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Business Book Club: The Power of When

I've set myself a goal to read one self-development book per month. To make sure I really reflect on what I'm reading, I'm going to extract the wisdom from the best business and personal development books and share it with you.

This month I’ve been reading: The Power of When by Michael Breus, PhD.


The Book

It’s not too often that you can say a book tangibly improved the quality of your life yet I nearly never read this one. I had read about the premise of the book and the four ‘chronotypes’ types in a number of different blog posts and newspaper articles and wrote it off as a popular fad. It wasn’t until I was at a networking event some weeks later and people who I personally know and respect endorsed it, that I decided to buy it.

The book is the life’s work of Dr Breus, a doctor of sleep medicine. He tells us that everyone has a different biological clock that broadly falls into one of four types and that our lives can be drastically improved if we live in sync with our natural rhythms.

In the book, he explains the best time to do pretty much anything from daily basics like eating, sleeping or drinking your first coffee of the day, to having sex, making a business deal, binge-watching TV or getting medical treatment. What is fascinating about this is that I had unwittingly started to work in tune with my natural rhythm when I went self-employed. Over time, I naturally worked out how to get the best out of myself but (sarcasm alert) as with anything worth knowing in life, it is good to have it confirmed by man in a white coat🙄. Yes, those 10-minute afternoon naps are better for my productivity. But what about you?

The Four Chronotypes

Dr Breus tells us that people generally fall into one of four ‘chronotypes’. A chronotype is a classification of the general timing of your biological clock. He tells us that every person has a master biological clock ticking away inside his or her brain but not every person's biological clocks keeps the same time. In his work, he identified four different chronotypes that he named after four mammals he thought closely reflected the behaviours of that type. They are:

Lions (15-20% of the population): Early risers. These are people who are likely to wake up bright-eyed at the crack of dawn. Just as they start the day early they are also usually first to bed. They are most alert at midday and are at their most productive in the morning. They tire in the early evening so, even though they would like to be around other people, they are normally the first to leave a party. Lions hardly ever nap as they would rather be doing something useful. They are less likely to overindulge in junk food and alcohol than the rest of us, they probably exercise before most of us are awake and they tend to be quite goal driven.

The lion sleeps tonight. Early tonight.

The lion sleeps tonight. Early tonight.

The Bear necessities = 8 hours sleep.

The Bear necessities = 8 hours sleep.

Bears (50% of the population): Bear’s sleep-wake patterns follow the rise and fall of the sun. They wake up in a daze after hitting the snooze button once or twice. They sleep deeply, but probably not as long as they would like. Unlike Lions, they don’t have a problem napping to catch up on sleep at weekends. Bears are most productive in late morning or mid-afternoon. They are often hungry and will eat whenever food is available regardless of whether or not it’s a meal time. Bear’s BMI tends to be average to high. See more about the ideal day of a bear further down this article.

Wolves (15-20% of the population): Wolves have difficulty waking up before 9am and if they do they generally have to drag themselves out of bed and won’t be happy about it. They won’t get going until about midday and don't feel tired until midnight or later. They are most alert in the evening, around 7pm, and most productive late morning and late evening. Naps might be tempting for wolves but if they sleep during the day they won't fall asleep at night, so it's probably just not worth it. Wolves tend to suffer from mood disorders like depression, anxiety, more than the other types. They are also more likely to use drugs and alcohol for self-medication as much as recreation. Wolves eat late in the day and tend to have an above average BMI.

Hungry like the wolf? Just try not to eat too late.

Hungry like the wolf? Just try not to eat too late.

What’s that Flipper? You slept badly again?

What’s that Flipper? You slept badly again?

Dolphins (10% of the population): Dolphins usually wake up feeling unrefreshed and tired until late in the evening when they suddenly hit their stride. They are at their most productive in spurts throughout the day.

Unfortunately for dolphins, they are not very good sleepers and not very good at napping either. Dolphins have a low sleep drive and struggle due to waking up multiple times throughout the night.

Just as actual dolphins are unihemispheric sleepers (sleeping with half of the brain with the other half awake for swimming and watching for predators), people with this chronotype probably find themselves lying half awake with thoughts and memories from the day whirring around their heads. They skim the surface of sleep and often claim they don't know whether or not they actually slept at all. Dr Breus says dolphins are usually eat-to-live types with fast metabolisms and are generally people who don't have to exercise in order to lose weight. They tend to have a low to average BMIs.

My life as a bear

I think the best way to tell you about what I learnt from the book is to describe my experience of living in rhythm with my chronotype: the Bear.

Best time to wake up 7:00am: According to the book my optimum waking up time is around seven o'clock, without hitting the snooze button. Luckily this is when I typically wake up thanks to my wife’s alarm. The book suggests that rather than hitting snooze, Bears might benefit from exercise to get cortisol flowing. If this can be done outside, even better, as the sunlight will help me to wake. Before even reading the book I had already started to walk around the block first thing in the morning. Even if it’s just for 20 minutes, this does help me feel more awake and is a much better alternative to walking straight down the landing to my desk.

Best time to have sex 7:30am: No chance. I’m not awake enough and my wife is a dolphin. Luckily the book does have a chart that shows the best time for couples of different chronotypes to have sex. Which is romantic, I guess😕. Alternatively, he suggests that the sex can be with yourself or you can just exercise.

