How Your Chronotype Can Help in the Coronavirus Outbreak

What does your chronotype have to do with how you’re faring in these strange, difficult days of isolation and uncertainty?

A lot.

That’s because your individual chronobiology has effects over our physical health, disease risk, emotional health and cognitive performance, and sleep. Our chronotypes—and how well we’re able to live in sync with our daily bio rhythms—can have a significant influence over how well we cope with the extreme conditions and exceptional stressors we’re facing right now.

We’ve all got a lot of questions right now about how to optimize our health and safety, manage our stress, and get enough sleep, in hopes of lowering our risks for contracting Covid-19 and reducing the risks of serious complications. We’re also trying to stay free of other illnesses and injuries that might take us into our health-care systems at this moment.

I wrote recently about the serious look that scientists are giving melatonin, as a possible therapy for helping the body better cope with Covid-19, by reducing the uncontrolled inflammation that creates the most serious complications within the disease. I’ve been talking about prebiotics, and their contribution to a healthy microbiome, which may improve deep sleep and REM sleep, particularly when the body is under stress. I’m also writing a lot about the relationship between stress and sleep, and how we all can cope better and sleep better in these stressful times.

Today I’m talking about chronotypes, and how we can use them right now to keep ourselves sleeping better and feeling more grounded when the world is turned upside down.

Knowing more about how your chronotype works can help you sleep better through this crisis, help boost your immune system, and cope with the uncertainty and strain so many of us are under.

Even as some communities begin re-opening some aspects of public life, it’s clear that we’re all going to be living under some very changed, and challenging, circumstances for some time to come.

Let’s look at some of the strengths and vulnerabilities that each chronotype is likely to face during physical and social isolation and the most important steps you can take to improve your sleep and overall wellness by utilizing your body’s own bio rhythms.

Don’t yet know your chronotype? Take my quiz:

Then jump back here to find out how your chronotype is influencing your daily life and sleep in these exceptional times—and how to harness chronobiology for your mental, physical, and emotional advantage.

And for a full run-down on all the ways that chronotype affects your life, health, sleep and performance—and how to optimize every aspect of your life by living more in sync with your bio time, check out my book, The Power of When.

If you’re a Dolphin, here’s what you need to know…

Dolphins are the “wired and tired” types, the light and restless sleepers who wake so often during the night that their nighttime sleep may feel like a series of unsatisfying naps. Dolphins have a difficult time relaxing at night. Their minds are active, with often racing thoughts, and they feel physically keyed up—light years away from the mental and physical low gear that paves the way for sleep. During our collectively stressful coronavirus times, nights are likely to be particularly tense and agitated times for Dolphins.

There are biological reasons for all this nighttime agitation in Dolphins. Unlike other chronotypes, Dolphins’ blood pressure and cortisol levels rise in the evening, which leaves them in a state of physiological arousal at bedtime. Come morning, when other chronotypes are experiencing elevations to blood pressure and cortisol that are fueling their morning alertness, Dolphins’ levels are plummeting. It’s little wonder that symptoms of chronic insomnia—prolonged trouble falling and staying asleep, waking often, waking early, and feeling deeply fatigued throughout the day—are commonplace among Dolphins. Right now, Dolphins are likely to be having an extra tough time sleeping—and that’s making everything about the days that follow even harder.

The challenge: Reduce nighttime anxiety so they can achieve some truly restful, restorative sleep.

The solution: Give a gentle boost to morning energy, while setting a calmer, more meditative tone for the day and evening to come.

Under normal circumstances, ramping up morning energy levels is a way to increase Dolphin’s daytime productivity. In these topsy turvy Covid-19 days, maximizing productivity isn’t necessarily the right focus for everyone. That may be especially true for Dolphins, who are particularly vulnerable to the one-two punch of stress and sleeplessness. Feeling pressure to produce at one’s best can agitate both. If you’re feeling anxious and burdened by the pressure of life these days, let this morning energy boost be an extra gentle one, with a goal of feeling more relaxed and centered, rather than getting more done.

