We often hear about the real dangers of getting too little sleep, but on the other end of the spectrum, sleeping too much also appears to have some risks.
Sleep is a rapidly growing field of research, and we are learning more all the time about how rest affects the body and mind. It's known that sleep is a time when the body repairs and restores itself, and getting too little rest can lead to a whole host of health problems.
So, more sleep must be better right? Not so fast, say some researchers.
More evidence is showing that spending an excess amount of time in bed is also linked with health hazards. In some ways, oversleeping itself appears to directly influence certain risk factors, and in other cases, it may be a symptom of other medical conditions.
Read on to learn about the effects of oversleeping, what to look out for and how to work towards getting healthy, quality slumber.
Are You Sleeping Too Much?
The Health Impact of Oversleeping
- Cognitive impairment
- Increased inflammation
- Increased pain
- Impaired fertility
- Higher risk of obesity
- Higher risk of diabetes
- Higher risk of heart disease
- Higher risk of stroke
- Higher all-cause mortality
Impaired Brain Functioning and Mental Health
Using data from the Lumosity brain-training platform, researchers found that cognitive performance on three different games all peaked when people slept around seven hours, worsening with more or less rest. Other studies have also found memory impairments and decreased cognitive function with longer sleep.
Other research indicates that getting too little or too much sleep may be tied to increased Alzheimer's disease risk factors and a large Spanish study found that long sleepers may be at increased risk of developing dementia.
Depression and Mental Health
Oversleeping is considered a potential symptom of depression. While many people with depression report insomnia, about 15% tend to oversleep.
People with long sleep durations are also more likely to have persistent depression or anxiety symptoms compared to normal sleepers. A recent twin study also found that sleeping too little or too much seemed to increase genetic heritability of depressive symptoms compared to normal sleepers.
A study of older adults also found that those who slept more than 10 hours reported worse overall mental health over the past month compared to normal sleepers.
Some research shows that irregularities in the body's sleep clock may play a role in depressive symptoms, and returning sleep to a healthy pattern is often a focus of treatment.
Increased Inflammation Factors
Some differences were seen among races in the study though, suggesting sleep duration may not be one-size-fits-all. Elevated CRP was seen in:
- Whites sleeping less than five and more than nine hours.
- Hispanics/latinos sleeping more than nine hours.
- African-Americans sleeping less than five and eight hours.
- Asians sleeping more than nine hours. Interestingly, Asians sleeping five to six hours had the lowest levels, a pattern mimicked in another Taiwanese study.
Two previous studies also found links between inflammation and longer sleep. One showed that female long sleepers had 44% higher CRP levels compared to women sleeping seven hours. Another found that CRP levels increased by 8% for each additional hour of sleep beyond the norm (7-8 hours), adjusting for factors like body mass, age and sleep apnea.
Impaired Glucose Tolerance
Increased Weight Gain
Higher Heart Disease Risk
Higher Stroke Risk
Higher All-Cause Mortality Risk
- Sleep fragmentation: More time in bed is linked with more frequent wakings after sleep and reduced sleep efficiency (more time spent awake in bed).
- Fatigue: Fatigue and lethargy can cause longer sleep, and sleeping longer can make people feel more lethargic.
- Immune function: Longer sleep can influence expression of cytokines.
- Photoperiodic abnormalities: Spending a long time in the darker rooms could affect the circadian cycle.
- Lack of challenge: Spending a lot of time in bed may give less time for beneficial challenges (such as exercise).
- Underlying disease: Obstructive sleep apnea, depression, coronary disease, and generally failing health.
The Chicken and Egg Dilemma
Setting the Stage for Healthier Sleep
Too much sleep on a regular basis can increase the risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke and death according to several studies done over the years. Too much is defined as greater than nine hours.
The most common cause is not getting enough sleep the night before, or cumulatively during the week. This is followed by sleep disorders such as sleep apnea, idiopathic hypersomnolence, as well as depression.
- Get enough sleep, seven to nine hours a night.
- Do not oversleep on weekends this throws your circadian rhythms off and makes falling asleep even more difficult when the work week comes along.
- Expose yourself to bright sunlight upon awakening. Consider leaving the drapes or blinds open at night. That morning sunlight will help you to wake up.
- Consider getting a dawn sunlight emitting alarm clock. Many of my patients are using them. You can set the dawn light to start filling your room with light 15 to 30 minutes before the alarm goes off.
- Avoid excessive naps especially after 4PM. These may make it more difficult to fall asleep and result in oversleeping. The same goes for excessive caffeine and blue light exposure close to bedtime.
There are myriad reasons to avoid oversleeping from loss of your job to missing out on mornings with your family. However if you continue to have this problem and struggle to wake up make sure there is not an underlying sleep disorder at fault.
If you oversleep frequently, you need to ask yourself WHY. It's time to take a close look at your sleep and sleep habits. Start keeping a log of what you are doing in the hour before you go to bed.
If you are on tech devices or watching TV, it's time to set your smartphone down an hour before bed and TURN OFF TECHNOLOGY. Your busy mind and body need to gear down in preparation for bedtime, not to mention the negative impact of blue light from the devices on your natural sleep/wake cycle. Find relaxing and calming things to do, such as reading a book or magazine. But NOT on a tech device! Drinking alcohol or caffeine in the hours before bed can also impact your sleep quality.
