How Too Much Sleep Can Impact Your Health

A good night’s sleep is essential. Too much sleep, however, can be detrimental to your health.

While we often hear talk of the importance of sleep, rarely do we hear about oversleeping. Oversleeping, or hypersomnia, can be a symptom of a medical condition or mental health condition that causes someone to sleep for extended periods of time. Additionally, oversleeping can put you at higher risk for health problems down the road.

So what more is there to know about oversleeping? Read on to find out how much sleep you need, what causes oversleeping, and what you can do to get some healthy shut-eye.

How Much Sleep Is Too Much Sleep?

Getting the right amount of quality sleep is important. The National Sleep Foundation publishes recommendations to help you get the right amount of sleep, and in general, 7-9 hours of sleep each night is the gold standard for healthy adults between the ages of 18 and 64.

That being said, a variety of factors can influence how much sleep you really need. For instance, differing genetics allow some individuals to feel well-rested after only four hours of sleep, as their circadian rhythms rely on less sleep. Meanwhile, children often require more sleep than adults, and older adults require more sleep than young adults. Those who are coping with a medical condition may also require more sleep as their body combats an injury or illness.

Generally speaking, a healthy adult who consistently sleeps for more than ten hours each night is oversleeping. If you find yourself oversleeping for prolonged periods of time, consider talking with your doctor to improve the quality of your sleep.

What Causes Oversleeping?

There are several reasons that may explain why an individual is oversleeping. We’ll take a look at each below.

Depression

Depression is one of the most common reasons a person may sleep too much. Depression often causes an individual to sleep more and experience lower energy levels in spite of this extra sleep.

Narcolepsy

Narcolepsy is a neurological sleep disorder that renders the brain unable to control sleep and wake cycles. Those with narcolepsy experience extreme daytime drowsiness and may even fall asleep during normal daytime activities like driving.

Hypersomnia

Hypersomnia is the medical term used to diagnose an individual that sleeps too much or experiences excessive daytime drowsiness, and it is diagnosed when oversleeping has no known medical explanation.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that causes an individual to stop breathing for brief periods during the night. It can also cause oversleeping because it disturbs the natural sleep cycle.

Alcohol Use

Alcohol in any form can lead to sleep disorders and health issues such as sleep apnea or insomnia. Alcohol can also cause sleep disturbances that alter sleep patterns and lead to daytime drowsiness.

The Impact of Oversleeping

woman asleep in bed wrapped in covers

While we often associate oversleeping with simply feeling drowsy, trends and research suggest oversleeping can be harmful in other ways as well. These are some of the health conditions that may be caused by oversleeping.

Weight Gain

Those who sleep too much tend to weigh more because of the general inactivity. The more an individual sleeps, the fewer calories they burn.

Depression

Just as depression can make you sleep for too long, it can also cause you to lose sleep which further promotes oversleeping later on. Those who are depressed tend to sleep more over time, and therefore grow more depressed due to oversleeping.

​Pain

Physical pain such as headaches are more common among those who oversleep. This is because oversleeping triggers neurotransmitters in the brain that cause head pain.

Oversleeping can also lead to back pain because lying in one position for too long causes stiffness and aches. Those who suffer from physical pain often encounter poor sleep, and then compensate by oversleeping, which can create a self-perpetuating cycle.

Heart Disease

Sleeping too much can increase an individual’s risk of heart disease, which is the leading cause of death among both men and women according to the CDC. This risk is even higher for women because they often sleep longer than men.

Research published in the European Heart Journal showed that 14.8 individuals per 1,000 developed heart disease if they slept over ten hours per night, compared to just 7.8 per 1,000 that slept 6-8 hours per night. The reason for this increased risk of heart disease remains unclear, but researchers suspect that certain individuals may oversleep due to previously existing health conditions.

Diabetes

Sleeping too much can raise one’s blood sugar and increase the risk of type 2 diabetes. This disease may be more closely related to being overweight or sedentary rather than simply sleeping too much. We know there’s a correlation between oversleeping and type 2 diabetes, but we don’t know if the relationship is causal.

Mental Health

Too much sleep can have an adverse effect on mood and mental health. For instance, research suggests getting too much or too little sleep impairs cognition.

Additionally, degenerative mental diseases like Alzheimer’s may be fueled by too much sleep according to researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. And much like depression can cause oversleeping, it can also be induced by getting too much sleep.

Oversleeping and Illness: Which Comes First?

Determining whether oversleeping or illness came first has proven to be a serious dilemma for researchers. By this we mean, does oversleeping cause illness or does illness cause oversleeping? While some studies suggest too much sleep leads to an increased risk of certain medical problems, others point out that a desire for more rest may be caused by a disease or illness.

A review of controlled studies on extended sleep illustrates that adults experience symptoms such as fatigue, irritability, and lethargy due to longer sleep. This may trigger a desire to sleep even more and perpetuate the cycle.

Other research conducted on young adults showed that spending an extra two hours in bed each night for three weeks left the study participants feeling more depressed, sore, and uncomfortable due to inflammation.

Getting Healthier Sleep

Too Much Sleep: woman peacefully asleep with hand on pillow

Sleep scientists are still researching the cause and effect relationship between sleep duration and health, but there are a few tactics you can employ to ensure you’re receiving high-quality sleep.

For starters, be sure you get between seven and nine hours of sleep each night. Any more sleep is considered oversleeping and any less sleep is often not enough.

Next, be sure to avoid oversleeping on the weekends. It may be tempting to sleep in when you have the time, but doing so can throw off your body’s circadian rhythm and make falling asleep more difficult when the weekday returns.

Use an alarm clock and avoid the snooze button to ensure you’re sleeping for a reasonable amount of time. It may be tempting to snooze the alarm and drift back to sleep, but doing so promotes excessive sleepiness when your body should be awake.

And finally, avoid napping past 5 p.m. as this makes it more difficult to fall asleep, and you run the risk of oversleeping when you finally hit the hay. Also avoid stimulants, such as caffeine, and bright light exposure from screens before bed. Taking naps in the evening and playing with devices can ruin your sleep quality and promote excessive sleepiness, which then make you sleep more.

Avoid Oversleeping

It can be difficult to avoid oversleeping when you’ve encountered sleep deprivation or you simply aren’t getting enough sleep. Oftentimes we compensate by sleeping for extended periods of time to make up for the lack of sleep we’re receiving.

Conversely, many health conditions such as depression, pain, and sleep disorders may cause us to oversleep, which then perpetuates the oversleeping cycle. If oversleeping is something you’ve experienced for an extended period of time, speak with your doctor to find out more about how you can get back to better sleep.

At the end of the day, simply remember that sleep is best in moderation. Too little sleep is bad for your health, as is too much sleep. Take some time to determine how much sleep your body needs, and employ sleep strategies to ensure you’re getting quality sleep when you need it most.

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