Although we both live in New York, we might as well be living on different continents, I conclude after talking to Shiffy Cohen. That’s because Shiffy and her family are living in a totally different time zone than I am. Literally. Shiffy’s husband, Chaim, works for a hedge fund in a global company. This means that even though his office is in Manhattan, most of his clients are located in Europe, so Chaim’s workday—and as a result, his family’s—starts when mine ends.
I ask Shiffy to describe their unique lifestyle.
“My husband wakes up between two and four in the morning and gets home from the office between two and four in the afternoon. For that reason, our nighttime routine starts a lot earlier than that of any of our friends and neighbors. Our kids are in bed by six, and we’re all asleep by nine.”
Why does the whole family have to follow this schedule? “I have to get up at 5:30 a.m. I’m a special education teacher. I need to be at work by 8:00, which means that I have to leave by 7:00 because it’s an hourlong commute. My kids wake up between 5:30 and 6:30, which I actually like because it means I can spend some time with them before I’m out the door.”
Shiffy’s children are still young; her oldest is only eight. “Do you think this kind of schedule would be sustainable in a houseful of teenagers?”
“No,” she laughs. “It would be very difficult to live this way. Either we’d have to say goodnight to our children and let them stay up much later than us, or else we’d be getting less sleep and be less functional.”
She tells me that her husband has a colleague who moved with his family to Eretz Yisrael because the hours are more suited to a household with older kids.
What do Shabbos and Yom Tov look like for the Cohens?
“We found that we have no problem switching back and forth between this early schedule and a more standard one. For some reason, we don’t have any adjustment problems going to sleep later and waking up later. My husband says he’s like a soldier who can sleep anywhere, so I guess we’re happy to get some sleep whenever we can take it.”
The irony, she explains, is that their peculiar schedule actually ensures that they get more sleep than most people, simply because they make a conscious effort to fit it in. “People who work American hours go to sleep late and wake up early. Because we are conscious of what we’re doing, I really believe that we sleep more.”
But life in the Cohen household isn’t without its challenges. Shiffy says her husband is very tired by the end of the day.
Then there’s the social calendar to navigate. The Cohens are very selective about which events they attend at night. For example, they are more amenable to staying up late on a Thursday, knowing they’ll have an opportunity to make up the lost hours on Shabbos. They’re usually the first couple to leave a chasunah or other simchah, and they often request that family events start at four in the afternoon rather than at seven. The Cohens will sometimes celebrate birthdays and other milestones by going out to lunch instead of dinner.
“People don’t always understand why we can’t attend an event, but sometimes it’s really not possible. You can’t function on a regular basis without enough sleep, so we consider everything very carefully.”