Have you ever noticed that there are certain times when you prefer to do certain things—and that those preferences don’t necessarily align with others’ around you? You like to hit the ground running first thing in the morning, while your partner takes her time to shake off sleep. You eat your three square meals every day, while your co-worker snacks and grazes. You sleep soundly, straight through the night, while your best friend is constantly complaining about restless sleep.
My new book, “The Power of When,” is focused on teaching you how your body’s internal biological clock can point you toward the best times to do just about everything that life asks and offers, from eating and sleeping to working and playing, from exercise and disease-prevention to sex and relationships.
These preferences are expressions of your body’s powerful biological rhythms, which regulate an incredible range of activity and behavior. These preferences are generally grouped into three categories, which are known as chronotypes. They are the early birds, who prefer mornings, the hummingbirds, who have an in-between preference, and the night owls, who prefer evenings.
Long-held conventional wisdom says that there are these three chronotypes, and that’s it. My clinical experience has led me to a different conclusion. I have come to recognize a fourth chronotype, one that’s typically overlooked and often misunderstood: the restless sleeper, or the insomniac.
I have created four archetypes (using fellow mammals, not birds), to represent these four distinct chronotypes:
Lions are morning types.
Bears are middle of the road types.
Wolves are nighttime types.
Dolphins are difficult sleepers.
To unlock the power of when and use your body’s bio time to guide you to the best times for everything you do, you first must know your chronotype. To discover your individual chronotype, visit: thepowerofwhenquiz.com.
Take the chronotype quiz, and come back to learn about how your chronotype influences your health, and the many ways you can take better care of yourself and fight illness and disease using bio time.
Help your body fight disease with bio time
Like every other system in your body, your immune system is strongly influenced by bio rhythms. Scientists have made exciting, important breakthroughs in recent years in understanding the bio time of the immune system. We’re learning more all the time about the ways you can use bio time to help your body fight illness and disease.
The sleep duration and sleep disruption rhythm
Sleep is essential to fully powering the immune system. You need both sufficient amounts of sleep and high-quality sleep to support and protect immune function. The sleep duration rhythm involves the amount of sleep you get nightly. Research shows that insufficient sleep makes us more susceptible to minor illnesses, such as colds. One recent study found that people who slept six hours a night were significantly more likely to get a cold virus than those who slept seven. One single hour made the difference between staying healthy and being down and out with a cold.
Poor quality sleep— sleep that’s restless, interrupted, out of sync with bio time— may be even more dangerous to health, and undermining of our body’s natural defenses. Recent research, conducted in mice, shows that tumor growth is accelerated under conditions of fragmented sleep. Scientists attributed the accelerated growth to compromised immune function.
The best time to fight illness? For every chronotype, the answer is overnight, in the course of a sound night of sleep. Getting enough high-quality rest is as important a health strategy as quitting smoking, exercising regularly, and eating healthfully. Try for seven hours nightly.
Lions: 10:30 p.m. to 5:30 a.m.
Bears: 11:30 p.m. to 7 a.m.
Wolves: 12:30 a.m. to 7:30 a.m.
Dolphins: 11:30 p.m. to 6:30 a.m.
There is a best time to take your medicine
I often ask my patients: when do you take your medication? The typical answer is, “Once a day,” or “Two times a day.” For most of my patients—and most people in general—the timing of their dosage is rarely a consideration. Most medication is taken at times of convenience—when a person remembers, or when it is easiest (for most people, that’s the morning). In talking to their patients, doctors have long used this “take once a day model,” leaving the specific timing of dosage unaddressed.
The truth is, that the timing of taking medication can have a big impact on how well that medicine works on your behalf.
The dosing rhythm
There is powerful evidence that shows the body responds differently to medication depending on the time of day it is ingested. This is the case for common medications taken by millions of people every day. Studies have proven that certain drugs are more effective at certain times. For example:
Aspirin: For heart attack survivors taking aspirin, their dose is more effective at reducing platelet activity when taken at night, according to research. Daily aspirin is also easier on the stomach when taken in a nighttime dosage.
Statins: Research found that statin medication is more effective at reducing lipids when taken before bed. (Cholesterol is produced in greater quantities during overnight hours.)
Blood pressure medication: Blood pressure fluctuates according to bio time—it rises in the morning, and falls somewhat overnight. In people with high blood pressure, their pressure doesn’t drop at night. When taken at night, high blood pressure medication is 33 percent more effective at reducing risks heart attack and stroke, compared to a morning dose, according to research.
To better engage the dosing rhythm to help boost the effectiveness of your medications, talk to your doctor about the best times to take your medicine. Many physicians are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of timing in medication dosage, while others are still operating in the “once a day” mindset. If your physician is aware of the scientific research, he or she can guide you to the best times for daily dosage—if not, then you may initially be the guide, directing their attention toward the new, proven bio-time driven ways to improve the effectiveness of medication.
Bio-time-savvy tips for managing your health care
Schedule check-ups in the morning.
Your wait will be shorter. You’ll spend less time hungry, if you’re fasting for a blood sample. Conditions such as asthma and arthritis are at their worst in the morning—when muscle and joint stiffness is high and lung function is poor. Your doctor can best assess these conditions when they’re at their most symptomatic.
Schedule surgery for the morning.
The effects of anesthesia are different, depending on the time of day it’s administered. Side effects from anesthesia are more pronounced in the afternoon, according to research. Also worse among afternoon surgery patients? Post-operative pain and nausea.
Patients are more likely to encounter administrative delays in the afternoon, such as schedule changes, delays, and paperwork snafus. Surgeons make fewer errors in the morning, when the rhythms of alertness are on-peak, research indicates. Surgical mistakes occur most often during hours of off-peak alertness, between 3-4 p.m.
Maximize your flu shot
Is there a bio time that can help to maximize the purpose of the flu shot—to generate antibodies that protect against the virus? There is. According to scientific research, exercise stimulates the immune system’s antibody response. Timing a flu shot in close proximity to exercise can help increase its effectiveness.
A study investigated this relationship between flu shots and exercise. Researchers gave subjects a dose of flu vaccine, and asked some of the group to exercise (a run or a ride on a stationary bike) for 90 minutes afterward. A month later, the exercise group had double the number of antibodies as the non-exercisers. Follow-up research pinpointed 90 minutes as the right amount of exercise time to maximize this benefit—both shorter and longer periods of exercise returned less impressive results.
Another study tested the effect of weight lifting before getting a flu shot. Subjects performed weight lifting in their non-dominant arm, and six hours later received a flu shot in that same arm. After eight weeks, the weight-lifting group had generated more antibodies.
The best time for a flu shot is 15 minutes ahead of a 90-minute cardio session—and several hours after a weight lifting session.
With the understanding that early October is the best time of year for every chronotype, here are the best times for a flu shot:
Lions: 4:45 p.m., followed by an extra long workout session
Bears: 11:30 a.m., followed by a long walk before lunch
Wolves: 5:45 p.m. Suit up in exercise clothes before your appointment, then walk, jog or bike home, the long way.
Dolphins: 1 p.m., followed by an immune-boosting and energy-boosting walk
Michael J. Breus, PhD, is a board-certified sleep specialist. His book, “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,” explores how to use your body’s bio time to improve your health, happiness, productivity, and relationships.