By Annelie Roding, M.S., PA-C, Eden Health
Having studied the subject of sleep, I know firsthand that it’s something we all need to be more aware of. Getting enough sleep, and getting high-quality, restful sleep, can have a huge impact on health and longevity. Today, 35% of American workers don’t get the recommended seven hours of sleep each night, and 70 million Americans have a sleep disorder. For US businesses, sleep deprivation costs $411 billion annually in lost productivity. And now, more than ever, people are reporting psychological stress leading to insomnia and other sleep-related disorders.
What can you do to sleep better? Well, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for sleeping problems. We’re all different and something that works for your friend, like herbal tea or sleep podcasts, might not work for you. National Sleep Awareness Week is as good a time as any to learn more about how our sleeping habits impact our health.
You’ve heard how some people are categorized as “night people” and others as “morning people,” otherwise known as “night owls” and “early birds.” There’s a scientific basis for these preferred sleep profiles, known as chronotypes. Though this tendency is not something you get to pick (it’s biologically hard-wired in our brains), no chronotype is intrinsically good or bad — they’re just different.
DISCOVERING YOUR CHRONOTYPE
Understanding your chronotype will help you determine the best time to take on mental or physical activities. Taking advantage of your body’s natural peaks will set you up for a more productive day. Knowing when you’re going to be functioning at your best will not only help make you more efficient, but it will also help you complete more tasks. It’s also important to know when the best time is for you to take a break and recharge.
So, how do you find your chronotype? My favorite tool is an online quiz, the Automated Morningness-Eveningness Questionnaire (AutoMEQ). It’s based on a survey developed by researchers James A. Horne and Olov Östberg in 1976. Though it only takes a couple of minutes to complete, the quiz is long enough to be accurate and give you insightful details about your sleep patterns. In addition to your chronotype, you’ll learn what time your brain starts to produce sleep-inducing melatonin at night and the hour you most naturally fall asleep. Give it a try and you’ll learn a lot about your sleep habits and needs.
CHRONOTYPES IN THE WORKPLACE
Why do we have chronotypes? Rewind to two million years ago when humans were living together in tribes. Some of us would have to stand watch to protect the rest of our tribe. If everyone was sleeping or if everyone was awake at the same time, it would make our tribe vulnerable to attack. Chronotypes evolved to allow some of us to look out for the tribe while the other half slept. These chronotypes proved to be an evolutionary advantage back then, so they’ve stuck around.
Fast forward to the present day and you’ll see that chronotypes have actually become a problem in our modern workplace “tribes.” Night people can grow frustrated with the very different work habits of morning people, and vice versa. Take me, for instance — I'm a night owl and I become productive at different points in my day. It might not make sense for me to work with other people at seven o'clock in the morning, because that's when I'm cranky. Sometimes I’ll send work emails at midnight because that’s when I’m most productive. Even though I don’t expect an answer right away, people can find it distracting.
Here are three good tips for managing different chronotypes in the workplace:
- Respect other chronotypes. This is important because productivity is essential at work, and people are their most productive at different times in the day. Share your chronotype with others and try to learn theirs. There are a lot of different chronotype quizzes. I recommend all new hires take them and highlight it in their company org chart or bio. It helps build respect for chronotype diversity.
- Manage expectations. Explaining when you’re most productive based on your chronotype will help your manager and employees understand you better. By sharing that information, you and your manager are better prepared to manage expectations when work needs to be done.
- Agree on ground rules. If you and your boss are different chronotypes, you need to set clear communication guidelines. By knowing each other’s chronotypes, you can set rules that work for both of you, especially when it comes to scheduling meetings. For instance, I tell people to text me only if it's an emergency, but if something can wait till the morning, please send me an email.
Sleep has never been more important than it is right now — knowing your chronotype could help lead to restful nights and healthy, productive days in the future.