Summer is well and truly here, and that means that teenagers around the country are finally catching up on sleep. It’s no secret that the typical high school schedule is not kind to teens’ natural circadian rhythm, or the internal “clock” that determines when you feel awake and when it’s time to sleep. Adolescence is a time for intensive growing and thinking, and that requires plenty of rest—about 10 hours a night is considered ideal for high schoolers, but between class, extracurriculars, homework and a social life, that’s probably not happening for most of them.
The good news is, you can tweak even a super busy schedule so it works with the natural rhythm of your cognitive functioning. Dr. Michael Breus, a clinical psychologist and sleep specialist from California, coined the term “chronotype” to describe the particular rhythms of sleeping, waking, working and playing that people fall into. Most people describe themselves as either early birds or night owls, but Dr. Breus’ model describes four different animals (none of which are birds):
- Bears are the regular, 9-5 folks who make the world go round. This type wakes up at a reasonable hour and is most productive during mid-morning, then hits a lull in the mid-afternoon but can still socialize and relax in the evenings before going to sleep soundly. About 50% of the population are this type.
- Lions are the early birds, the people who rise before the sun, make a smoothie, go for a jog and fill out their bullet journals before noon. After noon, though, their activity declines until they go to bed early. This type, which makes the rest of us look bad, is about 15-20% of the population.
- Wolves are the night owls, the last to wake up and the last to go to sleep. You’ll rarely see them willingly awake before 8 a.m., but they’re perfectly content working and socializing well after the sun has set. Like lions, this type makes up 15-20% of the population, but they’re much more out-of-sync with the rest of the world.
- Dolphins are the insomniacs among us. So named because dolphins only sleep with half of their brain at a time, this type is a light, erratic sleeper that wakes up often through the night, might feel tired through the day but fits in their productivity through mid-morning to early afternoon. Dolphins are the rarest type, making up only 10% of the population.
High schoolers might not have the power to change much about their schedule, at least as far as school is concerned. But if you know your chronotype, you can do little things to maximize your productivity. Go for morning or evening extracurriculars, depending on when you find you’re most awake. If you’re not a morning person, fuel yourself with a big breakfast, or if you’re always on the go during the day, wind down with a filling dinner with family. Listen to your internal clock and take advantage whenever you feel energized.
It’s been joked that high schoolers want good grades, enough sleep, and a social life, but you can only pick two. But maybe that’s not the case? Try working with your chronotype instead of against it, and you just might find yourself making the most out of your day.