During the course of blogging, I’ve been surprised by how often my previous post about sleep, “Why I Stay Up Late and 3 Reasons You Should Too [Satire],” which celebrates the experiences of people with late chronotypes (also known as “night owls”), has been visited. To spread awareness about another aspect of sleep-wake biorhythms, this post presents information about why it’s important for those of us who truly need 10 or more hours of sleep a night (dubbed “long sleepers”) to get the sleep we need.
Before going further, I’d like to point out that it’s important to resolve any underlying issues (sleep apnea, depression, or other medical conditions) that may be causing someone to sleep for more hours than is normal. If medical conditions have been ruled out, if the long hours of sleep have been consistent and of high quality sleep throughout life, and if the sleeper wakes feeling refreshed, this individual might be a “long sleeper” – a category that describes about 2% of the population (see here). More facts about long sleeping from the American Sleep Association follow:
The sleep itself is very normal and high quality, and people with chronic long sleeping rarely have any other sleeping disorders. The disorder has not been connected to any genetic traits, medical conditions or psychological issues, and remains a relative mystery.
Most long sleepers will be forced to endure shorter than desired sleep durations to keep up with life’s demands, and this can cause numerous symptoms related to insomnia the next day. It also accrues into what is called a sleep debt…
A link has been found connecting long sleeping with introverted personality types, which may have to do with the release or lack thereof of certain chemicals in the brain, but no conclusive evidence has been found, nor is there a cure. Long sleepers are advised not to fight the disorder, … but to instead live within its constraints as well as is possible under their circumstance, and achieve the most sleep that they possibly can without neglecting other aspects of their lives.
If the long sleeping is being caused by another issue, that issue should be resolved as soon as possible, at which point the offending long sleeping should dissipate. If the long sleeping is the cause of natural biological rhythms, possible treatments are unknown, and since the level of sleep is of high quality, it is recommended to incorporate the long sleeping into the daily routine as best as possible. Attempting to avoid long sleeping, or staying aggressively awake could lead to other sleeping disorders such as a non-24-hour sleep-wake rhythm disorder [or other medical issues], which are far more damaging to social relationships and professional careers than a couple of lost hours of awake time each day.
You may have guessed that I am both a night owl and long sleeper. Yes, I’ve been getting 10 hours of sleep per night despite the social stigma and jokes about my abnormality. Relatives remark how my sleep needs haven’t changed since infancy, others allege that I’m lazy and, because I’m also a night owl, still others jokingly ask (to my amusement) if I’m a vampire. Indeed, perhaps the existence of night owl, long sleepers among us gave rise to the mythology of vampires.
On a serious note, if you are a long sleeper who is also a night owl (a late chronotype – circadian rhythm is more than 24 hours and you feel sleep pressure late at night or, in more extreme circumstances, sometime before dawn; see here), it is obvious to you, in a visceral sense, that the standard 8-5 or 9-5 work hours really work against you.
So, aside from pursuing career opportunities in industries that offer later work shifts (such as the service or entertainment industries), what can we do about this? There are groups, such as B Society, that are spreading awareness about hardwired individual differences in sleep needs. However, as long as I keep seeing supposed thought leaders posting about the virtues of waking up early in the morning, thought leaders who don’t know that different people are most productive at different times of the day (like the one I referenced in my aforementioned post), I know that more needs to be done.
It’s important for those of us who know these differences exist to do our part to educate others on the science of sleep and circadian rhythms. If you’re interested in knowing more about this subject, check out chronobiologist Till Reonneberg’s Internal Time: The Science of Chronotypes, Social Jet Lag, and Why You’re So Tired for starters!