58: How Knowing Your Chronotype Can Improve Your Sleep

58: How Knowing Your Chronotype Can Improve Your Sleep

00:00 / 01:07:34


When I met Oprah’s sleep doctor, Dr. Michael Breus, at a recent event, I knew I had to have him on the podcast to share his information. He’s the author of the wildly popular new book, The Power of When, and in this episode, he explains why “night owl” and “early bird” are outdated terms and how to know your chronotype (natural way you sleep).

The Power of When

I have read and researched a lot about sleep over the years and consider myself pretty well-versed in the basics of good sleep. Talking to Dr. Breus, I understand why both Oprah and Dr. Oz trust him with their sleep. He is not only incredible knowledgeable about how to get better sleep, but also how to use your sleep type to be happier and more productive during the day.

If you aren’t familiar with him:

Michael J. Breus, Ph.D., is a Clinical Psychologist and both a Diplomate of the American Board of Sleep Medicine and a Fellow of The American Academy of Sleep Medicine. He was one of the youngest people to have passed the Board at age 31 and, with a specialty in Sleep Disorders, is one of only 163 psychologists in the world with his credentials and distinction.

Know Thy Chronotype

According to Wikipedia:

Chronotype refers to the behavioral manifestation of underlying circadian rhythms of myriad physical processes. A person’s chronotype is the propensity for the individual to sleep at a particular time during a 24-hour period.

Take this fast quiz to find out what your chronotype is. This will make this podcast episode make a lot more sense, and will also shed some light on your own sleep patterns.

Instead of the outdated “night owl” and “early bird,” chronotypes, Dr. Breus has broken different sleep types into four chronotypes based on his experience with patients. These chronotypes are:

  • Dolphin
  • Lion
  • Bear
  • Wolf

Light Matters for Good Sleep

I’ve written a lot about how light impacts quality. This is the reason I personally wear orange sunglasses at night to avoid blue light and why my kids don’t have a night light (one of the posts I’ve gotten the most negative response to).

I asked Dr. Breus’ opinion on the issue and he provided some important insight and context.

In The Power of When, he says:

The most disruptive event in the history of biotime occurred on December 31, 1879 with the invention of the electric light bulb.

Pretty strong statement, huh?

In this episode he explains how artificial light directly impacts circadian rhythm and how light at night can suppress melatonin production.

Children and Sleep

In this episode, I also asked Dr. Breus’ opinion on much of the common sleep advice for babies and children, and some of his answers surprised me. Listen to the episode to hear them all, but we talk about:

  • How babies don’t make melatonin for the first 3 months. They get it from breastmilk but this is why they often need to nurse every few hours at night the first few months to get enough melatonin to keep sleeping.
  • The best time, based on sleep biology, to establish a sleep routine with babies. WM NOTE: I do not recommend giving infants rice cereal at 4 months to improve sleep!
  • Why children should NEVER be given melatonin supplements and the dangers of melatonin even for adults (did you know it is a contraceptive?)
  • The best time to drink coffee (and it isn’t first thing in the morning).
  • Why lunch should be the biggest meal of the day.
  • Why you should drink a quart of water (or lemon water) first thing in the morning
  • How sleep is more important than exercise
  • The reason you should probably let your teenager sleep in as long as possible

Resources We Mention:

Do you struggle with sleep? What has helped you?

This post contains affiliate links. Click here to read my affiliate policy.

Reader Interactions

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Reader Comments

  1. Light bulb invention quote has a misprinted date

  2. If you must have a night light and/or an alarm clock in the bedroom, use a Himalya salt lamp and a clock that uses a red light, these will not affect melatonin. Stay away from blue or green lights, these affect melatonin .

  3. I was all on board until he said he added cereal to his 4 month old’s milk and let her cry it out. I understand people have different opinions on this, but there are plenty of studies that show the damages of both on such young babies in terms of their gut health and mental health. Maybe something you could address in the future?

    • Agreed. I updated the post with a note on this and I wouldn’t give babies cereal at this age either.

      • Hi, this is the first podcast of yours that I’ve listened to and I was a fan of the Power of When but the inaccurate information regarding cry it out doing no damage was shocking to hear on a wellness podcast and the adding cereal milk to make baby sleep.
        There are multiple studies showing how leaving baby to cry uncomforted causes disruption to development of the emotional brain and causes high volumes of cortisol in the blood stream. How can you say that a 3 month old baby needs to be comforted but at 4 months they can be left to self soothe without any detailed discussion about why or statement confirming this is opinion only? I am concerned that parents are looking to this podcast for accurate information and will take these statements as fact and would hope you edit this out if the podcast.

  4. I just took my chronotype quiz and the results make a lot of sense about where I am now. It seems like we are born with our chronotype and my question is about sleep patterns as we get older. Before around age 46 when I started to go into perimenopause I slept really well, very soundly but since then (15 years later) I have a very different sleep profile. I wonder if Dr. Breus addresses this in his book? I can barely remember how it felt to be that sound sleeper anymore!