4 essential morning steps for Dolphins:

Get at least 5 minutes physical movement immediately after waking. The quicker you get moving and get your heart rate up, the sooner you’ll have your blood pressure and cortisol levels rising from their morning lows. If you’re up for a full 25-minute workout—a jog or a cycle—great. In the sunlight, all the better. But some jumping jacks or crunches right by your bed will do the trick, too.

Drink a big glass of water and eat a high protein breakfast. Dolphins are especially likely to be dehydrated in the morning. And a carb-heavy breakfast will send serotonin levels rising—which send cortisol levels down, the opposite of what you want.

Try a morning meditation. Mornings are a great time for Dolphins to brainstorm and be creative. While your mind is in this wandering state, and your alertness is off-peak, do some simple meditation. Right now, more than ever, Dolphins need to quiet and slow their minds. Don’t wait until nighttime to try to accomplish this. Begin the day meditatively and take breaks throughout the day to decompress. Another great time to meditate? In your post-workout morning shower.

Dolphins best times to…

Exercise: First thing in the morning, either a blast of cardio or something gentler. And again in the evening—make the nighttime exercise a mind-body one.

Take medication: The best time to take medication often depends on what medication you’re taking. See below for guidelines on the optimal times to take common medicines.

Nap: Dolphins should avoid napping, to help maintain a strong sleep drive for overnight rest.

Work out conflicts: Around 7 p.m. Dolphins are more relaxed after dinner, and in a frame of mind to listen to their quarantine-mates, whether spouses, roommates or children.

If you’re a Lion, here’s what you need to know…

Early chronotypes—the Lions of the world—are often the subject of some envy, for their industriousness and the seeming ease with which they stick to their routines. These are the eagle scouts and overachievers—not all, but many are Lions. They’re leaders and do-ers, focused take charge types. Lions tend to be good sleepers. They almost never have trouble turning in early, and with their cortisol levels rising and melatonin levels falling starting at about 3:30-4 a.m., they often wake before dawn and rarely, if ever, need an alarm. Lions do tend to keep a remarkably consistent sleep routine. Their tendency toward consistency and moderation in most things shows in their overall health picture: research shows morning types with early bedtimes have a lower risk for cardiovascular disease, less obesity, and may have lower risks for mental health disorders, including depression, anxiety and others.

This all sounds really good for navigating our current lockdown lives, right? Not so fast. Lions are struggling right now, too.

The challenge: Adapting to new and different stay-at-home routines.

Lions are great at setting routines. They’re not particularly good at changing them. Working from home, maybe caring for children at the same time, not getting out to the gym—these and other daily life changes are especially frustrating for Lions who relish their consistency and are probably having a tougher time than other chronotypes in adapting. The risk here is losing quality and quantity of sleep, via unchecked stress and a disrupted schedule.

The solution: Protect sleep and psychological well being by leaning into their early morning preferences for being productive.

2 ways for Lions to make their morning productivity soar, and feel more relaxed throughout the day:

 Lean into early morning alone time. Whether it’s 15 minutes or two hours, make the very most of the time that you have to yourself in the morning before the others in your home arise. This isn’t the ideal time to dive into something super task-oriented or productive (that’s coming), but rather to center yourself for the day. Have a quiet breakfast. Read a book. Lions like to plan. We’re all taking things day by day right now, but you can still use this time to set some plans for how to use the day.

Produce—something, anything—before noon. A lot of Lions are feeling pretty frustrated they can’t work at full throttle right now. That pent up, unmet need to be productive can have cascading effects on mood and sleep. Sometime between breakfast and lunch—ideally mid-morning, between 10-12, go to town on a project, whether it’s work, or cooking, or organizing. This will help Lions feel more in control, and less adrift. It will also take the pressure of the rest of the day, during which time Lions will be increasingly off-peak and will welcome the freedom to take it easy a little.

