Embracing my wolf chronotype helps me forgive my body

Learning about my body allows me to befriend it, SMA and all

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by Brianna Albers |

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The banner for Brianna Albers' column depicts a wolf howling against a background of mountains and trees, with the words

In another world, I am my mother’s daughter, waking with the sunrise and heading to bed no later than 9 p.m. But in reality, I take after my father, who sees early risers as the enemy to end all enemies. We both hate mornings with a passion, and have designed our schedules with that hatred in mind. We never leave the house before noon, and if we do, you can bet we’ll be grumps about it.

In 2019, I wrote a column about circadian rhythms, arguing in favor of embracing the body’s natural flow of energy: “It takes me a couple of hours to wake up; I do my best work between 2 and 6 p.m. I should be utilizing that, instead of grieving a biological clock I never had in the first place.”

Since writing that column, I’ve learned about chronotypes, defined by the Sleep Foundation as “the natural inclination of your body to sleep at a certain time, or what most people understand as being an early bird versus a night owl.” In other words, your chronotype determines when you feel most alert — and when you feel the sleepiest.

I’ve never vibed with your run-of-the-mill, 9-to-5 work schedule. All this time, I thought it was because of my SMA. Of course a disease that results in fatigue would impact my energy levels! But it turns out my productivity has more to do with my chronotype than my rare disease.

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The 4 chronotypes

According to the Sleep Foundation, there are four chronotypes: the lion, the bear, the wolf, and the dolphin.

My mom is a classic lion. She’s an early bird through and through and is most productive in the morning (shudder). That said, she has significantly less energy throughout the afternoon and evening, and tends to “pumpkin” around 8 p.m.

The bear chronotype follows the sun, waking with the sunrise and hitting the mattress around sunset. They are most productive in the late morning and early afternoon, but, unlike the lion, are still social in the evenings.

To no one’s surprise, my dad and I are wolves. (I like to think I predicted my own chronotype with my column title!) The stereotypical night owls, wolves are most productive in the afternoon and go to bed around midnight. They also tend to be creative thinkers.

The fourth and final chronotype, the dolphin, is best described as an insomniac. They struggle with keeping a regular sleep schedule and are sensitive or light sleepers.

Forgiving my body’s natural inclination

Living with a rare disease means being constantly confronted with opportunities to forgive yourself.

It took me years to forgive my biological clock. I wasted decades of my life forcing myself to adhere to a preconceived notion of a “productive schedule.” Instead of respecting my body’s needs, I worked myself into perpetual burnout, only to realize that I was going about it all wrong. I was never going to succeed without befriending my body, SMA and all.

The chronotype concept has helped me put words to something I’ve known for a while. More importantly, it has helped me to stop shaming myself for something I can’t change.

I’m not lazy. I’m just a wolf. And this wolf prefers late nights — and even later mornings.

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Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician 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 this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.


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