For years we have been told how detrimental a lack of sleep can be to our mental and physical health. (Think of weakened immune function, bad moods, and impaired cognitive performance while being at increased risk for more serious problems like heart disease and diabetes.)
But is it bad to sleep too much – and if so, how much is too much?
Most healthy adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep each night. However, some people, such as young adults, chronically sleep deprived, and the sick, may need more than nine, according to a joint recommendation from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society.
“It’s important to remember that ‘too much sleep’ isn’t the same for everyone,” sleep psychologist Jade Wu, a researcher at Duke University School of Medicine, told HuffPost. “And sleep needs change over the course of life. For example, a teenager or young adult may well need nine or more hours a night, whereas a retiree probably doesn’t. ”
Oversleeping – usually defined as more than nine or ten hours in research studies – is associated with certain health risks, including stroke, obesity, depression, diabetes, heart disease, and dementia. However, it’s not clear whether oversleeping is causing these conditions or whether it’s just an indicator that something else is wrong.
“In other words, we don’t know if it’s long sleep that causes problems over time or if an underlying health problem is causing someone to sleep longer,” Wu said. “I’d rather bet that the latter is true because we know that some neuropsychiatric conditions like depression and neurodegenerative diseases lead to excessive daytime sleepiness.”
Other experts, like Harvard sleep medicine professor Susan Redline, agree that oversleeping is more of a symptom than a cause of another problem: “The prevailing belief is that long sleep is a marker of underlying health problems,” she told Prevention . com.
If you’re technically getting enough sleep but still not feeling rested, it is worth making an appointment with a doctor.
So, should you be concerned if you regularly get nine or 10 hours of sleep a night? Not necessarily – especially when you wake up refreshed. Some people just need more eye contact than others.
“If someone seems to be having an unusually long sleep, it is possible that they are simply wired up to need more sleep,” said Wu. (But it can’t hurt to let your doctor know if you have any concerns.)
If you’ve technically got enough hours but still aren’t feeling rested, it’s also worth making an appointment with a doctor, said neurologist and sleep medicine specialist Anita Shelgikar, director of the University of Michigan sleep medicine scholarship director.
“A number of factors such as medical conditions, drug side effects and undiagnosed sleep disorders can lead to poor quality sleep and unrefreshing sleep,” she added.
According to Raj Dasgupta – associate professor of clinical medicine at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine – it is likely that sleep quantity is not sleep quantity problem. Conditions such as sleep apnea can disrupt sleep and make you feel tired even if you’ve spent a lot of time in bed.
“Poor quality sleep means a person will not get into the deeper sleep stages or REM sleep that will restore the brain and body and make you feel refreshed and rejuvenated the next day, ”he said. “Frequent awakenings and multiple awakenings indicate that a person is only in the lighter phases of sleep for most of the night, which leads to poor quality sleep.”
Other factors such as stress, bad mood, boredom, and a sedentary lifestyle can also play a role in getting enough sleep fatigue, Wu noted.
Once you and your doctor have ruled out potential health issues, it is a good idea to experiment with some adjustments to your routine to improve the quality of your sleep. For example, try to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, whether it’s a work day or a weekend.
“Get plenty of sunlight, get physically active – or at least reduce long periods of sitting – and do your best to plan some fun and social activities,” said Wu. “Make an effort to make physical and mental health a priority. You may wake up feeling more energetic after making these changes. “