The Power of When | Book Notes #6

The Power of When: Discover Your Chronotype--and the Best Time to Eat Lunch, Ask for a Raise, Have Sex, Write a Novel, Take Your Meds, and More by Michael Breus

The Power of When: Discover Your Chronotype–and the Best Time to Eat Lunch, Ask for a Raise, Have Sex, Write a Novel, Take Your Meds, and More by Michael Breus

What if you could be more productive not by doing more or changing how you do things but just by changing when you do things?

What if there’s a right timing for doing things, and finding the optimal time to them, you can, not only make you more productive but happier as well?

Nice thought isn’t it?

As it turns out, there is a right timing for just about everything we do.

I’m an early riser, I’ve been one since I was a kid. I thought that was the norm because I grew up in a home where everybody woke up early too. Not until I went to college and lived with three other roommates, did I find out that it’s not actually common.

You would think that waking up early is always a good thing. That’s not really the case though when you’re a college student who, aside from wanting to study also wants to have an active social life. One that involved staying up late to do the said socializing. I tried changing my natural sleeping patterns to solve the problem, but I found it so difficult.

I thought back then that  being able to wake up early was just a force habit but after reading the Power of When, I learned that it is actually genetic.

I learned in this book that every person has an internal biological clock that impacts different aspects of our lives, like sleeping, waking, thinking, learning, digestion and many others. Though we can control when we choose to sleep, wake and eat, our internal biological clock has preset for when we should do so. There’s a right timing for doing a specific activity, when what we do is synchronized with our biological clock , things get easier and flow better.

Not everyone’s biological clock keeps the same time. We are aware of this, because we already have the common descriptions for it like larks for early risers and  owls for late risers. People’s regular rising and bedtime is called chronotype.

Psychologists and sleep doctors determines a person’s chronotype using the morningness-eveningness questionaire (MEQ). The author, a practicing sleep doctor with more than a decade’s experience in treating people’s sleep problems thought that the MEQ was missing some things in describing people’s chronotype, from his observations of his patients in his own practice. Along with with the MEQ, he added sleep drive and personality as a factor.

Sleep drive is a person’s need for sleep. He likened it to sex drive, some have a stronger sex drive than others, just as some have a higher sleep drive than others.

“Your sleep drive is genetic, and it determines how much you need and your depth of sleep.”

Low sleep drive Don’t need a lot of sleep. Easily woken up by sound and light disturbance, and wake up feeling less than refreshed.
High sleep drive Need more hours of sleep.  Sleep deeply. Wake up feeling less than refreshed no matter how much sleep they get.
Medium Sleep drive Sleep somewhat deeply and are satisfied and refreshed by seven hours of continuous rest

So instead of the lark and owl as chronotype category. He came up with a new set of chronotypes. He named it after mammals – who embodied similar behaviors, instead of birds.

The four chronotypes are:

Dolphins

Real dolphins sleep with only half of their brain at a time (which is why they’re called unihemispheric sleepers). The other half is awake and alert, concentrating on swimming and looking for predators.

This name fits insomniacs well: intelligent, neurotic light sleepers with a low sleep drive.

Key traits: cautiousness, introversion, neuroticism, intelligence

Key behaviour: avoiding risky situations, striving for perfection, obsessive-compulsive tendencies, fixating on details

Most Alert: late at night

Most Productive:  in spurts through out the day

Lions

Real lions are morning hunters at the top of the food chain. This name fits morning-oriented driven optimists with a medium sleep drive.

Key traits: conscientiousness, stability, practicality, optimism

Key behaviours: overachieving, prioritizing health and fitness, seeking positive interactions, strategizing

Most alert: noon

Most productive: morning

Bears

Real bears are go-with-the-flow ramblers, good sleepers, and anytime hunters. This name fits fun-loving, outgoing people who prefer a solar-based schedule and have a high sleep drive.

Key Traits: Cautiousness, extroversion, friendly and easy to talk to, open-minded

Key Behaviors: Avoiding conflict, aspiring to be healthy, prioritizing happiness, taking comfort in the familiar

Most alert: mid-morning to late in the afternoon

Most productive: later mornings

Wolves

Real wolves are nocturnal hunters. This name fits night oriented creative extroverts with a medium sleep drive.

Key Traits Traits: Impulsivity, pessimism, creativity, moodiness

Key Behaviors:  Taking risks, prioritizing pleasure, seeking novelty, reactivng with emotional intensity

Most alert: 7:00pm

Most productive: late morning and late evenings

There’s free online test to determine your chronotype here.

