Can you have too much sleep?

In a world where so many of us are struggling to get the recommended eight hours shut-eye, talking about ‘oversleeping’ may seem ungrateful. But, did you know you can have too much of a good thing? While a luxury problem, oversleeping shouldn’t be overlooked - it also comes with a host of negative side effects.

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Like insufficient sleep, oversleeping is a sign of disordered sleep. It may be connected to a mental health issue such as depression. It’s often a signal that a person is experiencing poor sleep quality, and it can also be a sign of a clinical sleep disorder.

How much is too much?

The amount of sleep fluctuates significantly over the course of your lifetime significantly – think about how much you need when you’re going through puberty or working long hours versus how little you can operate on with a newborn. It depends on your age and activity level as well as your general health and lifestyle habits. During periods of stress, burnout or illness, you may feel an increased need for sleep. Regardless of what life throws at you though, experts typically recommend that adults should sleep between seven and nine hours each night. 

The symptoms

Clinically known as hypersomnia, excessive sleeping is more common than you think. Below are the most common symptoms… 

  • Sleeping for extended hours at night (typically well beyond the 8-hour general norm)
  • Difficulty getting out of bed in the morning (including sleeping through an alarm)
  • Continuous low energy
  • Grogginess on and off or consistently throughout the day
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Migraines
  • Sensitivity to light

Don’t confuse a few nights of overindulgent sleep time with excessive sleeping! On occasion, oversleeping is needed, especially if you’re playing catch-up after a big night - the only cure for a hangover is sleep and water after all!

The side effects of oversleeping

Sleeping too much is linked with many of the same health risks as sleeping too little, including heart disease, diabetes, obesity, sexual performance issues and difficulty with memory. In addition, there are numerous emotional side effects including low libido, mood swings and depression. Similar to people who have insomnia, people who sleep too much have higher overall mortality risks. 

We explore the most common side effects…

Headaches 

Ever sleep-in longer than usual and wake up to a thumping headache? Researchers believe this is due to the effect oversleeping has on certain neurotransmitters in the brain, including serotonin. Particularly people who sleep too much during the day and disrupt their night time sleep may also find themselves suffering from headaches in the morning.

Back pain

Despite what you might think, a healthy level of exercise has proven beneficial for back pain. Whereas, being sedentary for extended periods of time may worsen it or be the cause of back pain. If you work in a particularly inactive field try secretly exercising at work by taking the stairs instead of the lift or swapping your chair for a swiss ball.

Impaired brain function

Sleep plays an integral role in overall brain function, as the brain clears out waste byproducts, balances neurotransmitters and processes memories while you’re sleeping. At both short and long extremes, rest may have an effect on cognitive performance. Studies have found memory impairments and decreased cognitive function with longer sleep.

Mental health

Particularly among younger adults and teenagers, oversleeping can be a signal of poor mental health or the beginnings of it. An estimated 40 percent of adults under 30 with depression experience hypersomnia. But, oversleeping is not just isolated to young adults - older adults also experience hypersomnia in connection with depression. Women, in particular, may be more likely to oversleep and feel excessively tired during the day if they are depressed.

Other causes

Oversleeping can be a symptom of a sleep disorder. Disorders interfere with sleep quality and sometimes trigger excessive sleepiness and oversleeping.  Consult a medical professional if you believe your hypersomnia could be linked to any of the below:

  • Narcolepsy - a neurologically-based sleep disorder where the brain lacks the ability to control sleep-wake cycles. 
  • Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) - People with restless leg syndrome experience tingling, twitching, “creepy-crawly” feelings in the legs. 
  • Obstructive sleep apnea - compromised breathing while sleeping. During sleep, the airway becomes either partially or completely blocked for a short amount of time. 

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