormone therapies can have grievous side effects. Doctors usually refrain from giving melatonin supplements and caffeine supplements to growing children, but there have been several instances of teenagers benefiting from the same. Adults have lower risks of similar side effects from prolonged treatment.
Who Can Make the Best of their Sleep-Wake Cycles?
An uncommon chronotype is not a problem when you do not have to work with others. Lone wolves find it easier to adjust to their biological clocks.
Writers, painters, musicians, designers and online talents are commonly night owls or dolphins. Freelancing talents find it much easier to adhere to their intrinsic circadian rhythms. Working with a large team, harmonizing with multiple associates from all across the country and coordinated decision making become more challenging for those, who are suffering from sleep disorders. It is unfortunate that millions have to face the brunt of not being able to coordinate their peak energy times with their work hours even today.
The Lions usually do not face any problem due to their early rising habits, unless they have to live with a Wolf chronotype. Since a majority of the world’s population belongs to the Bear chronotype, they find it the easiest to adjust to work schedules, school routines, and social obligations without compromising their sleep duration or quality. Nonetheless, with improving technology, non-invasive therapy, and supplemental treatment, even the Wolves might find it comparatively easier to adjust to external cues.
What Does your Chronotype Say About You?
Chronotype is your sleep-wake cycle. It is true that the best way to get sound sleep is by listening to your internal clock, but that is rarely possible due to our daily routines. Even a biphasic sleep schedule can help you mitigate the impacts of sleep deprivation.
Several parents, teenagers and young adults believe that they can make up for the daily lack of sleep by oversleeping on the weekends. Sadly, that is ineffective as far as the restorative mechanisms are concerned. It is imperative that you stop being hard on yourself for having a less common or awkward chronotype. In fact, you must remember that you are not alone.
There are possibly millions of other people out there, who share your sleep-wake cycle. You might not know anyone with your bedtime and wake-up time in your vicinity right now, but that is not reason enough to beat yourself up about it. Your body clock says nothing about your productivity levels or your personality. It signifies your body’s natural central clock. If you have the opportunity to adjust your daily routine as per your circadian rhythm, you should, by all means, do so. Adhering to your chronotype is the only way to improve your health and say goodbye to chronic fatigue.
Co-founder of Counting Sheep and Sleepaholic