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Are you a morning person who sleeps early and is raring to go the moment you’re out of bed? Or do you like to sleep late but it takes you a while to wake up and prepare for the day? In a modern-day society largely driven by working daytime shifts, it can be difficult to accommodate for different sleep patterns ingrained in each individual, so it falls on you to be up and at it even when you may not entirely feel like it. Whether you are more of an early bird or a night owl, sleeping (or staying awake) isn’t always smooth sailing and it can take some adjusting to tailor your lifestyle to suit your sleep pattern.
What is a chronotype?
A “chronotype” is the time in which an individual tends to sleep at during the 24-hour cycle of a day. “Morningness” is having an advanced sleep period, meaning the individual is inclined to sleep early at night and wake up early in the morning. On the other hand, “eveningness” is having a delayed sleep period, which is the tendency to sleep late and wake up late. People who share the same chronotype will time their activities at similar points throughout the day, such as sleeping, eating, exercising and studying.
While it looks like you can only fall into one of two possible chronotypes, sleep patterns greatly vary between individuals. It is more accurate to place your chronotype along a spectrum, with extreme morning and evening types on opposite ends of the scale. Across the span of your lifetime, your sleep patterns shift naturally as well. Children tend to have an advanced sleep period, while adolescents and young adults prefer a delayed sleep period. Many elderly people like to sleep early and wake up early. It is suspected that the evolutionary purpose behind different sleep patterns is to ensure that at least one person in a group was awake to keep everyone safe.
Early birds are people who prefer getting up early in the morning and going to bed early in the evening. People of this type tend to feel the most active and vigorous in the morning. This makes them highly suitable for occupations that start early in the day, or for working in opening shifts or during morning rushes. However, while early birds look like they have it easy with the way a typical workday schedule goes nowadays, they are not exempt from sleep difficulties that may hinder normal participation in society. Advanced sleep phase disorder is recurrently feeling sleepy very early in the evening and waking up too early in the morning, resulting in curtailed sleep duration and daytime sleepiness. Some early birds will find it hard to sleep in, even after staying up later than their usual hours. Consequently, they may be at their best in the mornings but will feel less energetic for activities or social gatherings generally scheduled during the evenings.
Night owls are people who prefer going to bed late at night or the early morning hours, and tend to feel at their most energetic point of the day just before sleeping at night. Daytime work or school hours may not always optimally match their preferred sleeping hours, which can lead to sleep deprivation. Night owls tend to fit into careers that start later in the day or in night shifts. Some night owls find great difficulty in adapting to the standard sleeping and working schedules, which can indicate a delayed sleep phase disorder. Like chronotypes, it is best to view your night owl habits on a spectrum. Most people have typical sleeping hours, a couple of people will have some tendency to be night owls, while the remaining few are at the extreme end.
Shifting your sleep pattern
Sleeping habits can also change over the course of your life and can be influenced by a number of factors. There are suggestions that genetics may play a part in your sleeping preferences, as the same tendencies can run in families. Also mentioned previously, adolescents and young adults are more likely to harbour night owl habits than children and elderlies. A last prominent factor affecting your sleep pattern is the timing of light exposure, ranging from seasonal changes in natural light to your lifestyle in an abundance of electric lights available throughout all hours of the day.
Your chronotype is connected to your circadian rhythm, which is your body’s internal clock which dictates the timing of internal, biological activities your body undergoes daily. Although it may seem your sleep pattern depends on the number of hours of sleep you need, it is not necessarily so. Your circadian rhythm is largely regulated by light exposure, not the amount of time you spend asleep. If you wish to adjust your sleep schedule, managing your exposure to and avoidance of light is one way you can get started. For example, minimising the use of electronic devices or bright lights before bed may help you settle in for sleep. It is preferable to wake up gradually with the sun if your schedule allows, rather than shocking your body to a sudden awakening with an alarm clock. Alternatively, a sunrise alarm clock could be used to fill your room with light to imitate the gradual rise of the sun and allow your body to wake up feeling refreshed and prepared.
Foster, R., & Kreitzman, L. (2017). Circadian rhythms: a very short introduction. Oxford University Press.
Roenneberg, T., Kuehnle, T., Juda, M., Kantermann, T., Allebrandt, K., Gordijn, M., & Merrow, M. (2007). Epidemiology of the human circadian clock. Sleep medicine reviews, 11(6), 429-438.