Lions best times to…

Exercise: If you can get out for a jog or a bike ride at dawn, great. You’ll get an energy boost that will see you through your morning, which is the key time for Lions.  Take some time for mind-body exercise in the morning—a few yoga stretches after your morning cardio—and again as part of a pre-bed wind down.

Take medication: The best time to take medication often depends on what medication you’re taking. See below for guidelines on the optimal times to take common medicines.

Nap: A post-lunch nap around 1:30 p.m. works ideally for Lions who are looking for some supplemental rest or a break from the daily hum of home life in quarantine. Here’s my guide to how to nap well, including how long naps should be.

Work out conflicts: Lions are straight up morning people. 9 a.m. isn’t everyone’s idea of a great time to hash out interpersonal conflicts, but this is when Lions will feel motivated and committed to fix problems.

If you’re a Bear, here’s what you need to know…

This is the most common chronotype. A majority of adults under age 65 are Bears. Bear bio time most closely follows the sun. Bears biologically start to kick into gear at dawn, and naturally begin to wind down at sunset. Because it’s the most common bio time, Bear bio time has a dominant influence over our broader social time. The classic 6:30 p.m. dinner time? That’s when Bears are ready for their evening meal. Your favorite 10 p.m. TV show? That’s exactly when Bears are ready to wind down for the night—but not quite ready for bed. To a large degree, all chronotypes are asked to live on Bear bio time, because that’s what society—with its Bear majority—has adopted as the norm.

Except…nothing is normal right now. In ordinary times, Bears face challenges. They’re very susceptible to social jet lag—losing sleep to a schedule that doesn’t give them enough time to get the sleep they need, every night. Bears are highly prone to under-sleeping during the workweek and seeking out make up sleep on the weekends. This see-sawing keeps circadian sleep-wake cycles perpetually out of sync. Bears have a hard time sticking to a consistent, daily exercise schedule. (They’re not wild about schedules in general.) And that contributes to both their sleep deprivation and to the extra weight that many Bears carry, especially around their midsection. And these are the challenges for ordinary life. What about now, when nothing is ordinary?

The challenge: Coping with the loss of social contact that comes with physical distancing and staying at home

The combination of social distancing and the disruption of social routines that cater to their daily rhythms is likely hitting many Bears hard, particularly after so many weeks. The stress and mood disruption that comes from this social upheaval can have a deeply negative impact on sleep, and daily functioning. In the case of Bears, oversleeping is as much a risk as insomnia or under-sleeping right now. (Here are some of the reasons sleeping too much is problematic for health.)

The solution: Maintaining meaningful social connections safely, while keeping a consistent daytime routine that combines exercise and healthful meals to avoid major carbo- and sugar-loading.

3 ways Bears can keep their sleep, mood, and weight on track:

Break exercise into several small sessions, before and after each meal. Start with some exercise first thing in the morning. Jump on a stationary bike. Take a brisk walk. Have sex. Get your blood flowing and your heart rate up. Plan to repeat quick exercise sessions before and after lunch and dinner. You’ll ramp up your metabolism, lower your appetite simultaneously. Bears will be at their athletic peak between 6-7 p.m.—that’s the time to do your most hard charging workout. Bears will miss the social aspects of athletics and the team sports that are on hold right now—get out for the run now anyway, and hop on a video chat with your running partners to catch up.

Follow a sliding scale of meals throughout the day. You’ve heard the saying, eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper? That’s an adage made for Bears—and right now it can make all the difference in how Bears sleep, how much energy you have throughout the day, and how well you manage to avoid gaining weight during social isolation and spending so much time at home. Start with a protein-rich breakfast, and make this the biggest meal of the day. Have a midsize meal at lunch and a light dinner. If you’re eyeballing portions, lunch should be half the size of breakfast and twice the size of dinner.

Bears who follow these routines, keeping themselves physically active and eating moderately and on a schedule, will sleep better, experience more stable, upbeat moods, and lower stress.

