You've heard of morning larks – the people who spring out of bed with sunrise, only to find their way back to it as soon as dinner is done – and night owls – those who start the day slowly but come to life after the News at Ten. But what about afternooners, or nappers?
For years we were encouraged to think of ourselves as either a morning or night person. However, a group of researchers from Belgium have found that it's not so straightforward, and there are in fact four types of sleeper.
Their study asked 1,300 people between the ages of 12 and 90 to share their sleep habits and rate their tiredness over the course of the day. Participants were shown random times of day and asked to predict roughly how tired or wakeful they’d feel at those times, assuming they’d had a full night’s sleep. In addition, those who took the survey were also questioned about what times they’d usually go to sleep and wake up, and about their perceived sleep quality.
Around half fell into one of the two traditional groups – larks and owls – but the rest couldn't be described by those labels. Hence the researchers coined two new terms.
The first is ‘afternoon people’. These people are the sleepiest of all when they first wake up, but by the time the clock hits 11am, they’re raring to go. As the work day draws to a close though, afternoon people start to wind down and by 5pm they’re feeling tired all over again.
The other group is ‘nappers’, so named because they are the most likely to need a midday snooze to get them through the day. These people wake up alert and ready for the day, but start to feel sleepy around 11am before perking back up after 3pm and until bedtime.
It’s also worth noting that 30pc of the respondents didn’t fit into any of these ‘chronotypes’, so there might be further categories we’ve yet to discover.
The study also found that the chronotypes weren’t affected by demographics or lifestyle differences. Men and women, older and younger, all managed to fit in the four chronotypes. If you’re any particular chronotype, you’re stuck that way and there’s probably not much you can do about it.
The findings tally with the assertions of sleep expert Michael Breus, who argues in his book The Power of When: Learn the Best Time to do Everything that chronotypes were decided for us over 50,000 years ago by our caveman ancestors and it’s only in the past 125 years we’ve attempted to shift them.
Writing in the Telegraph in 2016, Breus described four chronotypes that seem to align with the findings of this recent study. s Breus would have it, these types of sleepers are the Lion, the Dolphin, the Wolf, and the Bear.
Breus’ Dolphin people correspond roughly to the night owl: they're most productive at night but able to get in short bursts of wakefulness during the day. Breus notes that anxiety often keeps dolphin people awake at night: “human dolphins are light sleepers with a low sleep drive. They struggle with waking up multiple times and are susceptible to anxiety-related insomnia.”
Lion people are closer to morning larks, raring to go at the start of the day before starting to get tired towards sunset. Breus notes that lion people find it easy to drift off to sleep at the end of the day.
Bears correspond to nappers. Breus notes that these people are “most alert from mid-morning to early afternoon and most productive just before noon” but they sleep deeply, even if it’s not for as long as they’d like.
Finally the wolf people match the afternoon people, but there’s certainly an element of the night owl in them too. They find it difficult to wake up before midday but they’re most productive in the afternoon or early evening, and don’t get tired until midnight.
Whether you’re a lark, a bear, an owl, or a dolphin, Breus claims that your overall wakefulness and sleepiness can help you make better life decisions. Knowing the times of day when you’re most alert and productive can help you make big decisions. It can also dictate when you should hit the gym, and predict when you’re likely to fall in love.
So, what type of sleeper are you? Take our short test to find out...