How To Adjust Your Chronotype (the Extent to Which You are an Owl or a Lark)

What can you do if you take the 19-item Morningness-Eveningness Questionnaire  here? Now that you know your chronotype, you can ask yourself whether you are content with it. If you are, Cheers! You are not alone. Many people are perfectly okay with their personal sleep-wake cycle. And not just the hummingbirds, whose pattern coincides with the norms and expectations of society. Larks and owls—even extreme owls—can get along fine if their circumstances allow them to live according to the urgings of their chronotype and inner clock.
Most of us have heard stories about brilliant Silicon Valley types who write computer code all night, sleep on the office couch, wake up around the time most people are going to bed, refuel with coffee and granola, and repeat the cycle. This is not just a myth or stereotype. A novelist friend has been waking at noon and going to bed around 4 AM for many years. She says she works best when it’s dark outside. All her friends know there is no point trying to reach her before early afternoon. Oh—and her least favorite time of year, predictably, is the spring, when the days grow longer and the nights grow shorter.
But what if you are not happy with the daily pattern your chronotype mandates? What if it causes problems in your marriage or family or career? In that case, there are steps you can take to improve the situation. Owls, in particular, should consider these measures:

  • Eat a protein-loaded breakfast soon after waking up, even if you are not hungry. Get your digestive rhythms into sync with your sleep-wake cycle, and you’ll feel more alert and energetic in the first half of the day. One simple way is a protein shake, store-bought in single-serving containers, or prepared in the blender the night before, so it is ready to grab from the fridge.
  • Stay away from coffee and other caffeinated drinks from midafternoon on.
  • Move dinner earlier, so that you have three hours for digestion before going to sleep. It will make it easier to get to sleep and will also help align your circadian rhythms so that you can begin to shift from owl to hummingbird chronotype.
  • Emphasize carbs at dinner for their easy digestion and calming effect.
  • Turn off your cellphone ringer and email and text alerts at least one hour before bedtime. Since owls’ friends are often owls themselves, tell them why you’re doing this, so they don’t feel neglected or ignored.
  • Schedule exercise sessions for midday or before dinner, not in late evening. Evenings are for calming down, not for getting the energy going.
  • Choose evening activities that don’t get you excited or uncontrollably engrossed the way some TV programs and Internet activities are likely to do.
  • Install dimmers on room lights and set low but comfortable levels in the evening. (If you are using high-efficiency compact fluorescent bulbs that can’t be dimmed, switch over to the newer, dimmable types.)
  • Dim your TV screen in the evening to a comfortable level that is no brighter than needed for comfortable viewing.
  • Install the f.lux application on your home computer (available for free from justgetflux.com). This software cuts down on the amount of blue light that is emitted as part of the white light your monitor gives off. Specifically, it alters the amount of blue light your computer screen gives off, depending on the time of day. If you’re still at your workplace in the evenings, ask if you can install the app there, too. (Some, but not all, employers allow this.)
  • Leave the shades up in the bedroom during the fall, winter and spring, so you benefit from the natural dawn signal. (Depending on where you live, you should be careful in summer, because dawn may be too early to do you any good, and might in fact turn you into more of an owl by delaying your internal clock.)

If you try these measures and they do not make enough of a difference, you might consider a more direct application of chronotherapy, which will change the kind of chronotype you show.