Do you like to stay up late and struggle to rise early in the morning? Or are you the type who can’t attend any event that ends after 11:00 pm, even on weekends? If either of these describes you, we’ve identified your chronotype.
Chronotypes define when our bodies naturally like to sleep and when they are most awake. There are early chronotypes, late chronotypes and everything in between. Our chronotype is our body’s internal speed governor, accelerating and braking according to its own schedule.
Why do we care? Because your chronotype can dramatically affect your health.
In a nutshell, the world was not built for night owls. The result is that their bodies tend to be out of synch with their lives, causing sleep deprivation, higher rates of disease and a host of other issues.
How chronotypes work
Chronotypes are dependent on our hormone levels, which determine where in the 24-hour cycle we belong. An increase in production of certain hormones jolts us awake. Higher levels of others wind us down.
Chronotypes change over time. Most young children are early birds, turning into night owls as teenagers. As adults, we’re generally forced to shift into an earlier disposition, which becomes more dramatic when we get old.
Here’s the problem:
Most adults work something like 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., which puts them on roughly a 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. schedule. We can adjust our sleep schedules a couple of hours either way to accommodate for our chronotypes, but if your body’s preference is to rise at noon, your inner clock and your life are not in harmony.
In fact, studies show that 65% of the population has a life-chronotype mismatch.
A 2015 study at Yale found that the conflict robs high school students of 30-77 minutes of sleep every night. They don’t go to bed any earlier to accommodate the early start to school, because they’re not wired to. They just sleep less and wake up tired. The study found that delaying school start times allowed students to get more sleep.
Ragged and insufficient sleep is the unheralded epidemic in America today, and it’s taking a tremendous toll on people’s health.
A huge amount of evidence has determined that lack of sleep causes heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, depression – well, basically everything that diminishes people’s health.
Even if late chronotypes cram in eight hours of sleep on their morning schedule, that sleep tends to be disjointed and fitful. Their brains often don’t get refueled the way they need to. Cumulatively over time, it can take an awful toll.
What can late chronotypes do?
The most obvious is, work the afternoon or night shift. Problem solved.
For most people, that isn’t an option. Research hasn’t found a panacea, however, a nutritious diet and exercise can ameliorate the impact. Focus on these:
- Use a sun-spectrum lamp in the morning to trick your body into thinking it’s later than it is.
- Exercise to stimulate the body and regulate hunger.
- Avoid bad fats in your diet and make sure your intake of Omega-3 meets daily requirements. Get them from food, not supplements.
- Avoid processed sugar.
Benjamin Franklin was right about “early to bed, early to rise” correlating with health and well-being. Life in 21st century America was not made for night owls.