For some of us, the notion of getting 8 or 9 hours of sleep at night is a mere fantasy. Between work, family, friends, fitness, LIFE… Who has time for 8-9 hours of sleep?
If you somehow do manage to carve out the recommended 8 hours for sleeping every night, good for you! You’re making your health a priority by getting the ideal amount of sleep for the average adult.
If you’re getting any more sleep than that though, say, 9+ hours a night, then you’re actually doing a disservice to your health.
As a teacher for many years, I rarely got more than 4 hours of sleep a night. My colleagues constantly told me that I was doing irreversible damage to my health by sleeping so little. I knew they were right, but I had already accepted my fate and adjusted to functioning on little to no sleep.
Something had to change. Now I try to get as much sleep as possible. Sometimes I’ll happily snooze past the nine-hour mark. But I have since learned that even this is no good. Honestly, I can’t win. I now live by the saying “early to bed, early to rise. Which seems to have gotten my sleeping pattern back on track.
Most of us know that not getting enough sleep can be detrimental to our physical and mental well-being. But it is a much lesser known fact is that getting too much sleep can lead to a host of health problems.
It seems to me that there’s a lot of gray area when it comes to getting the right amount of sleep. And I must admit, when I heard that getting too much sleep could be almost equally as dangerous as not getting enough sleep, I was skeptical.
Sleep is so crucial to our overall health-how could getting too much really be that bad for you? And what exactly qualifies as too much sleep or oversleeping?As it turns out, too much of a good thing definitely applies to the amount of sleep that you get. And while there is no hard and fast rule for how much is too much, we’ll explore some ways that you can figure out the perfect amount of sleep for your body and how to prevent oversleeping. And how dangerous it can be.
Too Much, Too Little, or Just Right?
Too much sleep, not enough sleep-it’s enough to make a person go crazy! How are we supposed to know exactly how much sleep is ideal for optimal health?
Experts generally recommend that the average adult needs anywhere from 7 to 9 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night.1 Of course, how much sleep a person needs varies based on numerous factors.
What you might consider oversleeping, another person might see as the perfect amount of sleep. Things like age, activity level, lifestyle, and general health all play a role in determining how many hours of sleep work best for you.
Determining the perfect amount of sleep for you as an individual can be a tricky process. But it’s also a necessary one in order to make sure that you don’t oversleep and put yourself at risk for unnecessary health problems.
To help individuals understand how much sleep is appropriate, the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) spent two years performing a rigorous research project.2 This project resulted in a set of comprehensive guidelines meant to help individuals pinpoint their sleep needs.
The first step in understanding your sleep needs and determining whether you are oversleeping (or under-sleeping, for that matter) is to assess how you feel after getting different amounts of sleep. Some questions that the NSF suggests asking yourself after various amounts of sleep are:
- Are you productive, healthy and happy on seven hours of sleep? Or does it take you nine hours of quality ZZZs to get you into high gear?
- Do you have health issues such as being overweight? Are you at risk for any disease?
- Are you experiencing sleep problems?
- Do you depend on caffeine to get you through the day?
- Do you feel sleepy when driving?
You will likely have to record your answers over couple of weeks, deliberately varying the amount of sleep you get, for a good understanding of your habits. You might even be shocked by the results!
Record the data each day. After the weeks have past you will be have a general idea of how much sleep is perfect for you personally and determine if you might be oversleeping.
Keeping your answers to those questions in mind, you can cross-reference the most updated sleep recommendations from the NSF in an effort to avoid oversleeping or not sleeping enough.
- School age children (6-13): 9-11 hours
- Teenagers (14-17): 8-10 hours
- Younger adults (18-25): 7-9 hours
- Adults (26-64): 7-9 hours
- Older adults (65+): 7-8 hours
While your perfect sleep schedule will be highly personalized and take some trial and error, between 7-9 hours is a good baseline for most adults.
