What Does Your Sleep Style Say About You?

Clinical Psychologist By Michael J. Breus, Ph.D.
Clinical Psychologist
Michael J. Breus, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist and board-certified sleep specialist based outside of Los Angeles, CA. He is a diplomate of the American Board of Sleep Medicine and is on the faculty of the Atlanta School of Sleep Medicine.
What Does Your Sleep Style Say About You?
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mbg’s Sleep Week is your guide to getting the best rest of your life. We think sleep is one of the most fundamental acts of self-care. We’ll empower you with the latest and greatest research, plus actionable advice from doctors and psychologists on how to embed pro-sleep habits into your daily wellness routine to optimize your health, energy levels, hormones, and mood. 

It's no secret that sleep is one of the most important pillars of overall health. It can help repair muscles after a workout, improve memory, increase quality of life, reduce inflammation, assist with weight management and lower stress levels, just to name a few.

While everyone can reap these benefits, sleeps habits and patterns differ from one person to the next. Knowing the type of "sleeper" you are can help maximize your energy and improve efficiency in your work.

The following guide identifies various types of sleepers and provides tips on how to get the best sleep. Which one are you?

Early Bird

An early bird, or what I call (in my books and research) a "lion," is someone who has a genetic propensity to go to bed early (8:30 p.m.) and wake up early (5 a.m. to 5:30 a.m.). My lions tend to have difficulty with social situations in the evenings and start to run out of energy in the late afternoon. This is usually because they tend to wake up so early.

Here's your sleep plan. For that afternoon lull, consider a short nap. A 25-minute nap between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. in the afternoon can help restore energy for the rest of the day. However, it's important to be mindful and not nap for too long, as this could have a negative effect on your ability to fall asleep at night. Next, try exercising in the late afternoon or early evening. While this may not be something you are used to doing, it will help give you energy and may even push you through to that party on Friday night. And finally, maintaining a consistent bedtime and wake time is extremely helpful to know that you are getting the quality and quantity you require. High-tech sleep trackers, like the S+, can provide you with insights that help you adjust your schedule.

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Night Owl

A night owl, or what I call a "wolf," is someone who has a genetic propensity to go to bed late (12:30 a.m. to 3 a.m.) and wake up late (10 a.m. to 12 p.m.). Think back to your teenage years; that is a perpetual night owl. My wolves tend to have difficulty with mornings, and especially creativity in the early hours of the day yet are very creative at night. Often thought of as lazy, wolves can be highly intelligent and extremely creative.

Here's your sleep plan. So what can they do about morning performance and the labels they get from others' perception of their habits? First, getting sunlight in the morning is one way to help turn off the melatonin faucet, which is why you are so sleepy when you wake up. Special lights with the blue light spectrum (460nm) can really help wake a wolf up if needed. Next is education. Letting people know and understand your chronotype (yep, it's genetic!) is very helpful in dispelling the myth of laziness. And finally, eat breakfast. So many of my late-night patients do not eat breakfast and that really zaps their energy levels in the morning. Stay away from carbs since they increase tiredness and stick to high protein and good sources of fat for brain fuel.

New Mom

A great deal of the research that explores motherhood, parenthood, and sleep focuses on new parents and infants in the first few months of life. New parenthood brings dramatic changes to daily life and to sleep, and studies certainly confirm what parents themselves know: Both moms and dads are likely to be significantly sleep deprived when caring for infant children. Research indicates that moms tend to suffer more disrupted sleep than dads, and the initial and dramatic sleep deprivation that moms experience while caring for a newborn often lasts for months if not longer. Moms may feel there's no choice but to soldier on through the tiredness and fatigue.

