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July 12, 2022

Is sleeping too much a bad thing? Excessive sleep can be a sign of a problem

Is sleeping too much a bad thing? Excessive sleep can be a sign of a problem

You know that cliché phrase that says that everything in excess is bad? I bet you’ve heard it from your grandmother, aunt, or mother. And they all were right. Everything in excess really is bad, even sleep. Yes, sleeping too much is bad. But don’t worry, like (almost) everything in life, there’s an explanation.

We live in a time that has been defined by experts as the ‘insomnia pandemic’ or the ‘romanticization of little sleep’. In fact, everywhere we look we find speeches by the so-called productivity gurus saying that ‘to be successful, you have to be the last to sleep and the first to wake up’.

This is not true. But just as too little sleep is bad for your health, too much sleep is also bad. The difference is that the former is often a choice or a social imposition, while the second is not. And this is where we need to pay attention.

How many hours a day does a person need to sleep?

To know what it means to sleep too much, we first need to understand what is considered the adequate number of hours to sleep. And there is no concrete answer or medical consensus for that. 

The ideal number of hours of sleep varies between seven and nine hours for a healthy adult, but rather than time, we must also consider quality of sleep. 

‘Sleep is not just a matter of hours, but also quality and regularity for you to feel rested when you wake up,’ explains the US Department of Health website.

Sleep hours, in fact, are a very personal matter. We cannot compare the needs of a professional athlete with the needs of someone who works in an office, for example. But this does not mean that there is no ‘sleep little’ or ‘sleep a lot’.

If you often sleep less than six hours or more than nine hours, it is time to pay a little more attention to your sleep routine. Depending on the case, you should consider seeing a doctor.

Sleeping too much can be a sign that something is wrong with your health

Prolonged sleep from time to time can be considered normal. After an excessively tiring day or when we are very stressed, getting a little more sleep helps to keep the body and head healthy. 

Nobody wants you to wake up at 7 a.m. on a Sunday after a Saturday night out (if you actually went to bed by 7). You just need to be careful with social jetlag.

Therefore, it is necessary to identify whether excessive sleep and daytime drowsiness are constant or punctual, what are the symptoms and their intensity. Some of the questions a doctor may ask to settle on the diagnosis are:

– How long have you been feeling sleepy and/or sleeping a lot?

– Have you ever fallen asleep at inopportune times, like during a meeting?

– What time do you go to sleep and what time do you wake up?

In addition, it is also necessary to identify the causes of oversleeping – whether it is a consequence of another health problem or a primary cause.

Secondary causes of excessive sleep

In many cases, sleeping too much is not the problem itself, but a symptom that something bigger is not going well.

Some of the secondary causes of sleeping beyond the account are:

Depression – A major change in sleep patterns is one of the most common symptoms of depression. Some people experience severe insomnia while others sleep too much and feel uncontrollable lethargy.

Injuries – Did you know that up to 70% of people who have suffered a brain injury end up having sleep disorders?

Colds and flu – Have you noticed that when we are sick, we tend to sleep too much? This is one of the body’s defense mechanism, since it is during sleep that we strengthen immunity to both prevent and fight infections that we already have. Paradoxically, those who sleep little are more likely to get the flu.

Reaction to medications – Muscle relaxants, anti-allergies, anti-emetics, and anti-vertigo are some of the medications that can temporarily impair your sleep and cause longer nights.

Primary causes of excessive sleep

Sometimes, however, sleeping too much is the root of the problem and not the reaction to some other factor. It’s called primary hypersomnia.

Hypersomnias are different sleep disorders in which a person sleeps more than is considered adequate and can feel very sleepy during the day, which can cause damage to their routine.

Primary hypersomnias are: 

Kleine-Levin syndrome, a neuropsychiatric disorder that primarily affects young men and is characterized by hyper drowsiness, megaphagia, and behavioral changes. People with Kleine-Levin, which is popularly known as ‘Sleeping Beauty Syndrome’, can sleep 16 to 22 hours for up to 14 days in a row. Episodes can happen several times a year but tend to decrease and even disappear over time. 

Narcolepsy, a chronic neurological disease that appears when the patient is awake, unlike other sleep disorders. Its main characteristic is a very strong drowsiness during the day which, in some cases, causes the person to fall asleep in everyday and sometimes potentially dangerous situations.

Idiopathic hypersomnia, a chronic neurological disorder marked by a constant need for sleep that is not solved by a good night’s sleep. Even sleeping well and taking naps, the person does not feel refreshed.

In all three cases, the diagnosis must be made by a specialist sleep doctor.

Consequences of sleeping too much

Whether due to primary or secondary hypersomnias, sleeping too much can harm health and routine, starting with the ‘lost’ hours. 

From a cognitive point of view, there are also several consequences: difficulty in attention and concentration; impairments to memory, planning ability and motor coordination; and greater difficulty in controlling impulses, among others.

Sleeping too much can also cause bouts of anxiety and fatigue, which may even seem contradictory – after all, the person is supposed to be ‘well rested’. But it is not the case.

Some of the other potential problems of excessive sleepiness are exactly the same that can appear in those who sleep little, such as headaches, difficulties maintaining weight and eating healthy, higher risk of diabetes and even shorter life expectancy.

This ‘coincidence’ is further evidence that sleep is not just about duration, but also about quality and regularity to the same extent.

So, if sleeping a lot is a recurrence in your routine, talk to your doctor or look for a sleep specialist. Your whole life will thank you.

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