Breakfast 7:30-8:00am: The book suggests that bears dine like a king, lunch like a prince and eat their evening meal like a pauper. As I eat an evening meal with my wife, I find this hard but I do feel much better when I manage do this at weekends. It’s also better for weight loss. I have been eating more for breakfast and spreading my calories throughout the day though and that does help me feel lighter and more energetic.

The best time for Bears to lunch is 12:30 and to have dinner is 7:30pm. Lunch should be half the size of breakfast and twice the size of dinner, but I find this difficult to achieve when you eat with other people.

Best time for productivity 10:00am: The book suggest that bears plan and organise their day 9:00-10:00am and then start their most cognitively demanding work. This has been the biggest revelation for me. I used to log on and look at emails and LinkedIn and Twitter notifications and get lost down a rabbit hole. While I’d engage in useful activity, I’d often find that I’d given my best energy of the day to unimportant tasks. By the afternoon, I just didn’t have the concentration to get through the big tasks and found that I had to really plough through them. As a result, I’d beat myself up for being unproductive. Not anymore. I scan my emails for anything urgent then get straight into my biggest and most important tasks. Now, I’ll have them done by lunch and I can spend the afternoon on planning, strategising and creative work. My mind starts to wander in the afternoon and of course, this is the best state for creativity and having ideas. I can get much more done in a day now without working longer hours, just by making the most of my peaks and troughs in energy.

First coffee of the day 10:30am: The book reminds us that coffee makes you feel less tired, it doesn’t make you feel awake. Dr Breus suggests sunlight and exercise are the best methods of rousing yourself. If bears want to get the most out of their caffeine hit, 10:30 and 2:30pm are the optimum times. I’ve tried this and it definitely works better than dosing yourself on caffeine all day. Most days, I don’t even feel the desire to drink caffeine at all if I have used my energy well.

Best time to nap 2:30-2:50: I often use to find myself wanting to nap but would never let myself do it. Or if I did, I’d feel guilty about it. Clearly that’s daft because if I don’t nap when I feel the need to work during the afternoon feels 100 times harder and goes much slower. Now, I nap for 15 minutes if I need to (an ability which I’m pretty sure is my superpower) and I’m a fully productive through to about 6:00pm again. The book suggests that if you can’t nap then you should find a quiet place to do some deep breathing exercises.

Peak mood 3:00- 6:00pm: Not only is this when I am in a great mood but the book also suggests that this is the time to make calls and send emails. I’ve tried this and it works so much better. This is when I send most of my emails. What is great about it is that because I’m not buzzing with energy at this time I don’t feel the need to respond to every email like I would do in the morning. Although I often have to make calls in the morning, I save any non-urgent ones for the afternoon. If I’m working alone at home, afternoon chats give me a lift and as a result I’m probably a better caller to speak to too.

Best time to exercise 6:00pm: Luckily this is when most of my gym classes or runs happen. I do a spin class at 7:00am on a Friday and I have to say that while is it a great way to get me going in the morning, it’s probably not my best workout. I definitely get more out of evening exercise.

If bears don’t exercise at this time this a great time to do errands, be active with your children or go for drinks with friends.

Best time to brainstorm 8:00pm: Can’t say I’ve tried this as I find any work or studying this late will make we too wired to sleep. The book also suggests that this is a great time for light conversations or a soothing bath. No alcohol after this time though or it will interfere with sleep. I suspect this is good advice but it doesn’t appear to affect me too much.

Best time to power down 10:00pm: All screens should be off by now as it’s time for Bears to power down. When I do this I feel the benefit but I’m just not self-disciplined most days. I do at least use a blue light filter on my phone which helps but no screens at all is better. Not only does it aid sleep but I chat more with my wife and I feel more connected to her.

Bedtime 11:00pm: I’m usually in bed ready to sleep by 11:00pm. I could happily stay up later but as Bears tend to need 8 hours sleep an 11:00pm bedtime is optimal for feeling rested. The book strongly recommends sticking to a regular schedule and never sleeping in for more than an hour, even on weekends. Apparently just one long sleep-in can knock your biorhythm out of sync for days and you’ll feel sluggish for most of the week ahead.

What did I think of the book?

It was brilliant! It was so interesting to note how I have been living in tune with my natural rhythm since working at home and I enjoyed learning how to make the best use of my moods and energy. As a result, I’ve been recommending it to pretty much everyone and I would recommend it to you too. It’s a thick book but you can use it as a reference book and only read the opening chapters then any information that is relevant to your chronotype and on the subjects that interest you.

While I remain unconvinced by the idea that your chronotype also determines your personality (the bit that put me off in the magazines and newspapers), the explanations of the chronotypes and their natural rhythms was a real eye-opener. Dr Breus acknowledges that we live in a society that can make it hard to live exactly to your chronotype but he suggests plenty of ways to navigate your way around the challenges and make small enough changes to make a noticeable difference. If you ever work from home or if you are able to manage your own time, then this is definitely worth a read.


Have you read the book?

What did you think? What shall I read next?

If you have any recommendations let me know below or via Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn


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