Just like having too little sleep, too much sleep may be a symptom of an underlying illness or can increase a person’s risk of other health conditions such as stroke, obesity, diabetes, heart diseases, and cognitive impairment. In other words, too much sleep may be a risk to health, or a marker of health risk.
According to experts, we spend about one-third of our lives sleeping or trying to sleep. Here’s why. Sleep is a prerequisite for healthy and active living. Not only does it support physical, cognitive, emotional health and longevity, it also reduces a person’s risk of developing chronic diseases like cancer, diabetes, and obesity. And just as importantly, it impacts how well we function during the day.
A study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine states that optimal sleep duration is a feature of healthy sleep. But when you consistently sleep for longer than usual and wake up still feeling like you need more, it may be a sign that you’re getting too much sleep, or a symptom of hypersomnia which is characterized by excessive daytime sleepiness or prolonged overnight sleep.
Can you have too much sleep?
Everyone’s sleep requirement varies depending on their genes, physical activity levels, age, health status, and daily stressors.
Some people may only need 7 hours of sleep, while others may require up to 9 hours to feel refreshed and re-energized for the day.
However, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that the optimal sleep duration for adults is 7 or more hours. They also mention that young adults, people with sleep debt, and people who have an illness may sleep for more than 9 hours.
So, is sleeping too much even possible? And how do you tell when you’re sleeping too much or “oversleeping”?
A recent study by Harvard University researchers found that the average healthy adult was unable to sleep longer than 10 hours a day even when afforded a sleep opportunity window of 14-16 hours. The authors concluded that it was therefore not possible to sleep too much, since sleeping too much implies sleeping more than is biologically required.
Nonetheless, research suggests that sleeping both too little and too much may be associated with risk of disease. Considerably more research is needed to understand why long sleep time is associated with these risks. One potential explanation is that sleep architecture, or the nightly distribution of sleep stages, is fragmented or disturbed in long sleepers. In other words, long sleepers may be getting significantly less deep sleep or REM sleep – two stages of sleep that are essential for restoring and resetting the brain and body. To make matters more complicated, there’s also no consensus on how to tell when you’re sleeping too much or “oversleeping”
Some studies describe oversleeping as regularly sleeping for more than 9 hours. Another study states that if you think you’ve been „sleeping ‚too much‘ nearly every day for a period of 2 weeks or longer” then you’re oversleeping. Despite these preliminary pieces of evidence, it’s important to remember that the requisite hours of sleep – and what constitutes oversleeping – is highly personalized and varies depending on many factors.
What are the causes of oversleeping?
If you think you sleep too much or if you feel like your sleep habits may be impacting your health, consider consulting a doctor who may give you an appropriate diagnosis, rule out any underlying conditions or sleep disorders, and prescribe a potential treatment for your case.
People that sleep too much may be experiencing a sleep disorder called hypersomnia.
Hypersomnia is a condition that occurs when a person sleeps for an extended duration at night and still experiences excessive daytime sleepiness. Although this disorder is not life-threatening, it may lead to life-threatening situations such as accidents at work or while driving.
Some symptoms of hypersomnia include:
- Frequent urge to nap during the day.
- Difficulty waking up in the morning.
- Low energy levels.
- Loss of appetite.
- Slow response time.
- Poor memory.
Hypersomnia may be a symptom of an underlying health condition such as depression, sleep disorders like sleep apnea and narcolepsy, multiple sclerosis, or obesity. It may also result from medication use or withdrawal or a brain injury.
Other causes of oversleeping include:
Sleep apnea is a severe sleep disorder that happens when a person experiences episodes where they stop breathing and then continue during sleep. Sleep apnea may be obstructive sleep apnea, central sleep apnea, and complex sleep apnea.
People with sleep apnea often wake up feeling tired and groggy due to a poor night’s rest. They may also sleep for an extended duration and nap repeatedly during the day to feel rested.
Narcolepsy is another sleep disorder that may make a person sleep too much. It is a condition that impairs the brain’s ability to regulate a person’s sleep-wake cycle.
People with narcolepsy usually sleep excessively during the day. They may also experience other symptoms, including sleep paralysis, having vivid dreams, hallucinations, sudden muscle weakness, and sleep disturbance at night—only 10 to 25 percent of people with narcolepsy experience all its symptoms.
Depression is a mental health condition that may impact a person’s sleep health. Those with depression sometimes experience difficulty sleeping, waking up too early, or oversleeping.
Research suggests that people with depression may also experience hypersomnia, and these conditions co-occur commonly among women and young adults.
Some medications may make a person feel sleepy or sleep more often than usual. Some medications that produce this effect include prescription hypnotic drugs, melatonin, antihistamines, antidepressants, and antipsychotics.
Tips for maintaining an optimal sleep duration
Optimal sleep duration is one of the characteristics of healthy sleep, and here are some ways to have and maintain it:
- Maintain a regular sleep schedule: Try to go to bed and get up from the bed at the same times every day, including weekends. You prime your body to only sleep during certain hours and for a specific length when you do this.
- Expose yourself to sunlight during the day: Getting sunlight, especially in the first two hours after waking up, helps support your circadian rhythm and keeps you awake and alert for the day.
- Avoid naps in the later hours of the day: Napping in the latter part of the afternoon or evening may make it difficult for you to fall asleep at night. And when you don’t go to bed early, you may find it hard to wake up at your usual hour or stay active during the day.
- Follow a bedtime routine: Consider creating a series of relaxing activities you do before going to bed to prepare your body for a refreshing sleep.
- Make your bedroom a sleep haven: You can make your bedroom sleep-friendly by simply keeping it cool, tidy, comfortable, and quiet to create a relaxing atmosphere that prompts your body to sleep.
- Avoid taking alcohol and caffeine around bedtime: Taking alcohol and caffeine in the evening hours may lead to poor sleep and daytime fatigue during the day. Consider taking them in moderation and the earlier hours of the day.
You may notice that you sleep for longer than usual from time to time. When this happens, it’s usually not a cause for concern, especially if you’re going through stress, recovering from an illness, or have not been getting enough sleep. Consider seeing a doctor if you think you might be oversleeping, and they may suggest treatment options for you.