“Understanding your chronotype leads to honoring your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle and ensuring optimal health,” says Loren Bullock, editor and Certified Sleep Science Coach at Mattress Nerd. “While light plays an important role in each person’s circadian rhythm, so does genetics. In fact, research shows that at least 15 genes contribute to our circadian rhythm.”
Other factors that can influence chronotype include age, whether you live on the east or west coast, and season, though for the most part after childhood your chronotype stays relatively stable.
The Menagerie of Sleep Types
While chronotype is often divided into two categories – night owls and morning larks with everyone else falling somewhere on the spectrum between the two – Bullock says researchers have found there are actually four chronotypes.
The four types as defined by a 2019 study are:
Morning larks tend to wake up feeling alert. They’re the people who are up first on vacation, the ones you hear in the kitchen making coffee at what feels like an absurdly early hour if you aren’t one of them. Children also tend to fall into the lark category (as all parents of toddlers can attest). They get sleepier as the day goes on and are typically ready for bed early. Some research suggests that these early birds may be less prone to mental health conditions like schizophrenia and depression.
Night owls feel groggy in the morning. They’re the ones making a second batch of coffee because there’s none left by the time they get up. They tend to feel alert around 10 a.m. and after that their energy stays high throughout the day. These evening fliers will be awake and alert long after their morning lark friends have conked out. One study found that night owls tend to be creative and score higher than others on inductive reasoning tests.
Afternoon people tend to wake up the sleepiest (even more so than night owls). They start to feel alert around 11 a.m, which lasts until about 5 p.m. after which they may begin to feel sleepy, a feeling that will intensify until they go to bed in the later evening.
Nappers were the only group of surveyed individuals who showed a double-peaked sleep curve throughout the day, according to Psychology Today. What this means is that nappers start out wide-eyed (like their morning lark friends) but by the time 11 a.m. rolls around, their energy is waning and will continue to do so, until about 3 p.m. This group often naps at some point, hence the name. After grabbing a midday rest, they’ll get a second burst of energy that will carry them through to about 10 p.m. Their superpower is that, even without a nap, they generally still gets a second burst of energy in the late afternoon.
Quiz: What Chronotype Are You?
You probably have at least a general idea of your chronotype after reading the descriptions, and it’s worth noting that chronotype research is always shifting, so it’s possible that you’ve heard chronotypes described differently (maybe using animals like lion, bear, and dolphin) before.
“There are several quizzes and sources to identify your chronotype; however, the Morningness-Eveningness Questionnaire is one of the best scientific-proven assessments,” Dr. Weiss says.
In addition to questions about your sleep preferences, the quiz asks sleep-adjacent questions like how hungry you feel in the morning or when you’d prefer to do a hard workout.
Because I’ll take any excuse to do an online quiz, especially if it’s doctor recommended, I took the quick questionnaire and found out I was firmly in the intermediate category (my results were dead center), though the scoring of this quiz does not specifically account for the additional two newer categories (afternoon and napper). Pairing what I learned from the quiz with the information about the four types, I believe I am a napper. (This scientific conclusion was also informed by the fact that I would nap every afternoon if I could).