The Blog

The Conundrum Of Sleep And Weight Loss: Is Too Much Sleep Just As Unhealthy As Too Little?

These are just a few of the many healthy sleep behaviors you can put in to practice to limit under sleeping or oversleeping, so that your lack of or excess of Zzz's don't expand your waistline or keep you from losing fat.
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.
Couple cuddling and sleeping in bed
Couple cuddling and sleeping in bed

If you are trying to lose weight or dial in your health you probably know that getting "ample" or the typically recommended 7-9 hours of rest per night is partial key. Skimping on rest and sleeping less than 7 hours per night has long been associated with fat gain, muscle loss, inability to control appetite, resistance to weight loss, and an increased risk for a host of chronic diseases including metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and obesity. And, to make the issue of sleep and weight loss even a bit more tricky, we now know there's more to it. Oversleeping, or sleeping for more than 9 hours per night, can be just as unhealthy and damaging to your sleep cycles and weight loss goals as not getting enough sleep.

In this article, you're going to find out exactly why getting "ample" rest and not too much is so important for your overall health and weight loss goals and how you can bypass the conundrum with healthy sleep hygiene habits.

People who sleep too much often experience a disruption in the body's natural 24 hour clock (the circadian rhythm) and because of this, various side effects take place as their bodies struggle to "sync up" with the correct time, leading to a host of health issues associated with oversleeping, including:

• Blood sugar fluctuations
• Metabolic disorders
• Cognitive impairment
• Higher body weight
• Depression
• 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

Most of the consequences do more than just decrease health; they also directly affect fat loss!

Let's take a look:

Poor blood sugar regulation: Glucose tolerance refers to your body's ability to process sugars and "impaired glucose tolerance" is associated with insulin resistance (which you learned about in part 1 of this series) and is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, obesity, and heart disease.

A Canadian study investigated the lifestyle behaviors of 276 people for six years and found that people with long (and short) sleep cycles were more likely to develop impaired glucose tolerance and diabetes. Another and more recent review of diabetes and sleep duration found a statistically significant relationship between type 2 diabetes and lengthy sleep cycles.

Weight gain: Using the same data as the Canadian study mentioned above, researchers found an association between weight gain and excess sleep. Folks who were observed over a period of six years and who slept in excess of 9 hours per night actually gained more weight than "normal" sleepers and, were more likely to experience significant weight gain. As a matter of fact, people who consistently slept over nine hours per night were shown to be 21% more likely than normal sleepers to become over weight or obese!

Inflammation: Chronic inflammation is causally linked with an increased risk of many chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and Alzheimer's, and sleeping too little or sleeping too much contributes to the accumulation of bodily inflammation. Inflammation is measured by levels of cytokines called C-reactive proteins, or CRP. One study compared CRP levels and sleep length cycles among a large group of adults and found that over sleepers had elevated levels of cytokines. Elevated CRP was seen in Caucasians who slept less than five and more than nine hours, Hispanics who slept more than nine hours, African-Americans who slept less than five and more than eight hours, and Asians who slept more than nine hours.

Another study showed that female over sleepers had 44% higher CRP levels compared to women sleeping normal durations and yet another study showed that CRP levels increased by 8% for each additional hour of sleep beyond the recommended seven to eight hours per night, even when adjusting for factors like weight, height, gender, muscle mass, age, and sleep apnea.

So why do so many people feel the need to over sleep? Sometimes it can be due to and caused by depression, but it can also be caused by many readily prescribed drugs and medications considered to be "downers" such as Ambien or Valium. It is true, excess alcohol intake and obstructive sleep apnea, which is a condition that causes repeated and unhealthy punctuations in breathing during the night and requires extra sleep to feel rested in the morning, do cause folks to feel tired and lead to over sleeping There's even a name for the medical condition of habitual oversleeping: hypersomnia, and it's related to a great number of side effects, including anxiety, irritability, lack of energy, loss of appetite, loss of libido, and memory loss.

Of course, we must ask the question of whether oversleeping causes these types of unhealthy conditions, or whether certain illnesses cause oversleeping. To be quite frank, some studies indicate getting too much sleep may trigger certain problems, while other studies show oversleeping to be byproduct of co-occurring diseases or illness. This same research also reveals that the healthier a person is, the less rest they will need - while unhealthy people tend to need more sleep. The field of sleep science is still looking into the causal relationship between oversleeping and health, but until then, there are definitely several research-proven habits and steps that can promote better quality sleep and a healthy sleep duration - whether you're an under sleeper or an over sleeper. These healthy sleep hygiene habits include:

1. Consider trying to stop taking any medication or supplement that causes excessive excitability or drowsiness, from caffeine to anti-histamines, experiment with stopping the medication or supplement or changing the timing of it.

2. Make it a daily point to get as much exposure to large amounts of natural light in the morning and limit exposure to artificial light and all forms of technology in the evening.

3. Try a natural light alarm clock, which can wake you with a progressive dose of natural light rather than an abrupt beeping alarm.

4.Do your best to establish a 7-day sleep schedule and stick to it. Oversleeping on the weekends can inhibit your ability to re-establish a normal sleep cycle on the weekdays.

5. Aim for a solid seven to nine hours of sleep a night and avoid lengthy naps, especially in the later afternoon or early evening, as these naps often lead to trouble falling asleep at night - resulting in restless slumber and the high probability of oversleeping. The same goes for excessive caffeine and blue light exposure close to bedtime.

These are just a few of the many healthy sleep behaviors you can put in to practice to limit under sleeping or oversleeping, so that your lack of or excess of Zzz's don't expand your waistline or keep you from losing fat.

For even more and advanced information on sleep, sleep cycles, and sleep hacking, check out my article on "How Sleep Cycles Work".

Follow Ben Greenfield on Twitter: