Early bird or night owl? Let your chronotype shape your day

Are you more of a night owl or an early bird? An evening or morning person? Or, in more fancy terms: what’s your chronotype? Determine your body’s bio clock and discover how to use your natural power hours to make the most of your day.


With work days starting at 9 in the morning, modern society seems to be designed for early risers. For many people, that works just fine. But while we all know the stories of successful CEOs who go for a run, meditate and answer all their emails before the sun is even up, others have a more complicated relationship with their alarm clock.


It’s not easy being a night owl in an early rising world. If society’s rhythm is out of sync with your body’s natural clock, it can be difficult to adjust to school schedules and work days. You’re low on energy when you’re expected to perform, and you only start becoming productive when everyone else is calling it a night. And the other way around, early birds can have trouble with parties and other late-night social activities—they can’t pull a late-nighter without suffering social jetlag.


Chronotype & productivity

Early birds and night owls are equally productive, they just have different peak hours. Knowing your body’s natural sleep-wake rhythm—your chronotype—allows you to match your day to your biological programming. If you use your natural power hours wisely, you’ll be able to make the most of your work day and your free time. If you’re a morning person, hit the gym before you go to work, catch up with your friends over breakfast or lunch, and schedule important meetings in the morning. If you’re an evening person, it’s best to schedule your workouts and high-priority appointments later in the day.


Health guru Deepak Chopra is an ardent advocate for biology-based scheduling. He identifies four biological rhythms that are important when it comes to our well-being: the seasonal rhythm, the circadian rhythm, the lunar rhythm, and the tidal rhythm. According to Chopra, we stay grounded by living in sync with our biological rhythms. 


Discover your chronotype

Before you can start building your schedule around your body’s natural rhythms, you have to know what those rhythms are. So how do you determine your chronotype? There are lots of chronotype tests you can take online for free.


Research shows that chronotypes have a strong genetic basis, so whether you’re an early bird or a night owl is largely out of your hands. Aside from the biological clock gene PER3, another important factor that helps determine your chronotype is age. Your body’s natural sleep-wake rhythm changes with age: you wake up very early when you’ll a small child, you sleep until noon as a teenager, and you become an early riser again when you get older. Professor Martha Merrow, who is an expert on the biological clock, never schedules her lectures before 10 in the morning, knowing that her students won’t be able to focus anyway. She doesn’t accuse her students of being lazy—they’re simply victims of their biological clocks.


Adjusting your biological clock

Whatever your chronotype is, it can be unhealthy if it doesn’t match up with your daily schedule. A chronotype mismatch can affect your mood and cause weight fluctuations, for example. So it’s a good thing the traditional 9-to-5 office structure is increasingly shifting towards a 24 hours economy, with work hours becoming more and more flexible. Still, it’s not always possible to match your day to your body’s schedule.


Although you can’t decide to be a morning person or an evening person if you’re not, there are some tricks to adjust your biological clock a little. If your daily schedule is out of sync with your chronotype, here’s what you can do.


1. Stick to a fixed bed time and wake up time

Early birds can have a hard time staying awake at night, and night owls can have trouble getting up in the morning. But if you stubbornly stick to the same bed time and wake up time every day, you’ll notice that it does become easier. Waking up and going to bed at the same time each day (including weekends and days off) helps you achieve sleep stability, which is beneficial for your health. If you also make sure you get 7 to 9 hours of sleep, you’re good.


2. Use lighting to your advantage

If you want to go to sleep early, it’s a good idea to turn off all screens one hour before bed time. And to wake up early, turn on bright lights immediately after the alarm clock rings to trick your biological clock into thinking it’s midday. Go for a run outside, walk to the office, or use a wake up light.


3. Choose the right time to eat

Eating at the right time can help adjust your biological clock. Eat breakfast immediately after you wake up, and make sure your breakfast is rich in proteins. You may not feel very hungry early in the morning, but you’ll see that an early breakfast helps you start your day. Avoid coffee in the afternoon so it won’t mess with your sleep. Eating carbs at night will help you sleep, because they have a calming effect. Don’t have your carbs too late at night, though, since it’s best to stop eating a few hours before bed.


4. Change your exercise schedule

Yoga can ease the transition from day to night, and vice versa. Mornings may be the best time for high-intensity yoga, and evenings are perfect for a more relaxing session. If you want to fall asleep earlier at night, avoid intensely exercising during after-dinner hours. Instead, schedule your workout early in the day.