How one family copes with contrary sleep cycles
Accommodating the needs of the "long sleeper" typically requires planning and patience, and sometimes a bit of creative juggling.
Tracey Thomsen Anderson, 57, a retired ad agency copywriter in Colorado Springs, who needs nine or 10 hours of sleep a night, and her husband, Roger - who rises at 4 a.m. after only about five or six hours - have figured out their own ways to cope with their disparate sleep cycles.
Their sons are now 22 and 20, and out of the house, but when they are home visiting, "We joke that our family runs in shifts," Tracey says. "My husband is ready for lunch when I am ready for breakfast, and the kids - well, who knows?"
The coffee maker runs at all hours. "And sometimes in the middle of the night, I will wake up to the smell of bacon or coffee because one of the kids is eating his meal on his schedule," she says. "As you can imagine, this makes family time really challenging. Dinner is the only family time we get sometimes, and I make sure that we all eat together nearly every night."
Traveling presents a real challenge. "We have something of a system," Tracey says. "If it's a driving trip, I essentially stagger to the car with a blanket and pillow, get in the passenger seat and go back to sleep after Roger has done all the packing and prepping. I sleep several hours and then am rested enough to take over driving for a while. We're good from about lunch until dinner and then he starts to fade, and I am still awake."
When their sons were babies, her husband got up early and brought them into their bedroom for their morning feeding. "I would basically nurse them still asleep," she says.
Lawrence Stein, medical director of the Virginia Hospital Center sleep lab in Arlington, says this is typical for long sleepers.
"Their sleeping is often not conducive to their jobs or families," he says. "It can be stressful because they are expected to be functional at certain times. They need to go to sleep at 8 p.m. to get up at 6 a.m. - and that's hard. It's also hard when you're a parent, because kids have things to do at night. We live in a 24-hour society, with constant stimulation. If you are sleeping long periods - and that's your norm - you are out of the loop."
Tracey regrets that she must give up some of her long-term goals she won't have time to accomplish but understands that being a long sleeper means trade-offs.
"There are so many more things I would like to do - not just in a day, but before I get too old to do them," she says. "If you add up all the hours I need to sleep, that puts a big dent in my available time to tick things off my list."
On the other hand, there are benefits to getting that extra shut-eye. She's an endurance athlete - ultramarathons, backcountry skiing, mountain climbing - so the more sleep she gets, the quicker she recovers.
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The bottom line: "Trying to live on less sleep just makes me cranky," she says. "So I sleep."