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4 Sleep Patterns and How to Use Them to Boost Your Productivity

Cover photo for 4 Sleep Patterns and How to Use Them to Boost Your Productivity

If you think this is another article talking about morning routines, you couldn’t be more wrong.

For months, I’ve been hurting myself, struggling to create the perfect morning plan that could help me reach high productivity peaks and get more work done, but I miserably failed every time.

I used three unique patterns, tried to wake up at unlikely hours, and also develop new hobbies, but nothing worked for me. I thought the problem was my resilience and my inability to build a successful schedule, but it wasn’t. All my other routines worked fine, and they gave me results — the only thing I couldn’t stand was waking up at 5 A.M. and starting working.

For me, getting up in the morning was exhausting, even when I slept 8 hours per night. Also, I loved working in the evening, and I couldn’t understand why I should give up on that easiness.

The Lie of the Miracle Morning

The fact is, I got caught in this self-improvement myth that puts the morning routine on a pedestal. Coaches all over the Internet suggest waking up and taking time to meditate, doing exercise, and reading so you can create your miracle morning. But from what I experienced, not everybody can do that.

Having those 2–3 hours of advantage, compared to all the other people, is stunning since it gives you time to improve both mentally and physically. However, if you are not prone to waking up early, it might become stressful.

The morning routines don’t work for everyone, and you know why? Because the miracle behind this myth is not in the word morning, but in the word routine.

In the last few years, many studies came up, and it seems like the early bird doesn’t always catch the worm anymore, not if a night owl eats it first. The moment you wake up has become irrelevant — what matters is how much you exploit the chronotypes some scientists and sleep specialists keep talking about.

What is a Chronotype?

The concept of chronotype is almost 50 years old and was invented by Öquist, who adopted it for the first time in his thesis in 1970.

His study aimed to understand if the circadian rhythms of a person influence his productivity and how it happens. So he made a questionnaire that allowed people to understand which was the part of the day in which they have maximum cognitive and physical performance.

O. Östberg and J. Horne revised this questionnaire in the following years, publishing the morningness-eveningness questionnaire (MEQ), which is still in use nowadays to understand if a person’s circadian rhythm produces a peak of alertness in the morning or the evening.

You can take the MEQ test here, but this won’t give you one of the 4 sleep patterns that can help you boost your productivity.

The Discovery of Chronotypes

The research continued for decades until, in December 2018, Elise R. Facer-Childs, Sophie Boiling, and George M. Balanos published a study that opened the gates of chronotypes to the big public of self-improvement.

In particular, the purpose of the three researchers was to investigate how much impact the chronotype of a person has on its physical and cognitive performances during different times of the day. So they subdivided people into two main types: the larks, which work better during the day, and the owls, which are more productive in the evening. Later, those chronotypes split into four new animals: the bear, the lion, the dolphin, and the wolf.

Considering the individual circadian rhythms, they have proven that we have a particular time of the day in which we are more productive and more energetic. So if we give attention to this period, it will be easier for us to improve our performances, both in our private and work life.

To discover which is your chronotype, you can take an online quiz here. Meanwhile, in the following paragraphs, I will guide you through the pros and cons of the 4 sleep patterns that will help you boost your productivity. But first, a brief insight on what is a circadian rhythm, in case you never heard about it.

What is a Circadian Rhythm?

Like all the living beings on Earth, humans have developed many internal cycles that follow the day and night rotation of our planet, which lasts for about 24 hours.

These cycles are the circadian rhythms, and they regulate both physical and physiological aspects of our body, like the blood pressure, the body temperature, the sleep-wake alternation, or even the reaction time and the coordination accuracy.

Infographic for 4 Sleep Patterns and How to Use Them to Boost Your Productivity
Infographic from Wikipedia

As you can see from the picture, all these events follow a pattern and are unique for each person. Somebody might experience the highest coordination at 9 A.M., while somebody else’s spike may happen at 10 or 12 A.M.

During life, a circadian rhythm can shift differently for each of us, so people could have peak performances at different times of the day, depending on how their cycle is working at the moment. Still, those changes aren’t instantaneous — it takes ages for a circadian rhythm to turn until the changes become relevant to our body.

So here are 4 sleep patterns and how to use them to boost your productivity.

What’s your Chronotype?

Chronotype #1 — The Bear

The most common chronotype is the bear — around 55% of the population resonates with this chronotype.

Between the four chronotypes, the bears’ sleep cycle is the most faithful to the day-night rotation — they hate staying up late, and they have no trouble getting to sleep.

