sleeping chronotype

Is Your Training in Sync with Your Chronotype?

I have always been a morning person, up with the sunrise or before and raring to go. My friend and longtime co-author, Jim Rutberg, is a night owl. He does his best work in the afternoon and at night, and we work best together when we honor each other’s chronotypes. Recent research suggests there could be big benefits for you by syncing important aspects of your life to your chronotype.

What are Chronotypes

Our circadian rhythm influences the times of day and night when we are most energized and when we naturally slow down and rest. And although circadian rhythm can adapt to environment and habit, researchers believe there is also a genetic component to your personal rhythm.

Humans fall into three primary chronotypes, defined by the preferred timing of their normal behaviors (waking, eating, working, sleeping, etc.). According to Rosenthal, 14% of adults are “Morning-types”, 16% are “Evening-types”, and 70% are “Neither-types”. These values show a similar trend to a 2017 review study on the impact of chronotype on athletic performance.

Chronotypes in Society

As a summer 2018 New York Times article describes, chronotypes have somewhat shaped our culture. Morning-types are portrayed as ambitious, intelligent, and successful. CEOs, military leaders, and entrepreneurs are often celebrated for their 4:00am wake-up routines. In contrast, evening-types are often portrayed as lazy, undisciplined, low-achievers. Celebrated night-owls, however, are often in creative fields: the artists, writers, and musicians of the world. These are not universally true, of course, but they are the messages that predominate advertising, movies, and C-suites.

A December 24, 2018 article, again in the NY Times, caught my attention. Some companies have started adjusting workers’ hours based on their chronotypes, and when they let people work at their best hours of the day, productivity increased. Life for the workers appears to improve, too. They slept more hours and had higher-quality sleep because their rest period was more in sync with their internal clock.

Before the Industrial Revolution, most people adapted their internal clocks to the environment. In hot places, for instance, people rose earlier to avoid working in the hottest part of the day. Farming communities have traditionally been early-risers because of the need to tend to animals. The Industrial Revolution and labor laws (which were a response to deplorable working conditions) forced many people into a 9-5 workday. That was great for many, but out of sync for others.

In an increasingly 24/7 world, it is easier than ever to do everything you need to do at any time of day or night. The grocery store is open no matter how early I wake up or how late Rutty goes to bed. Online banking, 24-hour call centers, and one-click ordering never sleep. Ironically, night owls may even be able to thank the coders in Silicon Valley tech giants for helping reduce the stigma that evening-types are just lazy.

Chronotypes and Training

People have always asked, “When is the best time of day to train?” And for many years my response has been, “Whatever time you can stick with consistently.” Research into the chronotypes of elite athletes adds more depth to that answer.

Chronotyping elite athletes is a bit of chicken-and-egg. Studies agree – including Lastella (2016) – that the majority of elite athletes are morning-types, especially in individual endurance sports like cycling, triathlon, and running. How many early-morning races have you done compared to twilight races? But do morning-type athletes excel because practice times and games are in the morning? Or do they become morning-types because they adapted to the practice and competition schedule?

The answer appears to be a little of both. Evening- and neither-type athletes are able to perform in the morning, but morning-types are more likely to have their best performances in the morning. Evening-types are able to get to sleep sooner and sleep more soundly following night-time workouts and competitions, compared to morning-types. This can make a significant difference in recovery and performance the following day, particularly if athletes’ schedules can’t compensate by allowing a later wake up time.

Optimizing Your Training Schedule

You can ride Zwift any time day or night, and some gyms are open 24 hours. You can train any time that works for your schedule and chronotype, but most cycling events, marathons, and triathlons still start in the morning. So, when is the best time of day to train?

In a 2017 review of current research, Roden, et. al. recommended syncing training with an athlete’s chronotype because maximizing workout performance leads to the greatest adaptations. Adapting training time of day to match competition times was recommended as a temporary, event-specific strategy. In practice this would mean that if you’re a morning person and your events are in the morning, then training in the morning is ideal.

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If you are an evening-type, your routine training might benefit from afternoon or evening workouts, but you may not perform as well as possible in a morning event unless you spend some time adapting your sleep and activity schedule prior to competition. Also, because recovery is so critical to training adaptation and sport performance, if your wake-up time can’t compensate for a later bed time (hard training in the afternoon and evening often pushes back the time athletes can fall asleep), you will most likely lose any benefit you might have gained by training later in the day.

What now?

In the end, the best time to train is still whatever time you can commit to on a consistent basis. However, the new wrinkle in that advice is that you’re not crazy if you’re struggling to adapt your training time to be out of sync with your chronotype.

Evening-types can train effectively in the morning, but it requires more than setting an early alarm. You have to change your bedtime to be earlier, which may mean changing your work or family schedule, or adding naps into your daytime routine.

Morning-types can stay alert and energized for twilight or night-time events, but if you can’t adapt to waking up later in the morning, you need to be careful to schedule extra rest during the middle of the day.

As for me and Rutty, we have a pretty good system: He works late into the night and I look at it a few hours later when I wake up before dawn. Meetings are in the middle of the day when our chronotypes overlap.

What works for you and the other chronotypes in your life?

Chris Carmichael
CEO/Head Coach of CTS

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Comments 6

  1. Pingback: 5 Tips to Finding The Best Time of Day To Exercise - CTS

  2. The trouble with mornings is that for any kind of intensity training (or strength), to have the energy in my muscles to perform, I need food first … and then time to digest it. No time for this on work/school days. This implies in the morning i can only realistically do fasted runs (i.e. maintenance).

  3. So basically it’s ok to workout bef0re you go to bed if you have to?
    I thought I heard it wasn’t good for your heart to do so.
    I am looking to do my strength training in the evening and endurance riding in the morning. I work mostly in the early afternoons into the mid-early evenings. Sleep would be like 11p.m- 7am. Would this workout be ok for my heart function?

  4. I am definitely a morning type. It started in my military days. I now work in a job where I do shift work – 12 hour shifts in the day or 12 hour shifts at night. If on a day shift, I typically wake up at about 2-3 am and train. It’s a bit different at night though. I don’t typically like to train after I get home from work at 7 am. However, on my off days, if I keep a night schedule, I like to train at 1 am or so.

  5. Excellent article. The principles in the article I found in my life to be valid. I will be 70 this year. I can go early or late. I like 24 hour and 48 hours cycling races. But if a race starts in the morning, I need to train in the morning s for about a month before it. If you are going to race at night it is also imperative to do some night workouts. Thanks See you at Sebring, Fl. Larry

  6. Interesting subject Chris,
    I’ve always thought about this as well. I naturally, (no alarm) wake around 5am, partly because I get tired around 8pm, (going to bed around 9), but rarely get to training until around 9 or 10am, (if I have that luxury that day).
    But, I fell the most efficient in the afternoon, with the task, (cycling or steep climbing), feeling like it’s requiring less effort than a morning workout. Of course muscles & the rest of the body is warm & more flexible in the afternoon, but I do wonder about the chronotypes you mentioned.

    Also, I believe Ayurveda medicine classifies the day into 4 hr. segments, where some segments one’s more mentally alert, (productive?), and other times more physical, and still others in more dominate state.
    So, it’s our task to “discover” our type, experiment & see what really does work the best. Of course things like “life”, (family, job, etc.) can make it a challenge.

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