Maintain robust and regular social ties—even at a distance. Bears must feed their hankering for social connection All chronotypes need social connection, to a degree, but this bio type is feeling the strain of social isolation more than most. Whether it’s getting together over Zoom for dinner or virtual games with friends, or spending a few extra minutes on a work conference call catching up with co-workers, make a point to socialize daily amid physical distancing. Rally your family at home for game night or a puzzle project, whatever feeds the need for togetherness and community that Bears are hungry for right now.

Bears best times to….

Exercise: You’ve got this laid out for you above. Do some physical activity before and after each of your three daily meals. These don’t need to be hard-driving or long workouts. Twenty minutes of walking or jogging, yoga, some simple strength training exercises throughout the day gets you to a full hour of daily exercise.

Take medication: The best time to take medication often depends on what medication you’re taking. See below for guidelines on the optimal times to take common medicines.

Nap: A 2 p.m. nap is just right for Bears. Read my primer on how to nap well, and not disturb your nightly rest with a midday snooze.

Work out conflicts: At 5 p.m., Bears will be at their most agreeable, and inclined to sort through differences.

If you’re a Wolf, here’s what you need to know…

In some ways, the current social freeze and work-from-home migration may be easiest for Wolves—at least in terms of their sleep-wake routines and daily schedules. With their strong evening preferences, Wolves tend to struggle with society’s typical daily, standard routines. Things like work and school get going too early, and social fun ends too soon for these evening types. Wolves are at high risk for chronic social jet lag and insufficient sleep, with consequences for their mental and physical health. Research shows evening chronotypes are at greater risk for chronic diseases including cardiovascular illness and diabetes, as well as depression.

Working from home may offer some respite from the Wolf struggle to align with social routines that are at odds with their chronobiology. (To be clear, I’m not suggesting that any Wolves are happy about our current situation, only that they may be experiencing some flexibility in their daily routines that isn’t often present.)

Wolves have other natural advantages right now. They’re pretty adaptive types, able to pivot more quickly both mentally and in routines. They also tend to be less tightly tethered to in-person socializing. Wolves are awake a lot when others are asleep, like Lions at the other end of the spectrum. But Wolves also face potential hazards for their sleep and bio time.

The Wolf challenge: To avoid moving too far away from social time and into Wolf time

The key for Wolves in navigating successfully these shutdowns, work-from-home orders and social isolation? Not to let their Wolfish, night-loving preferences run too wild. Wolves right now are likely living with a different kind of flexibility in their work, school, and home life schedules. That can easily translate into a major shift toward being active and awake at night, and sleeping during the day.

(Parents, take note: nearly all teens and young adults are Wolves. All that nighttime hanging out they do—and the morning hours they sleep away—that’s all biologically driven by their chronobiology.)

Sooner or later, in some gradual way, life will change from its current set up. It may not look like life used to before the coronavirus, at least not for a while. But as society does start to open up, some standard routines and expectations will re-appear. And those will still conform to the middle-of-the-road chronobiology that dominates the population. Wolves, make no mistake: you’re going to be re-entering a world that runs on Bear time.

It’s probably tempting to indulge in the flexibility to stay up until 2 a.m. and sleep in. But there’s a better, sleep-friendlier way for Wolves to use this break from the social clock that’s so at odds with their bio time.

The Wolf solution: Move routines closer to the optimal ones for Wolves in the real world, through a grounded routine of mealtimes and exercise that starts soon after waking.

Instead of going overboard with a life lived in the evenings, Wolves of all ages can use this exceptional break in normalcy to establish the moderated routines that will keep them healthier, happier and more productive and deliver them more plentiful, restful sleep right now AND when life starts to return to “normal.” What does that kind of moderated routine look like for Wolves?

5 essential steps for Wolves to find a real-world schedule that really works:

Eat breakfast. (I mean eat breakfast in the morning, not as a substitute for lunch). Wolves don’t tend to wake up hungry. But starting the day with a protein-rich breakfast gives Wolves the energy supply you need to start functioning in the morning. Wait until late morning to have your first cup of coffee—that’s when it will do Wolves the most good, for stimulation and focusing.

Follow breakfast with some exercise, ideally in sunlight. If you’re up at 7:30 a.m.—a realistic, not-to-early rising time for Wolves right now—then you’re eating breakfast by 8:30, and working out sometime around 9 a.m. Some physical activity will increase the body’s cortisol and adrenaline, much needed alerting hormones for Wolves in the morning. And the sunlight will suppress Wolves late-to-decline melatonin production, which keeps you feeling foggy headed and tempted to crawl back in bed.

Eat a balanced lunch in the early afternoon. Wolves who skip breakfast tend to get ravenous in the late morning, and are likely to tear into whatever fatty, sugary, craving-reducing foods they can find. That high-glycemic eating undercuts the afternoon of productivity that lays ahead for Wolves, if they can keep their minds sharp and their energy up. Think of lunch in terms of threes: a meal of one-third carbohydrate, one-third protein, and one-third healthy fat.

Eat dinner on the late side, but not too late. 8-9 p.m. is ideal, and late enough to keep Wolves from doing too much prowling around the kitchen for pre-bed snacks. (Use the time before dinner to video or phone chat with friends—even lone Wolves need their social connection.)

Give yourself a full hour before lights out with no screens. Take a hot shower, read, relax. Every chronotype ought to have a Power Down Hour, but for Wolves this hour of mental and physiological de-stimulation is essential to shifting bedtime back from the 2 a.m. or later range. The optimal bedtime for an adult Wolf who’s getting up at 7:30 a.m.? Midnight.

Wolves best times to….

Exercise: Wolves will be at their athletic peak around 6 p.m. That’s the perfect time for a run. But a post-breakfast walk, and some unwinding, mind-body activity during the quiet hour before bed will reinforce a healthy schedule.

Take medication: The best time to take medication often depends on what medication you’re taking. See below for guidelines on the optimal times to take common medicines.

Nap: Wolves will do best to avoid naps, but if you can’t then a nap around 2:15 will have the least impact on nighttime wakefulness (that’s with a wake time of about 7:30 a.m.)

Work out conflicts: At 8 p.m., Wolves are hitting their best mood of the day. This is the ideal time to hash things out and make peace.

The best time to take medications

You should always consult your doctor before you make any changes to your existing medication routine. This is not medical advice, but it is information you can use as a conversation-starter with your physician at your next appointment.

Historically, advice about the dosing of medications has been rooted in convenience. Bedtime and first thing in the morning are easy times to schedule a routine dose of medication, so that’s what happened.

But these uniform directions don’t take into consideration the time of day when a medication can have the greatest effect in healing. Fortunately, scientific research is increasingly pinpointing the optimal times for dosing medication and other therapeutic treatments.

Best times to take common medications

Drug                                       Ideal dosing time

Antihistamines                                    evening

Aspirin                                                bedtime

ACE inhibitors and ARBs                  bedtime

Acid reflux drugs                                before breakfast

Beta-blockers                                      bedtime

Corticosteroids                                    afternoon, to help reduce overnight inflammation

Heartburn pills                                    after dinner

Multivitamin                                       after breakfast

NSAIDs                                              four hours before maximum pain

Osteoporosis drugs                             an hour before breakfast

Probiotics                                            with breakfast

Rheumatoid arthritis drugs                 bedtime

Statins                                                 bedtime

In our chronorhythms, we’ve each got a powerful set of biological cues just waiting to be used to help strengthen sleep, mood, immunity and health during these intense and unprecedented times.

Sweet Dreams,

Michael J. Breus, PhD, DABSM

The Sleep Doctor™


The post How Your Chronotype Can Help in the Coronavirus Outbreak appeared first on Your Guide to Better Sleep.

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