The Secret to Managing Energy Levels? It's All About the Chronotype
Ever struggle with feeling perpetually both lazy and tired? Many of us struggle with finding the balance between work and rest, leading to chronic overwhelm and burnout. So let me introduce you to a little bio-hack that may hold the key to combating feelings of laziness and exhaustion.
If you've not heard of chronotypes and are thinking they may be something from Star Trek, I have news for you – they’re actually the key to understanding how your energy works through the day and perhaps letting yourself off the hook if you struggle to get up at the crack of dawn or find yourself falling asleep at the dinner table.
Read on to discover your own chronotype and some of the ways you can work with it rather than against it.
First up – what exactly is a Chronotype? They are your natural patterns of sleep and wakefulness and are determined by your internal biological clock (it’s genetics, baby) similar to but not the same as your circadian rhythm (source) because where your circadian rhythm can be forced into a new pattern based on exposure to things like light and temperature, your chronotype is more or less fixed.
Understanding your own chronotype can help you make the most of your natural energy levels throughout the day, and identify where you may need to make adjustments to your schedule so you can optimise your energy levels (and stop beating yourself up about why you struggle to get going in the morning or wind down at night).
There are four main chronotypes: although it's also important to note that they exist on a spectrum and you may relate to traits of more than one type. The invitation is to explore and see what works best for you so you can optimise your energy.
Morning chronotypes, also known as "larks” or “bears” tend to wake up early and have the most energy in the morning. They are most alert and productive in the early hours of the day and tend to feel tired in the evening. Larks tend to do better in school and be less impulsive.
Evening chronotypes, also known as "owls” or “wolves” tend to (naturally prefer to) wake up later and have the most energy in the evening. They are most alert and productive at night and tend to feel tired in the morning, having a peak of energy that hits around 6pm when other chronotypes are winding down. People with this chronotype are often creative thinkers.
Intermediate chronotypes, also known as "hummingbirds” or “lions” have a more balanced pattern of sleep and wakefulness. They are not as affected by the time of day and can be productive at any time, finding it easier to get up in the morning, with energy peaking around noon and then finding it easier to fall asleep at night too.
Insomniac chronotypes, also known as Dolphins tend to have an energy peak in the early afternoon and have trouble both getting going in the morning and falling asleep at night. They tend to struggle to keep a regular sleep routine and can often be kept awake with an overactive mind.
Bears make up most of the population (about 50%) and that’s probably why we have the patterns of working 9-5 that we typically try to conform to – even though it doesn’t actually suit us all.
If you’re a different chronotype, then the corporate working day probably doesn’t really work for you and I bet you're spending a lot of energy trying to fit into a way of working that’s not designed for you to thrive.
Of course, the easy answer is to suggest that you get to understand your chronotype and then work with your natural sleep patterns and schedule your activities accordingly. Simple, right?
What makes this advice so hard to follow is the way modern life is constructed to value an 8hr pattern of work/rest/play that runs to fixed times of what is considered appropriate and acceptable.
Capitalism holds no space for deviation from the 9-5, 5 days a week and demands our energy stays consistent throughout the day to make the most of it. The system leaves many of us exhausted just trying to keep up and feeling shamed when we fail.
Sadly, I don’t have a system-wide solution to slay the beast that is capitalism and all the ways it impacts our well-being, but I can share with you some ways that you can optimise your sleep and energy based on your chronotype so you can reclaim a little of your energy and release some of that judgement that creeps in when you hit snooze just one more time.
1. Find out what your chronotype is (online test here) and experiment just for a week, maybe a month if you can of working to your strengths to see how that impacts your levels of feeling rested and energised.
Even changing just one small thing at a time will make a difference.
2. Pay attention to your body's signals and make adjustments as needed – where you can and when you can, remembering that small steps one at a time is better than big, sweeping changes all at once. If you're feeling tired during the day, take a short nap or a break to rest.
If you're feeling restless at night, try engaging in a relaxing activity, such as reading or listening to music, to help you wind down. More tips on sleep hygiene here.
3. Make adjustments where you can to your environment, schedule and daily practices so they support your chronotype.
This might look like moving your most important meetings or calls to when your energy is at its best; blocking out time in your diary at the start or end of the day so you control when people have access to you and having conversations with family/household members about meal time and sleep schedules.
Perhaps most important is to notice any feelings of resistance that come up when exploring these ideas and trace the roots of the story attached – especially around any beliefs about being lazy or that rest needs to be earned.
Remember, that simply by existing you are worthy of rest and that to be your most energised, creative and connected self - you need to rest in a way that suits your very biological nature.
In summary, chronotypes are the natural patterns of sleep and wakefulness that an individual experiences. Understanding your chronotype can help you make the most of your natural energy levels throughout the day, and make adjustments to your schedule to improve your productivity and overall well-being.
It's important to pay attention to your body's signals, try to maintain a consistent sleep schedule, and keep your sleep environment optimal. Your rest is sacred - make sure it's the best it can be.