Is too much sleep bad for you?

We're often told about the dangers of not getting enough sleep, but there's a flip side to that coin too. According to the experts, spending too much time in the Land of Nod can bring a variety of health risks no less severe than too little sleep.

Sleep has always been the focus of in-depth, professional research, which is probably why we are constantly learning more about how the way and the amount of our rest affect our minds and our bodies. We know, for example, that sleep is a time when our bodies repair and restore themselves, and that not enough rest can open the door to a whole gamut of sleep-related health issues.

 

So, it's normal for us to assume that more sleep is always going to be better than not enough sleep, right? Well, according to some researchers, that ain't necessarily so.

 

More and more evidence has begun to show that spending an excessive amount of our time 'in the sack' may well be linked with a variety of health hazards. And in some cases, oversleeping itself might not only directly invite certain risk factors, but can even be a symptom of other medical condition.

 

But how do we know if we are sleeping too much? And what should we watch out for when we're trying to get the very best quality slumber for our bodies and brains? Well, let's start to answer those questions with another question:

 

Are you sleeping too much?

What does oversleeping mean, really? Eight hours have long been considered the golden median when it comes to how many hours shut-eye we should be getting every night. Yet recent research from the recognised experts at the National Sleep Foundation have led to a slight broadening of the spectrum. Somewhere in the range of 7 to 9 hours, say the good people at the NSF,  is now considered normal for an average, healthy adult aged between 18 and 64 years.

 

But some researchers go even further. Arizona State University professor Shawn Youngstedt recently told the Wall Street Journal that seven hours is the absolute magic number, while other experts seem more than happy to link seven hours of rest with desirable factors such as longevity and improved brain performance.

 

Of course, the right amount of sleep will differ per each individual. Some will feel great on seven hours rest, while others might need a little longer. However, for most experts and in most studies, more than nine hours is considered 'too much' sleep for a 'healthy' adult.

 

Okay, so if you have a little lie-in on the weekends, it’s not likely to be that big a deal. But if you're asleep for around nine hours on a regular basis and you still don't feel refreshed when you wake up, it's probably best you sought an exploratory chat with your GP. With 2% of the population classed as naturally long sleepers (usually going back to early childhood), the situation might well be the norm for you. But long sleep can also be a sign of health issues and other treatable factors.

 

The impact of oversleeping

Researchers have always been looking for the 'Goldilocks Spot' when it comes to the ideal amount of sleep. Recently, different habits have been connected with our physical and mental well-being, and several trends have emerged that link too much sleep with higher rates of disease, anxiety and depression, and even overall mortality.

 

Research has linked longer sleep with:

◦     Cognitive impairment

◦     Depression and anxiety

◦     Inflammation

◦     Physical pain

◦     Impaired fertility

◦     Risk of obesity

◦     Risk of diabetes

◦     Risk of heart disease

◦     Risk of stroke

◦     Poor brain function

 

One of the more important functions of our brain is to act as a clearer of waste byproducts, balancing our neurotransmitters and processing memories while we rest. At both ends of the spectrum, sleep has been shown to affect our brain, and in turn, our moods and general levels of mental health.

 

Cognition

Researchers also claim to have found that performance on different board games improved when people got seven hours sleep. Their performance worsened noticeably with less sleep, but also with more. Other studies have found memory impairments and decreased cognitive function with what are considered to be periods of 'longer sleep.'

 

Degenerative diseases

Further research indicates too little or too much sleep may be linked to an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Risk factors assessed in a large Spanish study found that people who regularly slept for more than nine hours were at an increased risk of contracting dementia.

 

Depression and mental health

Oversleeping is recognised as a potential symptom of depression and anxiety. And while many people with the condition report insomnia, about 15% tend to sleep what is considered to be 'too much to be healthy.'

 

Compared with 'normal sleepers,' people with extended sleep patterns are also more likely to have chronic depression or anxiety symptoms. A study of twins also found that too much or too little sleep seemed to increase depressive symptoms when compared to regular sleepers, and among older adults, people who slept longer than ten hours complained of poorer mental health over the proceeding months.

 

Irregularities in our body’s sleep clock may also play a role in depressive symptoms, says some research, and returning our sleep back to healthy patterns is often the focus of treatment.

 

The bottom line

If you're someone who frequently oversleeps, you may want to ask yourself WHY. Take a closer look at your slumber patterns and habits. Keeping a log of what you are doing in the hour before you go to bed can give the first helpful insights into the state of your sleep.

 

Remember to 'turn off your tech' about an hour before you go to bed. Our busy minds need to switch off in preparation for bedtime, and we need to avoid the negative impact of blue light from our devices on our natural sleep/wake cycle. Relaxing and calming activities such as reading a book or magazine can help us relax, but not on a tech device! Drinking caffeine or alcohol before bed can also impact the quality of our sleep.

 

If you are oversleeping regularly, then your body is communicating with you. But are you listening? Our body clock (or circadian rhythm) works best with consistent sleep and wake time. Sometimes, all we have to do is give our sleep a chance.

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