Bottom line is that if you are oversleeping regularly your body is SPEAKING TO YOU. Are you listening? Our body clock, also known as circadian rhythm, functions best when we have a consistent sleep and wake time. Sounds possible but how do you enact this?
- Select your optimal number of sleep hours to function at your best.
- Then, determine your WAKE TIME, likely based on your work schedule or family demands.
- GET UP at the SAME TIME EVERY DAY, including weekends.
- Put your alarm clock across the room. When it rings, GET UP. NO snooze button.
- Go to bed at the SAME TIME EVERY NIGHT, within about 1/2 hour range.
- COMMIT to this for at least 2 weeks, with a goal of 4, then reevaluate your sleep and wake times.
If you do improve your sleep habits and after a few weeks are still oversleeping, it's time to see your physician to assess whether you may have a sleep disorder needing diagnosis and treatment. Sleep is a necessity, both in quality and quantity.
Oversleeping usually isn't about needing more sleep - it's usually about being exhausted because of some other physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual deficit.
- Set an alarm or two.
- Get to bed before midnight - the 90min sleep phase before midnight is very rejuvenating and will help to prevent morning fatigue.
- Eat breakfast within 30 minutes of rising. People who eat breakfast are more likely to wake with energy and habitually eating breakfast increases metabolism (and promotes better sleep at night).
- Drift off to sleep thinking of something - even small - that you're looking forward to the next day.
- Withdraw consciously from technology to enable your sleep to hit deeper levels so you wake up more refreshed.
- Deal with emotional gremlins which might be causing you to escape into sleep and pull the duvet over your head.
- Address the true sources of your fatigue - do you need to exercise more? Eat more healthily? Get a new job? Leave that toxic relationship?
- Live a meaningful and purposeful life - know what you care about and do it. People who have purpose tend to wake up with energy.
Sleeping Well: The Most Important Things You Can Do
- Theobromine - found in chocolate and to a lesser extent in guarana.
- Dodecanoic acid - found in coconuts, coconut oil, and palm kernel oil.
- Choline - found in shrimp, fish, eggs, turkey, soy and some dark leafy greens.
- Selenium - found in brazil nuts, fish, shrimp, turkey, chicken, beef and some whole grains.
- Lycopene - found in guava, watermelon, cooked tomatoes, red cabbage and red peppers.
- Phosphorus - found in pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, eggs, fish, brazil nuts, lean meats, tofu and lentils.
Try to include a diverse range of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, nuts and grains so your body receives the minerals, vitamins and nutrients it needs to function.
Things like watermelon, tomatoes, carrots, leafy greens, walnuts, almonds, chicken, wild salmon, and whole grains like oats, wheat, millet and amaranth all supply sleep-supporting nutrients. Pure water intake is also important -- people who had better sleep drank plenty of plain water throughout the day.
But, don't eat too much too close to bedtime, as heavy, fatty or spicy midnight snacks could backfire and keep you up or affect sleep quality. It's best to balance intake throughout the day and perhaps have a healthy dinner that includes a carbohydrate. Reach for lighter but satiating things like crackers and natural peanut butter, a banana, a low-sugar yogurt or a piece of toast if you do need a nibble close to bedtime.
Moderate Alcohol Use
Alcohol changes sleep cycles, impacting both slow wave and REM sleep as well as various hormones and neurotransmitters. The overall effect of less restorative rest possibly creates the desire to sleep longer hours (and also reduces overall activity, further affecting health).
Get Consistent Sunlight
Stick to a Regular Bedtime and Wake Time
Time Caffeine Right
Set Your Bedroom Up For Success
- Darkness. Darkness supports melatonin release, while bright lights from TVs, computers and smartphones keep you up later. Start dimming lights in the hour before bed and switch off electronics at least 30 minutes before you turn in. If you live in a well-lit area, blackout drapes or an eye mask may be a good partner.
- Calm noises. Disruptive sounds can make it hard to fall asleep and can affect sleep during the night. If you prefer complete quiet, earplugs or noise cancelling headphones can help. If you prefer a background noise, try sound conditioner/white noise machines or apps that play white and nature sounds
- Comfort. Your mattress can play a role in sleep, especially when it comes to pain and tossing and turning. Age is important -- the average bed is meant to last around eight years, so if your's is older, it may be lacking support and comfort. Finding the right firmness and comfort level for your sleep position also plays a role. If you're feeling aching on waking or not sleeping well, take a closer look at your bed.
- Temperature. Cooler temperatures support better sleep. Set your thermostat in the 62 to 70 range, and opt for breathable sheets, blankets and pajamas. Materials like cotton and wool and smart fibers like Celliant help support a balanced body temperature and keep you comfortable throughout the night.
If you're practicing good sleep hygiene habits and you find you still need an excessive amount of rest, or if your sleep need has changed without an obvious cause, consult your doctor. Increased sleep need can be a symptom of things like hypothyroidism, heart problems, depression (even low-level), and sleep apnea. Your doctor can assess your symptoms and determine the best way to approach improving rest.
As with many other aspects of health, moderation tends to be key when it comes to sleep. Much is said about the dangers of too little sleep, but it seems it is possible to have too much of a good thing. Regularly sleeping in excess of nine hours is linked with lower mental and physical health -- making it important to strive for a "normal" amount of sleep and to be aware of changes in your body's sleep need that may signal other concerns.
Do you tend to oversleep or sleep longer than normal? How do you notice activity level, foods, or things you do before bed affecting your sleep need?
This article originally appeared on the Amerisleep blog.