- Your body and brain operate on a 24-hour cycle that affects your sleep, focus, and sociability.
- Understanding your biological pattern, or chronotype, can help you make the most of your workday.
- There are four main chronotypes: lions, bears, dolphins, and wolves.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Your circadian rhythm has to do with a lot more than just sleep.
The internal clock that makes you tired at bedtime also affects your memory, focus, and sociability throughout the day. It dictates the rises and falls of your body temperature and hormone levels on a fairly predictable 24-hour cycle — and it’s possible to plan your day around it.
Mackenzie Sweeney, who goes by @the.productivity.coach on TikTok, wants to help people make the most of their time and energy with this cycle in mind. After suffering a traumatic brain injury seven years ago, she started researching productivity on a neurological level.
She learned, from reading scientific studies of circadian rhythm, that there are four distinct patterns known as chronotypes. Each chronotype has its own peak times for deep work, communication, and creative thinking.
“The whole idea behind finding your peak times and your chronotype is that you create a schedule that fits you, versus you trying to fit into one standard calendar that doesn’t work for your brain type,” Sweeney told Insider.
While most people think of themselves as early birds or night owls, Sweeney explained chronotypes as four different animals: lions, bears, dolphins, and wolves.
Lions are the early risers
In Sweeney’s research, she’s found that 15-20% of the population fits into the lion chronotype. Lions are the people who wake up at 5:30 or 6 AM bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, no alarm necessary.
That’s because their levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, spike first thing in the morning. Sweeney recommends that lion chronotypes organize their day as soon as they wake up, then move on with their morning routine.
Lions are ready to communicate between 8 and 10 AM, even if the other types haven’t quite gotten there yet. Most people reach their communication peaks after their cortisol levels have plateaued and they’ve gotten something to eat, which raises the happy neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine.
Sweeney recommends lions get some deep work in between 10 AM and noon, then do any creative brainstorming between 1 and 3 PM By 4 PM, lions are basically done for the day — but other types are just getting started.
Bears live by the sun
The most popular chronotype is the bear, which makes up about 50% of the population. Unlike lions, bears need a good 90 minutes to fully wake up — and they should plan their workdays accordingly.
If they manage to wake up by 7:30 AM, bears can start planning their days around 9 AM. Their cortisol levels peak between 10 AM and noon, which is the best time to do work that requires deep focus.
The most important thing for bears is they need a true break between 2 and 3 PM, Sweeney said. That means close your computer and get up and move if you can, because if you don’t take that break to recharge, your energy will decline for the rest of the day.
Bears communicate best between 3 and 5 PM, so they should plan any team meetings and happy hours during that time. Their creativity peaks as they’re winding down after dinner, so Sweeney recommended bears come up with 10 new ideas every night between 8 and 10 PM.
Dolphins have an upside-down hormone cycle
Compared to other chronotypes, dolphins have an upside-down circadian rhythm. While most types see their cortisol levels rise in the morning, about 10-15% of the population experiences that spike in the evening.
For dolphins, this means they’re the most creative in the morning — when they’re tired and least critical in their minds — and most productive at deep work between 4 and 6 PM, when everyone else is winding down.
It also means that dolphin types may have trouble falling asleep at night. They have relatively light sleep drives, and with cortisol coursing through their brains, many dolphins get anxious as soon as their heads hit the pillows.
Sweeney recommended that dolphins set aside some solo time to unwind during the day and turn off their phones around 10 PM to minimize anxiety before bed.
Wolves thrive late at night
Finally, wolves are the true night owls of the bunch. Like bears, they need at least 90 minutes to fully wake up, but their deep work peak comes later in the day.
Wolves are sleepy enough in the morning that they shouldn’t do any deep thinking, so 9-11 AM is a good time to come up with some half-baked ideas. By 2-4 PM, wolves can get some deep work done, and they’re best at communicating between 3:30 and 5 PM.
This 15% of the population also has a secondary deep work time that’s more creative, usually between 8 and 11 PM. Sweeney said the creative deep work peak is a great time to not only come up with inventive solutions, but also focus on executing them. And as no other type has this period, wolves can think of it as their special superpower.
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