I know that we often think that more is always better, but some people believe that staying on the lesser end of that spectrum is ideal. Arizona State University professor Shawn Youngstedt says, “The lowest mortality and morbidity is with seven hours.3” Several researchers have also found a connection between getting 7 hours of sleep and longevity or better brain health.
If you are unsure how long you should be sleeping for, you could do worse than following the recommended amount for your age group.
Reasons for Oversleeping
There’s nothing good about that feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when you crack open an eye and realize that it’s well past noon-on a Monday!
We’ve all been there. Often, oversleeping is simply due to an abnormally late night or the result of an abundantly exhausting work week.
However, in some instances, oversleeping can be a telltale sign of a more serious health issue. If you notice that you’re consistently oversleeping and haven’t been out whooping it up at the bar more than usual, something more concerning might be the culprit. Let’s take a look at some of the more serious health problems that are linked to oversleeping.
Everyone gets sad sometimes. That’s normal. What isn’t normal is a persistent feeling of sadness that prevents you from leading a normal life. Sleep is very commonly affected by depression, manifesting in either an inability to sleep or oversleeping. About 15% of people oversleep, or sleep too much when they are dealing with depression.4 This is somewhat of a double-edged sword since depression can be a cause of oversleeping but oversleeping can also worsen depression.
“In general, sleeping more than eight hours every night may not be as healthy,” says Gabriela Cora, MD, managing partner of the Florida Neuroscience Center and a diplomate of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. “If you oversleep and experience a mood that’s low or sad, this may indicate depression.5 “
2. Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Obstructive sleep apnea is a very serious medical condition that affects nearly 18 million Americans. This disorder causes you to repeatedly stop breathing throughout the night. These breathing difficulties cause continual interruptions to your sleep. This can lead to oversleeping in an effort to compensate for lost hours of shut eye the night before.6
Insomnia means that you are unable to sleep. Hypersomnia is the exact opposite. This medical condition makes you feel excessively tired during the day and causes them to fall asleep for excessive periods of time (typically over hours).
Chronic sufferers of hypersomnia can even sleep up to 18 hours per day and still not wake feeling refreshed.7
4. Extreme Stress and Anxiety
All of us are under some amount of stress on a daily or weekly basis. Managing this stress and finding ways to cope with it is essential to staying healthy. When stress becomes extreme or unmanageable, it can cause people to oversleep as an unhealthy coping mechanism.
Even if oversleeping as a response to high levels of stress is not necessarily a conscious escape, that’s essentially what your body is doing. You choose to mentally escape debilitating stress by oversleeping. Unfortunately, this can lead to even more stress in the long run.
5.Drug or Alcohol Abuse
The occasional late night spent overindulging in alcohol followed by oversleeping is not generally a cause for concern. However, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, using certain substances such as alcohol and prescription drugs, can cause you to feel more tired and regularly oversleep.
If you use alcohol, recreational drugs, or prescription drugs in excess on a regular basis, this may be contributing to your oversleeping issues. Consider seeking professional help for drug or alcohol abuse. If your doctor has prescribed you medication and you are following the recommended dosage but it is still causing you to oversleep, you may need to reevaluate your prescription with your doctor.
How Oversleeping Affects Your Health
The health problems that stem from oversleeping don’t care whether you’re oversleeping due to a repeated overindulgence in Chardonnay or suffering from Obstructive Sleep Apnea. The potential medical repercussions that come from chronic oversleeping can cause serious complications for your physical and mental health.
1. Circadian Rhythm
Whether you know it or not, we all have a circadian rhythm, nearly every living creature does. Your circadian rhythm is often referred to as your ‘internal clock’.
This internal clock is a 24-hour cycle of various biological processes that affect your physical, mental, and behavioral health. It plays a large role in things like the release of certain hormones and body temperature regulation.
Your circadian rhythm is also highly important in determining your personalized sleeping patterns, including when you wake and when you sleep. This rhythm is set by the cycle of light and dark over a 24-hour period.
