We all need our sleep but too much can be as mentally and physically draining as too little
Like the vast majority of animals on planet earth, humans require sleep. Sleep experts (yes, they exist) agree that, on average, adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep each day in order to stay healthy, think clearly and perform the day’s daily tasks without, say, putting foot creme on your toothbrush or mowing the dog. Here’s a question, however, that many people tend to overlook; how much sleep is too much sleep?
In this article we’ll take a closer look at that question, and answer some of the other pressing questions you have about sleep, why it’s important, what a lack of sleep can cause and, lastly, How Much Sleep is Too Much. Enjoy!
How Much Sleep Do Humans Need, On Average?
Babies, young children and teenagers need even more sleep than adults. That’s why the average baby sleeps about 14 hours a day and the average teenager about 10 (even though it might seem like your teen is sleeping their life away). Those aforementioned sleep experts also agree that too few hours of sleep can cause a wide variety of health problems big and small. They included:
- An impact on both short and long-term memory
- Changes in mood and sometimes severe mood swings
- Reduced/impacted immunity and immune response
- Trouble concentrating and problem solving
- An increased risk of accidents of all kinds, especially auto accidents
- An increased risk of high blood pressure
- A chemical imbalance that can cause weight gain
- An increased risk of diabetes due to altered insulin release
- Higher levels of inflammation which can lead to heart disease and other disease processes
- A decreased sex drive in men due to reduced testosterone levels
As you can see, too few hours of sleep per night can be incredibly damaging to your health and increase the risk of many health problems as well as accidents, and it can even affect your sex life (which in turn can affect your relationships).
So, If Too Little Sleep is Bad For You, Too Much Sleep Good, Right?
OK, so we know that getting too little sleep can be detrimental to our physical and mental health. That begs the question; does sleeping too many hours cause as many, or fewer, problems as sleeping too few?
Referring back to our sleep experts (sleep nerds that they are) they seem to agree that sleeping too much can also cause a variety of problems both physical and especially mental. Some say that sleeping too many hours can even be more detrimental to your health. Some of the health problems sleeping too much can cause are worse than others, of course, but some are quite severe and life-altering.
Remember, the average amount of sleep that is considered normal for an adult is seven to nine hours a night (or a day if you happen to work the night shift). Everyone is different, however, and some people may feel perfectly fine after sleeping seven hours while others may need the full nine hours.
Sleeping a little extra every so often, like after a night out on the town carousing or ‘sleeping in’ on the weekends (once in a while) doesn’t seem to present any health risks but, if you sleep 9, 10, 11 or more hours you increase your risk of several problems, some significantly. Let’s take a closer look at the most severe of these risks.
Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease
A Spanish study found that people who sleep too many hours per day have an increased incidence of cognitive decline, including dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Elevated levels of C-reactive proteins that cause Inflammation
This study found that sleeping too much seems to cause an increase in chronic inflammation, which can lead to a host of disease processes like Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes and heart disease, among others.
An American study found that people who hit the snooze button far too often have a propensity to gain weight, sometimes significant amounts. It showed that people who slept more than 9 hours per night had a 21% better chance of becoming obese. (Amazing, isn’t it?! Even sleeping can make you gain weight!
Coronary Heart Disease
It was found in a Nurse’s Health study of 71,000 women that those who slept up to 11 hours a night were almost 40% more likely to have coronary heart disease than those women who slept the normal 7 to 9 hours.
This is one of the more alarming findings we saw when researching this article. A University of Cambridge study of nearly 10,000 people over 11 years showed that almost 50% of them were more likely to have a stroke if they sleep over 8 hours per night.
Yep, sleeping too much can lead to death. OK, that might be oversimplified. Sleeping too much causes several health problems, as we’ve seen, and those health problems combined can lead to a higher risk of early death, at least according to the second Nurse’s Health study.
These are a few of the most common, and most deadly, health problems and conditions that can be caused by sleeping too much. There are others, too be sure, like grogginess, a ‘foggy’ brain, and the wrath of those who will deem you lazy, shiftless and a good-for-nothing. (Some people, are we right?) In any case, it seems quite definite that sleeping too much can be just as detrimental, if not more so, than sleeping too little, and so should be avoided.
Does Sleeping More Cause Health Problems, or Do Health Problems Cause you to Sleep More?
This is sort of like the age-old question “which came first, the chicken or the egg?” Does sleeping more than normal cause health problems, or do health problems cause you to sleep more than normal? There have been many studies done about sleep, to be sure, but the consensus seems to be that there’s no consensus.
Some studies have come to the conclusion that getting too much sleep triggers the health problems we’ve discussed, while others go in the opposite direction and find that some detrimental health processes can cause a person to sleep more than normal.
What most studies do seem to agree on is that healthy people need less sleep while unhealthy people tend to need more. One Review of Studies found these results from sleeping too many hours per day;
- Increased fatigue
- Increased irritability
- Lethargy and lack of energy
- Slower reaction times
- ‘Fragmented’ sleep (Waking up often)
- Increased feelings of depression
- Back pain
- Increased inflammation
Whether health problems cause you to sleep more or sleeping more causes health problems, the fact is that too much sleep is problematic, which means that finding a solution is important. Speaking of which…
Life Hacks on How To Prevent Oversleeping
Since sleeping too much can be as damaging as sleeping too little, here are a few tips on how to make sure that you don’t leave your head on your pillow too many hours per day.
- Before you hit the sack every night, set an alarm to wake you up in seven hours. That way, when it goes off, you can still hit the snooze button once or twice before you get up and thus not oversleep.
- Purchase a so-called ‘dawn-emitting’ alarm clock. This is a type of alarm clock that has a light integrated into it. In the morning, 15 to 30 minutes before your alarm goes off, the light will slowly start getting brighter and brighter. Waking up to a light-filled room like this is supposed to be healthy for you and will certainly make the alarm clock less irritating when it goes off. Here’s a good one, but there are several different brands and types available.
- Do your best to avoid “sleeping in” on too many weekends. This has the effect of throwing off your circadian rhythm and, when your work week starts again, will make falling asleep and waking up a bit more difficult (and let’s face it, getting up for work is already difficult enough).
- If you must nap in the afternoon, keep you nap to a maximum of 20 minutes. Excessive napping makes it much harder to fall asleep at night which then leads to oversleeping.
- Don’t eat or drink foods that contain caffeine or sugar within 2 to 3 hours of going to bed. Both caffeine and sugar are stimulants that will make it much harder to get to sleep and, like excessive napping, make it harder to get out of bed in the morning.
- Before a nap, drink something with caffeine. It might sound counterproductive but the fact is that it takes caffeine about 20 minutes to start having it’s stimulating effect on your body, which is perfect since naps should be kept to 20 minutes!
- Eat a snack before bedtime that’s high in carbohydrates. Studies have shown that carbs can help you sleep better, but you don’t want to consume too many either. A bowl of muesli or a small container of low-fat, low-sugar Greek yogurt are both excellent, as is a small slice of whole wheat toast.
Sleep is vital to good health but too much (or, as we’ve seen, too little) can pose a significant risk to your health. Hopefully the tips, advice and info we’ve provided in this article will help you to not only sleep better but not oversleep and avoid all the health problems that it can cause.
We also hope you enjoyed this article and that it answered all of your most pressing questions about sleep, as well as providing some great life hacks for getting a healthy, invigorating and battery-recharging night’s rest. Now go to bed, and sleep well!