If you are a bear, your best productivity period is between mid-morning and mid-afternoon. Still, if you don’t get enough sleep, you are inclined to take post-lunch power naps to recover from the sleep deprivation and get ready for the next work session.

Sleep Cycle: 11:00 P.M. — 7:00 A.M.

Enhanced Productivity: 10 A.M. — 2 P.M.

Tip: Schedule your work in the morning and try to finish in the early afternoon the most urgent tasks. If you are late, you better stop working before losing any more time. Also, you are an extrovert — use this trait to your advantage until your never-ending energy perishes in the night.

Chronotype #2 — The Lion

The lion chronotype fully embodies the early bird imagery — it likes to get up early in the morning, it has a lot of energy, and it can start working right away if possible.

Lions usually run out of energy around midday, so they finish all their work tasks in the first hours of the day, so to take the afternoon off, if possible. Their sleep-wake cycle also follows the day-night rotation — as for the bears, they get to sleep effortlessly and exhausted.

Sleep Cycle: 10:00 P.M. — 6 A.M.

Enhanced Productivity: 8:00 A.M. — 12:00 P.M.

Tip: Schedule your work in the evening, so when you wake up, you already know what to do, and you don’t lose time figuring it out. Also, mind that you are a charismatic and optimistic person, so use those skills to your advantage.

Chronotype #3 — The Dolphin

The dolphin is one of the 4 sleep patterns that will help you boost your productivity, but life is cruel to you.

You always had problems following a fixed sleep-wake cycle schedule, and this has a high impact on your daily mood.

Dolphins sleep with half of their brain at a time, so it is no surprise if you are having problems resting peacefully. You are always on your toes, and you wake up frequently during the night.

Dolphins also ruminate about their successes and failures, a behavior that protracts overnight, making them socially distant and uninterested. Despite their anxiety, they are one of the most intelligent chronotypes.

Sleep Cycle: 11:30 P.M. — 6:30 A.M.

Enhanced Productivity: 3:00 P.M. — 9:00 P.M.

Tip: Since day-working does not fit you, take frequent breaks to refresh and mentally recharge. Your productivity breakthroughs could happen anytime, so remain prepared to take notes before your ideas disappear. Keeping a journal might be a life-saving idea.

Chronotype #4 — The Wolf

The wolf chronotype, unlike the lion, has trouble waking up in the morning — wolves are more energetic when they wake up late, and they burst out energy and creativity in the evening.

Wolves feel tired throughout the day, but they suddenly wake up when the sun is about to go down. They are introverted and highly creative beings, traits that flare up in two steps, one around noon and one around 6 P.M.

Sleep Cycle: 12:00 A.M. — 7:30 A.M.

Enhanced Productivity: 5:00 P.M. — 12:00 A.M.

Tip: If you feel full of energy in the evening, you better take the shot and delay some hours of sleep instead of forcing yourself to lie in bed. Never ignore your productivity spikes and get to work, even in the strangest situations.

How to use your Chronotype

While reading this article, you may have resonated with the characteristics of different chronotypes. The reason is chronotypes are fixed structures created to explain similar traits of similar people, but this does not mean you cannot suit the qualities of multiple animals.

Perhaps you have the creativity of the wolf and the spikes of productivity of the lion. Or maybe the intelligence of a dolphin and the extroversion of the bear. What matters is to understand when your productivity spike arises so you can use this knowledge in your favor.

Next time you hear about the morning miracle or the morning routine, do not make the same mistake and strive to get up at 5 A.M. You should establish a pattern to reach a spike of productivity, but when to perform is up to you.

What is my chronotype?

I discovered my chronotype around 6 months ago, and from that moment on I couldn’t have been more productive.

I am both a wolf and a lion — I love to work late in the evening when I’m the most productive, but I also have the morning energy of a lion (even if morning for me it’s 9 to 10 A.M.).

The problem is that I become a lazy procrastinator in the afternoon, so I planned to develop all my self-development routines after lunch. With a little tweak to my schedule, I can read, meditate, and go running before evening comes with its energy boost.

This is how I transformed the miracle morning that never worked for me into a miracle afternoon, which is all I ever needed.

If you ever found yourself in my situation, you may want to know more about the chronotypes and how to exploit them. If you do, I suggest “The Power of When” by Dr. Michael Breus, a certified sleep specialist that also created a quiz to discover your chronotype. You will find more in-depth suggestions there, even if, from what you read, you may already know which is your chronotype.

Time to develop a routine now!

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Article first published on The Ascent, a Medium publication.

Cover photo by Oladimeji Ajegbile on Unsplash.