We hear a huge amount about how it’s important to get 8 hours’ sleep every night, and that sleep deprivation can be damaging for health and general brain function, but what about sleeping too much? Is that a problem in itself?
It turns out that yes, it might well be!
Of course, not getting enough sleep is a problem. When you don’t get an average of 8hours every night over a long period of time, your brain starts to fog, you can’t concentrate, you become irritable, moody, and even down. Your brain starts to perceive situations and environments differently from reality, and hormone imbalance can occur too. The risk of immune system problems, heart health issues, and an increased risk of diabetes comes your way, and you also become far more prone to accidents, falls, and general clumsiness.
There is no laughing matter when it comes to not getting enough sleep.
On the other hand however, we seem to think it’s fine to sleep more than 8 hours. Surely if not sleeping enough is bad for you, too much sleep would be good?
By spending too much time sleeping and laying in bed (albeit a very comfortable spot), you’re increasing your risk factors for certain problems.
Now, we should point out that the recommended amount of sleep per night for an adult between 18-64 years is 8 hours per night, however everyone is different, and some people feel fantastic on 7 hours. That is fine, there is no major sway in numbers with that situation. Oversleeping however is classed as sleeping for 9 hours or more. At the weekends, most people have a slight lay in, and whilst half an hour is no big deal, 9 hours or more on a regular basis is. Put simply, if 9 hours doesn’t make you feel refreshed and ready to take on the world, there could be an underlying issue to deal with.
What Problems Does Oversleeping Cause?
Many studies have taken place over the last few years into what exact causes can be attributed to getting too much sleep, and whilst these are still ongoing, there are links with higher mortality rates, and depression, to name just two. Surely those are bad enough alone?
Sleeping for 9 hours per night on a regular basis could have links with:
- Negative cognitive function
- An increase in inflammation within the body
- Increased pain
- Problems with fertility, for both men and women
- Increased risk of developing type II diabetes
- Increased risk of becoming overweight or even obese
- Increased risk factors for heart issue, such as heart disease, heart attack, and stroke
As you can see, oversleeping can be just as damaging as sleep deprivation.
Why The Brain Needs Sleep, But Not Too Much
When we sleep, the body heals itself, the heart strengthens, and the brain also clears out toxins and waste. Neurotransmitters within the brain are also balanced out and memories which are stuck between short and long term are processed and stored away. These processes cannot happen when the brain doesn’t get enough sleep, but by getting too much, the body doesn’t quite know what is happening either.
Studies have shown time and time again that brain health and performance was at its strongest when at 7 hours of sleep per night, although 8 is the general average amount for an adult. These studies also found that those who regularly oversleep experienced cognitive function decline and problems with recalling memories.
There is also a suggestion that if you sleep too much you may be putting yourself at an increased risk of developing degenerative brain diseases linked with aging, such as Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Of course, those who have depression may either sleep not enough, or sleep too much. Oversleeping is a very real symptoms of a depression condition, and whilst it can go either way in terms of not sleeping or sleeping too much, those who sleep more than they should will probably find they have depression which persists for longer.
Experts believe this is all down to the body clock basically being thrown out of whack. Many people who sleep too much are advised to return their sleeping habits back to a normal amount as part of their treatment routine.
Another problem with sleep levels, not enough or too much, is an increase in the amount of inflammation within the body. When inflammation levels are high, you are at an increased risk of all manner of unhealthy conditions. This also has links with type II diabetes and heart disease, as well as degenerative brain conditions, such as Alzheimers. Whilst there are a few different lifestyle issues which can cause inflammation to rise, not getting enough sleep and oversleeping on a regular basis can also contribute
This is measured by something called cytokines (CRP, or C-reactive proteins). Studies have shown that those who sleep for 9 hours or more on a regular basis have higher levels of cytokines, which therefore equates to higher levels of inflammation too.
How to Stop Yourself Oversleeping
We hear so much about how to get yourself to sleep, and how to relax enough to fall into a deep slumber, but we don’t hear so much about how to stop yourself actually sleeping too much! It’s not as easy, as you can imagine! Once you’re in a deep sleep, you’re going to find it hard to rouse yourself. What you can do however is get yourself into a routine and adopt a few self-help techniques too.
- Set an alarm, and don’t ‘snooze’ it! - Set an alarm that is going to be loud enough to wake you up, and avoid pressing ‘snooze’ at all costs! When it goes off, wake yourself up gradually and get up. By doing this, you’ll get yourself into a routine which your body will quickly adopt naturally.
- If you wake up, get up - At the weekends when you probably won’t set your alarm, you have two options. Firstly, continue to set it, to make sure that you get up naturally at the same time on a daily basis. Or, if you really don’t want to set that alarm when you’re not working, get up when you wake up and don’t be tempted to laze around in bed. You’ll only end up going back to sleep and feel terrible afterwards.
- Try and set a routine of sleeping at the same time every night - Try and get yourself into a routine of having a set bedtime. Just like children, we need to go to bed at the same time every night, in order to wake up at roughly the same time too. Of course, sometimes this won’t be possible, but this should be a rarity. Set yourself a realistic bedtime and stick to it!
- If you wake up in the night, try a warm drink to doze back off quickly - One reason that people tend to oversleep is because of broken sleep, e.g. they wake up regularly throughout the night and then fall into a deeper sleep later on. If you wake up, try a warm, milky drink to try and doze off. Avoid checking your phone and scrolling through social media, as you’ll only cause your brain to become more alert, and make it harder to go back to sleep.
Oversleeping can be harder to manage in some ways than not sleeping enough. When the lure of sleep is keeping you in its clutches, it can be impossible to break free, but it’s important to try and set yourself into a routine and get up at the same time every day, having gone to bed at your new regulated bedtime too. By doing this, you will soon get yourself into that sleep and wake routine, just like we try and get children to do before school, etc.
The effects of oversleeping on the brain are just as damaging as the effects of not sleeping enough. We should never avoid putting the right amount of importance on sleep of all kinds - our bodies don’t just crave it, but they need it too! Sleep helps us heal, it allows us to function, focus, and it is a vital part of a healthy life. Just like we need to breathe and eat, we need to sleep too. When you go without sleep for too long, all manner of detrimental effects occur, but when you throw your body clock out of whack by regularly sleeping too much, the same occurs, but in reverse.
What you should be aware of however is that if you’re oversleeping to avoid daily life, e.g. stress, relationships problems, depression, anxiety, this is a sign of a deeper problem, and therefore something that should be addressed as soon as possible. When you’re sleeping too much your body is trying to tell you something, and it’s your job to listen to its cues and act on them accordingly. In this case a doctor will be able to help you manage the issue and get back on track.