Timing is everything.
Understanding your sleep pattern can help you maximize your best brain hours at work. Sleep expert Michael Breus, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and the author of The Power of When, offers advice (and animal analogs) for making the most of your chronotype.
You’re a Lion
If you spring to life early in the morning, ready to take on the world. Odds are, you also happen to be commanding and achievement-oriented.
EARLY IN THE DAY: Conduct critical business over breakfast; you’ll really shine. Lions tend to lead, and “morning is a great time to meet with other leaders,” says Breus. Since your mental clarity generally lasts till noon, make the a.m. about tasks that require heavy lifting, like strategic problem-solving and sensitive communication.
LATER: Exercise at 6 or 7 p.m., advises Breus. The endorphins will give you energy for evening networking. (Usually you’re ready to conk out at nine.)
You’re a Wolf
If you are best late at night and can’t imagine going to sleep before midnight. You’re probably a creative type.
EARLY IN THE DAY: Melatonin, the sleep hormone, is high for you in the morning; you may be coming out of deep REM sleep when the alarm goes off, and this makes for a creative state. “Set a second alarm for 20 minutes after the first,” says Breus. You might come up with a brilliant idea. If possible, use mornings to conquer busywork. Hold off on lunch until one, and keep it light so you stay alert.
LATER: Around two, you’ll be ready for more demanding tasks. But it’s 4 p.m. when you really hit your stride—that’s a great time for presentations.
You’re a Bear
If you have a high sleep drive (you need seven to eight hours) and wake easily when you get enough rest. About half of human folk fall into this category.
EARLY IN THE DAY: You’re most productive between 10 a.m. and noon, so resist the urge to chit-chat at the water cooler. Sequester yourself and tackle your most demanding work. Take a walk before you eat lunch to speed up your metabolism. Sun and movement will help stave off the one- to two-hour energy dip you typically experience in the afternoon.
LATER: From 3 p.m. on, your focus dwindles, but mood-boosting serotonin is high, making it a good time to deal with people: Have meetings, make calls, send e-mails.
You’re a Dolphin
If you have a low sleep drive and suffer from insomnia. (Real dolphins sleep half awake, on the lookout for predators.) There’s a good chance that you have a type A personality.
EARLY IN THE DAY: Instead of drinking coffee, jump out of bed and do 20 crunches and 10 push- ups, says Breus. This will increase your heart rate and help combat your low levels of cortisol. “In the morning, when you’re slightly tired, your hyperactive mind is primed to do what it does best: connect the dots,” says Breus. Morning brainstorms—solo or with others—work well for you.
LATER: Your cortisol levels are on the rise from about 2 to 4 p.m., making you especially alert. This is when you’ll do best on the nitty-gritty details of a project.