The variation in chronotypes make sense from an evolutionary perspective. It was explained that since our ancient ancestors lived in groups, having different people with different sleep and wake time means that there will sufficient and effective manpower to cover the security for all hours in the day. It’s also interesting to note the distribution of the types in our population:

Dolphins: 10%

Lions: 15-20%

Bears: 50%

Wolves: 15-20%

Since majority of people are Bears, that would explain why we keep the current office and school hours, even happy hour or time reserved for socializing. It synchronizes with a Bear’s bio-rhythm. It’s society’s norm because majority are Bears, so now I understand why there’s an expectation that we keep time that Bears do, even if we are Lions, Dolphins or Wolves.

But we can’t really change our chronotype. Our chronotype is genetic, determined by our PER3 gene. A longer PER3 gene means we tend to be an early riser, shorter ones means you tend to be a late riser. Since each type runs on different bio clock, it makes sense that not everyone’s optimal time is the same. So the classic advice that everyone should wake up early to be successful is just not true. If your a Wolf for example, mornings are just not your most creative or most productive time of the day for you. So don’t force yourself, it’s better to just work on with your bio rhythm than against it.

“For optimal health and performance, each type has its own chronorythm, or daily schedule for success”

Since our chronotype is genetic, we can’t change it. We can make some shifts in some of our activities though to so we could stretch it to it’s limit, push it a bit later or a bit earlier.

“If you were born a Lion, you will never naturally be able to stay up late as a born Wolf. But by adjusting the timing of meals, exercise, caffeine, and exposure to artificial and natural light, each chronotype stands to make huge improvements in health, energy and productivity.”

But though, we can’t change our own chronotypes, it changes naturally as we age. It changes through different stages of life, like childhood, adolescence, adulthood (21-65) and old age.

There’s a timing for everything is the book’s core message and learning when to do each activity can help improve our lives. It has chapters in relationship, fitness, health, sleep, eating and drinking, work, creativity, money and fun. The exact time for when a specific chronotype should do a particular activity was outlined in each of those chapters. It’s incredibly helpful because it’s doing more with less. A simple adjustment in time could have impact on our energy and enjoyment.

What I thought about The Power of When

After I graduated college, I landed a job with a graveyard shift schedule where the starting time  changed every couple of weeks. It was my first job, I thought I could adapt to the schedule because I was till clinging to the idea that my being an early riser was a product of habit, and habits can be changed. I stayed in that job for a year, I was miserable the entire time. I’d still feel tired even if I slept the full seven or eight hours. Had I known the information in this book back then, I never would have taken that job in the first place. I could feel my body was not right but I didn’t know why. After reading this book I realized that back then I was getting the right amount of sleep but not getting them at the optimal time for my chronotype. To top it off, Lions ( my chronotype) does not do well with changes in their sleep, so the changing schedule just made it harder.

Timing can make such a huge difference, and being given the exact optimal time for when to do things just saved me the time and energy in doing possible attempts to finding it out for myself. Of course not all of them are feasible to do, there might be some constraints in schedule (work or other responsibilities) if your time is not your own but it’s still helpful, as it can guide our future decisions with them in mind.

Book Summary of The Power of When

  • Every person has an internal biological clock that impacts different aspects of our lives  like sleeping, waking, thinking, learning, digestion and many others. This is genetic and can’t be changed.
  • There’s a right timing for doing a specific activity, when what we do is synchronized with our biological clock , things get easier and flow better.
  • People’s regular rising and bedtime is called chronotype. In this book chronotype is determined by morningness-eveningness questionaire (MEQ), sleep drive and personality.
  • Sleep drive is a person’s need for sleep. We can have either a low, medium or high sleep drive.
  • The four chronotypes are:
    • Dolphins –This name fits insomniacs well: intelligent, neurotic light sleepers with a low sleep drive.
    • Lions – This name fits morning-oriented driven optimists with a medium sleep drive.
    • Bears – This name fits fun-loving, outgoing people who prefer a solar-based schedule and have a high sleep drive.
    • Wolves – This name fits night oriented creative extroverts with a medium sleep drive.
  • Majority of people are Bears which explains the current office and school hours we keep.
  • Chronotypes change naturally as we age

Actionable Takeaways

  • Take the quiz and get my chronotype
  • Get the optimal time for waking up, sleeping, eating and work. Experiment in doing the activities in the prescribed time and record changes, check if energy and productivity improved

Simple Rules
→ short, easy-to-remember rules I can set for myself to follow the principles of the book

  • Keep my sleep and wake schedule at the optimal time for my chronotype
  • Schedule productive or creative work at the optimal time for my chronotype

Interested in finding out more

  • Check this interview with Dr.Micheal Breus