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Sleep cycles: Are you a lion, dolphin, wolf or bear?

Identifying your chronotype — the pattern of when you are most alert and most suited to sleep — can help you find greater balance in your day, or so the theory goes.
UPDATED ON JAN 16, 2021 10:15 AM IST

One of the upsides of sleep-wake cycles being disrupted in the pandemic — by anxiety, stress, the loss of routine — is that the individual can finally try and create a routine that works for them. What is their ideal lunch time? What are their most productive hours? How much sleep do they really need and when?

It’s an opportunity to hit reset by identifying and accommodating natural sleep-wake patterns. In one new chronotype theory, this involves asking, am I a lion, a dolphin, a wolf or a bear?

American clinical psychologist Dr Michael Breus put forth the theory, in 2016, that all sleepers fall into one of these four chronotypes. Which one depends on a mix of factors drawn out by a questionnaire that factors in personality traits and natural circadian rhythm.

Researchers have been using questionnaires since the 1970s to determine chronotypes — essentially, the pattern of when a person is most alert and most suited to sleep (as well as for how long).

In Breus’s four types, the type he calls the Bear rises around 7 am and is slow to start the day, often foggy and fatigued for the first few hours. These are typically industrious, diligent, adaptable people, worker bees who take direction well, are easy-going and thrive in team environments. “Bears” make up the chunk of the population, Breus said.

The Lion rises early (5 am – 6 am) and sleeps early (9 pm – 10 pm), is typically positive, intelligent, focused, ambitious, hard-working, efficient and health-conscious.

If the wolf had their way, they’d rise at 9 or 10am and sleep at 1 am. These are typically people who are sociable, come alive at night, are eager for new experiences, unconventional and happy to step outside boundaries.

The dolphins have more fluid sleep and wake patterns and may often stay up late and / or have difficulty sleeping. They tend to be more anxiety-prone, intuitive, creative and independent-minded.

Once a person has identified their chronotype, they can work out the kind of schedule that suits them best, not just in terms of sleep but also in terms of the best time to eat, work, socialise, creating a more ideal daily routine and thus, the theory goes, better work-life balance.

There is a flip side to such a balance, of course — the question of how you sync it with the rest of your world. That’s a question that comes to mind for Dr Sanjay Manchanda, a somnologist and head of the department of sleep medicine at Delhi’s Sir Gangaram Hospital, every time he hears of a new chronotype theory.

“Sleep has become completely patternless, which is affecting its quality and continuity,” he says. “But what I tell patients is to keep to the earlier routine as much as possible; keep the sleep time unchanged otherwise it will be difficult to readjust when things turn to normal.”

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