When you continually oversleep, you effectively throw your entire circadian rhythm out of whack. Excessive sleeping during hours when it is light out confuses the natural functioning of your circadian rhythm.8
Short term, an out of whack circadian rhythm can lead to feelings of fatigue, lethargy, inherent drowsiness, and even digestive issues. Longer-term problems may include neurological disorders, obesity, and cardiovascular complications.
Basically, when you oversleep and throw off your circadian rhythm, you are going to feel like crap in the short-term and may suffer serious health problems in the long-term.
2. Back Pain
While increased back pain due to oversleeping is not a guarantee, it is a good possibility for most of us. If you’re sleeping on a highly specialized and expensive mattress, you may not experience back pain. And lucky you, by the way.
For most of us though, spending excessive amounts of time on our basic mattress will lead to more back pain, especially if you already suffer from general back pain prior to oversleeping. While your mattress may be perfectly sufficient for normal amounts of sleep, too much time spent on your back can induce serious back problems.
People who already suffer from back pain will only exacerbate it by oversleeping. It is recommended that rather than remaining sedentary, getting up and getting active can help back pain subside.
3. Obesity and Diabetes
Multiple studies have shown that oversleeping can have a serious impact on weight gain and obesity. This relates to the increased likelihood of developing diabetes if you chronically oversleep.
The link between oversleeping and obesity is pretty straightforward. When you sleep more, you’re less active. Being less active means that the body has less opportunity to burn off things that will now be stored as fat. Over time, continual lack of activity leads to weight gain and obesity which can in turn lead to a host of other health problems
Studies have shown that people who regularly sleep more than nine hours per night are 50% more likely to suffer from diabetes. It is important to note that medically speaking, oversleeping is not officially deemed as a cause of diabetes.
People who oversleep often experience painful headaches as a result. Researchers believe that this has to do with the effect that oversleeping has on neurotransmitters in your brain, including serotonin. Ironically, it can be impossibly difficult to fall asleep at night with a headache.
5. Heart Problems
There are many factors that contribute to heart disease and a variety of other heart-related problems, with oversleeping being a fairly significant one.
There have a been countless studies done over the years examining the link between oversleeping and an increased risk of heart disease – and the results are frightening.
Based on information from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NAHNES), researchers have linked extended or abnormally long periods of sleep to a higher risk of coronary heart disease and stroke. One study in particular determined that individuals sleeping more than eight hours per night were twice as likely to experience angina (defined as chest pain due to reduced blood flow) and 10% more likely to suffer from coronary heart disease.9
Other research done by the Nurses’ Health Study also found a direct connection between oversleeping and heart disease. After studying 72,000 women, they found that those who slept 9 to 11 hours per night had 38% increased odds of developing heart disease compared to those who slept 8 hours nightly.10
With heart disease already being the number one killer of women and a serious concern for men as well, oversleeping merely adds fuel to this already highly dangerous fire.
We’re all going to die; that’s just a simple fact of life. But who wants to spend unnecessarily excessive hours of their life asleep and then die too soon because of it?
Although the specific reason for higher death rates in people who oversleep is unknown, multiple studies have proven this to be true time. In 2010, researchers reviewed 16 different studies done on the effects that oversleeping has on early death. Among 1,382,999 participants, it was found that sleeping more than 8 hours a night increased the likelihood of untimely or early death by 1.3 times.11
It’s clear that oversleeping can contribute to a variety of unpleasant health issues, though early death might be the most troubling. The message is clear – sleep less (but not too much less), and live longer.
Ways to Prevent Oversleeping
If you have made it this far and still it spelled out for you – Oversleeping is bad for your health.
If you love your extra-long sleep then breaking the habit can be difficult. Fortunately there are some quick and simple ways to beat the sleep. Let’s take a closer look at how you can treat oversleeping.
Let There Be Light
As stated earlier, oversleeping is a surefire way to throw off your entire circadian rhythm. Since your circadian rhythm is highly dependent on exposure to light and darkness, utilizing natural sunlight is a great way to help keep your rhythm in balance.