  5. Thank you for the information Katie. Although he doesn’t seem very educated in the infant department, the other tips are insightful information. Babies are not meant to sleep through the night, they are meant to wake up and feed every few hours. Breast milk is digested fast, and a babies heart beat can be regulated by his mothers if co sleeping or during these wake cycles. Crying it out kills babies brain cells and their natural wake cycles help protect them form SIDS. I’m sure you know all this though.

    • I just wanted to chime in too, Holly, that although Dr. Breus is a PhD and no doubt skilled, experienced and educated on all things sleep (and obviously a broader spectrum), I think his input on his personal ‘sleep coaching’ experience with regards to his own children is outdated and quite frankly dangerous offering it in the same breath (ok, podcast) as actual evidence-based sleeping practices. Suggesting solids- rice cereal no less- before 6 months is contraindicated to current research. Suggesting to an audience of mothers (many of which are likely new with infants) that it is okay (no really, he’s a sleep expert) to let their 4 month old cry it out makes my chest tighten. I enjoyed listening up until this point but unfortunately his unwise and untimely baby remarks left distaste in my mouth. Katie, I’m sure it was a fine line between mitigating your guest and your audience; I think you were very tactful. I know you didn’t want a bunch of remarks about this but it really stuck with me.

      • I agree, I definitely would not ever give rice cereal to a 4 month old and I don’t let our babies cry it out at that age. It is definitely a fine line when I have a guest like that… thanks for listening and for chiming in.

  6. I love the information that you share. Just a quick suggestion. The music in the audio is actually louder than your voice. Maybe adjust that a little?

    • Yes, technical difficulties with this episode. Should be fixed for future ones 🙂

  7. Do you have transcripts for the podcast? I am deaf and podcasts are not an option for me. Thanks?

  8. This was a really interesting podcast. Although I COMPLETELY DO NOT agree with his view on babies/infants and adding cereal to get them to sleep through the night. So, I’ll take his advise on everything but that…we have 4 children who learned to sleep very well on their own by 4 months, or even earlier, no cereal needed. We know that adding cereal is not only unnecessary, but harmful to their underdeveloped gut.

    We also have a strict “no nightlight” policy in our home and enforce an early bedtime which is criticized by many parents but totally crucial to their getting enough rest. (Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child is a good reference for learning when to put your children to sleep to optimize their much needed rest)

  9. I took the test based on what I’m experiencing right now but I don’t feel like I relate to the personality profiles of any of these and also, what happens if my sleep pattern is not working at all for me? I’m exhausted all the time and am not sure when the best time to sleep is because my sleep has always been dysfunctional. I don’t feel like I’m ever at my best; I’m perpetually exhausted because I can’t sleep long enough to feel rested no matter when I try to sleep.It’s always been like this but I’m just not able to tolerate the fatigue anymore. I don’t know where to start – am I doing things at the wrong time and that’s messing up my sleep or is my sleep messing up my ability to do things at the right now?

  10. The chronotype information was fascinating. But I was surprised that Dr. Breus recommends rice cereal in bottles – this is extremely outdated information. Introducing solids before 4-6 months (at the earliest) can negatively impact the gut microbiome.

    • I agree- updated the show notes to reflect that I don’t agree with that particular advice.

  11. This is so interesting. My husband and I both took the chronotype quiz. He is a wolf through and through, I was labeled as a bear, however, it didn’t suite me very well. We watched the videos on the other two and discovered I am a mix of all four pretty equally. Unfortunately, that leaves me unsure of my next step. Does Michael Breus have direction those with such a mix? Thank you,

  12. Loved the information but you may want to add a disclaimer for anyone promoting cry it out- like include links or an after notes with the studies that prove it has detrimental long term brain effects. Additionally the addition of rice milk to a breast milk bottle is a whole other issue ???

  13. Goodness, I took the chronotype test and came out as a Bear. NOTHING about Bear is even remotely like me! I am a type-A perfectionist introvert who rarely sleeps well — and I’ve NEVER been an early riser. I have to force myself to go to bed, but not too early, bc the insomnia is worse if I lie down too early. I do get along with others, but as a CEO, I’m not afraid of confrontation, either – clearly not the middle-manager, go-with-the-flow of the Bear category at all! I have a high risk tolerance, get bored with the same-ole-same-ole, and love change and new horizons; how on earth could that equate with the cautiousness of a Bear?

    I went back and took the test again, just to be sure, and even changed a couple answers that could have gone either way. Still came out as a Bear. Huh? Looking at the other chronotypes, I’m not even a blend of any of them. Personally, I think he’s probably off the mark when he tries to extrapolate personality types with sleep types. There may be some correlation, but nowhere near as clear-cut as he wants to make it.

    Clearly these tests leave a LOT of room for error, and the categories need to be expanded to include more variations. That being said, I loved the info about getting better sleep. Everyone else already commented about the bad advice regarding babies, so I won’t go there 😉

    • Alison
      My results with the “chronotype” test versus my traits and sleep patterns sound exactly like your description – in fact, we could be behavioral twins 🙂
      Sounds like Dr. Breus needs to reexamine his results or, maybe, the options for the test questions.

      Bonnie – NOT A BEAR!

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