Louise Slyth explores sleep chronotypes in midlife

Most women in midlife find themselves in a constant state of plate spinning. Those of us who exercise tend to fit our workouts around our jobs or families, rather than when we feel physically or psychologically motivated. That’s precisely what I did, until I learned about chronotypes.

What’s a chronotype?

We’re all familiar with our circadian rhythm, the inner clock which regulates functions like sleep and appetite. However, chronotypes are another significant driver governing our body’s personal patterns. While our circadian rhythm and chronotypes work in tandem, they are completely separate.

Circadian rhythms are influenced by external factors like sunlight, but can be re-trained if needed, whereas chronotypes are genetic and almost impossible to influence or retrain.

According to Dr Michael Breus, clinical psychologist and sleep expert, “A chronotype is a genetically predetermined schedule of body function.” This means that each of us is genetically inclined to perform certain types of activities at certain times of the day.  Dr Breus asserts that scheduling your daily activities according to your chronotype “can lead to better sleep quality and overall well-being.”

What are the chronotype categories?

There are four chronotype categories, each represented by an animal: Bear, Lion, Wolf and Dolphin. Dr Breus suggests that by leaning into the natural tendencies of our ‘sleep animal’, we can schedule our daily tasks to align with when we are most productive. “You get to take advantage of when your hormones are naturally on the rise or at their peak and when you need them for any particular activity like exercise, sex, or even talking to your kids.”

According to the Sleep Doctor quiz, I’m a Bear, the most common chronotype. Our sleeping patterns follow the sun’s cycle and our peak productivity hours are between 10am and 2pm, which explains my 3pm energy crash and my natural aptitude for napping!

Figuring out your chronotype

Learning that I was officially a morning person was no great surprise to me, but learning when to schedule in each type of exercise to best effect was transformative.  I love running but had been squeezing those vigorous workouts in at lunchtime or after work, when I struggled to find the motivation or energy.

According to Dr Breus “If Bears don’t do their vigorous workout before noon, it’s not gonna happen”. In fact, the best time to schedule a run is around 7.30am.

Not feeling enthused by the thought of a walk to the gym on dark mornings, I cancelled my gym membership and hired a treadmill.  This has been a gamechanger for me – I can work out when it suits me, there’s no judgement, and its mere physical presence is a psychological nudge to get some steps in.

Now I set my alarm half an hour early and jump out of bed with enthusiasm (ok, on most days I jump out of bed!). I always listen to my body; some days I plug in Sia and run like a Pitbull is chasing me. If I’m feeling jaded, I catch up on my favourite podcast while walking briskly at a steep incline.  That way I feel like my body and my brain get a workout. At the end of my session, I feel exhausted but invigorated.  It’s a good kind of tired, not a weary kind.

According to Dr Breus, 12pm is the other sweet spot for runs, but I generally find I’ve lost my va va voom by then, so I sometimes take an early lunch and go for a brisk stomp around the park.

Making it work for you 

If I’m practicing yoga, I’ll do that immediately after work.  Sunset is an ideal ‘bear time’ for yoga, and by leaning into that, I find it much easier to wind down and ease myself into the evening. It acts as a mental and physical reset after a challenging day at work.  With the lighter nights coming in, I might switch Yoga for Pilates, as between 4pm and 7pm is the ideal window for strength training.  For me, Pilates combines the benefits of strength training with the wind-down vibes of yoga.

Studies have suggested that the act of co-ordinating our physical activity with our chronotypes can be a significant ally in our wellness journey. A recent study on sports performance and chronotypes suggested that “Sports trainers and coaches should take into account the influence of both the time of day and chronotype effect when scheduling training sessions” and there is further research linking chronotypes, sleep quality, exercise and diet with the importance of “personalized interventions to effectively address specific health behaviors”.

In midlife, more than ever, we need to be kind to ourselves and listen to our bodies.  Like many women my age, I’m juggling the demands of a busy life with the physical and psychological impacts of perimenopause.  With that in mind, I’m open to any new ideas that help support my fitness and wellbeing.  If that means leaning into my Bear tendencies and body’s natural rhythms, then I’m all for it.


Michael Breus, Ph.D is a Diplomate of the American Board of Sleep Medicine and a Fellow of The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and one of only 168 psychologists to pass the Sleep Medical Specialty Board without going to medical school. He holds a BA in Psychology from Skidmore College, and PhD in Clinical Psychology from The University of Georgia. Dr. Breus has been in private practice as a sleep doctor for nearly 25 years. Dr. Breus is a sought-after lecturer and his knowledge is shared daily in major national media worldwide including Today, Dr. Oz, Oprah, and for fourteen years as the sleep expert on WebMD. Dr. Breus is also the bestselling author of The Power of When, The Sleep Doctor’s Diet Plan, Good Night!, and Energize.

For more stories, advice and interviews, head to the Menopause Your Way Stories hub. To browse and shop a curated edit of menopause products, visit the Menopause Your Way page on QVC.

The content of the QVC website is for information only. It is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your doctor or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on the QVC website.

We understand there’s a lot of information out there on the menopause. You can read through the NICE guidance on menopause management, as well as the NHS overview on the menopause.