But there are ways to remedy mommysomnia, by both avoiding common pitfalls and adopting some sleep-friendly practices. The two most common pitfalls include:

1. Trying to do too much while your child is finally sleeping.

2. Not keeping a consistent sleep schedule, going to bed too early or staying up too late.

Here's your sleep plan. So what can mom do? Prioritize sleep. I know there are piles of laundry, but your sleep is more important. Ask for help, hire someone, get your partner involved. Being a supermom does not mean you need to be super tired. Get to bed and get up as consistently as possible. I know there will be bad nights, but if you are getting good regular sleep, they will not have nearly as big an effect on you. So when should you go to bed? Take your socially determined wake-up time (usually determined by your new baby) and count backward 7.5 hours (this would equal five 90-minute sleep cycles). So if junior is up at 5:30 a.m., you should aim to be in bed by 10 p.m.

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Anxious Insomniac

Insomnia is an interesting sleep disorder since there are so many different types of insomnia. But without question the one aspect of a person's life that seems to affect sleep the most is anxiety. I would estimate that 65 percent of all of the cases I see have anxiety as a major component. Usually anxious people cannot fall asleep or stay asleep, often due to a racing mind.

Here's your sleep plan. First, create your own bedtime routine that starts about an hour before lights out. I call it a "Power Down Hour." Take 20 minutes to get things done that will drive you crazy if they are not done, 20 minutes for hygiene, and then 20 minutes for some form of meditation and relaxation. The final step can be a huge factor for my anxious patients. During the meditation/relaxation phase consider deep breathing, heart math, guided imagery, or Progressive Muscle Relaxation. All of these techniques help lower your heart rate, which is one of the key elements for getting to or back to sleep.

Never Enough

These people are chronically sleep-deprived individuals. People can be sleep deprived for various reasons, one being a sleep disorder (quality), environmental influences (quality and quantity), and the other being that sleep is not a priority or they simply have too much to do (quantity). The possibility of a sleep disorder should be evaluated by a sleep specialist, but the other two are something that most individuals can explore themselves. When looking at the environment I like to think about the five senses.

Here's your sleep plan. For sight (or light), the darker the better. While this may feel obvious, what many people do not know is that any form of blue light (460nm) tells your brain to turn off the melatonin faucet. This can be problematic when watching something on your iPad, for example. There are commercially available products that can help, like blue blocking glasses, filters for the various devices, etc.).

Sound is the next one. Believe it or not, if it is too quiet your hearing becomes more acute, and you hear every little noise. Having some noise, light music, or a sound machine will be helpful.

For touch, I think of temperature. Cooler is better and there is plenty of data to support that. And make sure your bed is not older than seven or eight years, and you are changing you pillows every 18 to 24 months (memory foam can last a bit longer).

In regards to smell, there are double-blind placebo-controlled studies on lavender and ylang-ylang. Both have been shown to provide a relaxation response to help relax before sleep.

Finally there's taste. Here you want to avoid heavy meals within four hours of bedtime as it can be disruptive to sleep.

Looking at sleep as a priority is tough. The more your brain gets sleep deprived, the more it tells you it is fine! Sleep affects every organ system and every disease state. It even affects how we think, react, our emotions, and most importantly our health.

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Professional Napper

Nappers also tend to be sleep deprived. If you are getting enough quality sleep at night, you will not need a nap during the day. There are various reasons a person will tend to nap, and one big one is insomnia. When you are not sleeping well, or long enough at night, it will inevitably catch up, making you tired during the day.

Here's your sleep plan. If this is the case for you, consider cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) as it has been shown to work better than sleeping pills and last longer as well. The other thing to consider here are cultural differences. In the Latin American countries it is well-established that a siesta is part of their life. Interestingly enough, napping can be biologically programmed. It turns out that when our core body temperature begins to lower, it is a signal to our brains to produce melatonin; while we know this happens at around 10:30 p.m., there is a second mild dip between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. Thus if you are a napper and get good sleep, your biology might be the reason.

Now that you've identified the category of sleep you fall under, experiment with implementing different strategies (and maybe even different trackers) so you can wake up energized, well-rested, and ready to take on the day. For more Sleep Week content, check out the rest of our series!

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