In addition to your traditional alarm clock, use the bright morning sunshine as a secondary alarm. Letting those rays pour through your bedroom will naturally help to reset and regulate your circadian rhythm and prevent oversleeping.
Personally, I go to sleep each night with my blinds wide open so when that morning sunlight assaults my eyelids, there’s very little chance that I’m going to oversleep. I’m not saying that you have to get rid of your black-out drapes, but it might not be a bad idea. At least try sleeping with them cracked slightly open and see if it helps coax you out of bed in the morning.
If sunlight doesn’t naturally shine through your bedroom window due to positioning, try investing in a light alarm clock. These alarm clocks gradually get brighter as it gets closer to the time you are set to wake up, filling your room with light, tricking your body into thinking the sun is up.
Move the Alarm
How many times has your alarm gone off and you simply reach over onto the nightstand and turn it off? Or repeatedly hit snooze before chucking it across the room? If you’re anything like me, this has happened too many times to count.
Try doing a little rearranging. Place your alarm clock somewhere out of reach from your bed. And I mean really out of reach, not like you can do a Stretch Armstrong and manage to hit snooze.By moving your alarm clock, you will physically have to exit your warm bed in order to silence that irritating sound. This gives you a running start to staying out of bed and getting your day started.
Watch the time!
Going to sleep promptly at 10pm Sunday through Thursday is great. But if you tend to stay up until the wee hours of the morning on Friday and Saturday, you are seriously hurting your sleep schedule and circadian rhythm.
Good sleep hygiene is essential to maintaining normal sleeping patterns and improving your sleep efficiency
Choose a bedtime that allows you to get 7-9 hours of sleep based on when you have to wake up in the morning. Be strict about getting into bed and preparing for sleep at this same set time each night. That means, TV, iPad, laptop, cell phone, and any other sleep distractions need to be put away well before your decided bedtime.
Now, no one is perfect and we can assume that on occasion you won’t make it to bed by your regular 10pm or 11pm curfew. If (or should I say when) you spend a night binge-watching Netflix until 4am, don’t beat yourself up too much. But don’t allow yourself to oversleep until well past lunch the next day.
You will hate every minute of it, but force yourself to rise at the same time that you have been every day. This will help you get back on track more easily that night.
Things like exercise, caffeine, and pre-bedtime activities all play a role in whether you oversleep. Consuming caffeine too late at night can cause you to have trouble falling asleep and result in oversleeping. Try to keep caffeine consumption around 200mg per day and do your consuming in the morning hours.
Exercise is another way to increase your chances of falling asleep at a regular hour. Adding an exercise routine to your daily schedule can help you fall asleep earlier and avoid oversleeping. Many people complain that they simply don’t have time or that they are too exhausted from work.
Stop making excuses!
Everyone can find 15 or 20 minutes in their day to do something active; you don’t have to join a gym to reap the benefits of exercise. Try taking a walk around the block, stream a workout video in your living room, or even pop in Just Dance and get moving with your kids!
What you do before putting your head on the pillow is also pretty important in avoiding oversleeping. Immediately prior to bed, avoid consuming caffeine or alcohol and don’t participate in strenuous activity. Try engaging in something soothing and relaxing such as a warm bath or meditation. Avoid using all electronic devices for a solid 20 minutes prior to sleeping.
Small changes to your daily habits can have a big impact on ensuring that you are not oversleeping and doing damage to your health.
Seek Professional Help
If your oversleeping starts to seriously impact your life or seem unmanageable, it’s time to seek professional help. Visit your doctor to discuss the possible cause for your oversleeping and come up with some solutions together.
Your doctor may prescribe medication or require further testing to investigate possible medical reasons for your oversleeping. Don’t let your oversleeping issue go untreated for too long. Refer back to earlier parts of this article if you need more convincing on how dangerous oversleeping can be for your health, namely the early death section.
Do you or someone you know struggle with oversleeping? Share your comments and experiences relating to oversleeping here and let’s work together to improve our health and stop oversleeping!