The puzzle over too much sleep


While most, or at least many, of my friends are making resolutions to get enough sleep in 2014, I’m doing okay on that front. I regularly sleep 7-8 hours a night. See Zzzz, Sleep and Fitness and Sleep is a feminist issue for past musings on sleep.

Sometimes I joke that my ability to fall asleep is my super power. I can fall asleep just about anywhere, anytime, and for any amount of time.

I once shared a hotel room with another feminist philosopher and after brushing my teeth, putting on pyjamas, and turning off the light I said “night, night.”

She said, “that’s it?”

Turned out she needed to do lots more in order fall asleep. Relaxation exercises, television, stretching, and lots more. Luckily none of it kept me awake. Truth be told, other than crying babies, not very much can.

It’s a bit of a family trait. In times of stress or difficulty, I sleep more, not less. But I can’t top my brother who had the funny habit of falling sleep in the dentist’s chair.

Last week friends were busy sharing this story, How Sleep Deprivation Decays the Mind and Body, but I wondered about the other end of the spectrum.

The Atlantic piece on sleep deprivation quotes a researcher on sleep.

“Definitely, we know that sleep deprivation leads to depression, high blood pressure, weight gain, heart disease, and probably mortality,” he said. People that regularly sleep those seven and a quarter hours have been shown to live longer than those who routinely sleep less or more. He added that lack of sleep disrupts other systems in the body.”

I get the “too little” sleep bit but the “too much” part of the story fascinates me. Presumably people who sleep more aren’t making themselves sleep more. They’re doing it because it feels good. And alarm clocks are bad, right? It’s a puzzle.

Sometimes I worry that I sleep too much, a problem I don’t even dare mention among my overworked and insomniac colleagues, especially those with small children. I’ve read a few times that sleeping too much can be just as bad as sleeping too little. But I’m an intuitive sleeper and if my body wants to sleep more, that can’t be bad, can it? Surely, that’s just a sign I need more sleep.

On Huffington Post Dr. Michael Breus takes on my question, asking Can You Really Sleep Too Much? Really?

“A number of studies also show that sleeping too much increases the risk of diabetes and metabolic disorders, including metabolic syndrome. Some research suggests that long sleep poses similar levels of increased risk as short sleep, while other studies indicate the diabetes risk to long sleepers is even greater. Cardiovascular problems, including high blood pressure and heart disease, are also linked to both insufficient sleep and prolonged sleep. An investigation that included data from the Nurses’ Health Study on more than 71,000 women showed that long sleep duration was associated with increased risk of coronary heart disease. Research shows that abnormal sleep duration — long or short — may nearly double the risk of some cardiovascular disease.”

Of course this is just correlation, not causation, and it might be that unhealthy people need more sleep, rather than that excess sleep causes ill health. Still, it worries me.

The most alarming of the “too much sleep will kill you” stories I’ve seen is from BBC Health in 2002, Too much sleep ‘is bad for you’

Eight hours’ sleep a night has long been touted as the ideal length of time to spend under the duvet but new research suggests it could shorten your life.A study that included more than a million participants found people who sleep eight hours or more died younger.

Those who only managed four or less hours in the land of nod were similarly affected but six or seven hours a night was found to be conducive to a longer life. The research, carried out by scientists at the University of California, showed a clear association between long duration sleep and high mortality rates. The report’s author Dr Daniel Kripke, a professor of psychiatry, said: “We don’t know if long sleep periods lead to death. “Additional studies are needed to determine if setting your alarm clock earlier will actually improve your health. “Individuals who now average six-and-a-half hours of sleep a night can be reassured this is a safe amount of sleep.

I’m puzzled.

Off to bed now for my 7 hours!

See also

9 thoughts on “The puzzle over too much sleep

  1. I regularly sleep 8 hours and often more, I put it down to being tired from training, but I have always slept a lot. I love an early night! I also read the information about too much sleep being bad, but it feels like my body needs it so I just go along with what feels right.

  2. Oh dear! I’ve always heard 10 hours being the number that’s “too much”, and thought I was completely safe with my 8-9. But I guess when they call 6-7 hours the ideal zone, they aren’t taking into account active lifestyles that need extra sleep for recovery, right?

  3. I’ve heard that is ideal for bodybuilders in serious mass building phases of their training to get 10 hours of sleep every night. They need it to heal, apparently.

  4. I get about 7-7.5 h of sleep a day; 7 during the week and about 7.5 on the weekend. If I stay in bed longer then that, I start to get very vivid and disturbing dreams and I wake up groggy and irritable. That just means my brain’s awake and ready to go, and there’s no need for any more sleep. What also matters is the quality of the length of sleep. I fall asleep quickly, and stay asleep until the radio goes off (winter) or it gets light outside (summer). I think the need for a certain amount of sleep varies from person to person, and also varies with age.

  5. Thanks for sharing Sam. There’s no proof to suggest sleeping too much is actually bad for you. I’d worry more about not getting enough sleep as there are proven studies to suggest a range of health problems through lack of sleep. As long as you get your 7 – 8 hours a night you’re on track to leading a healthy life.

  6. “Of course this is just correlation, not causation, and it might be that unhealthy people need more sleep, rather than that excess sleep causes ill health.”

    This! I’m looking at this post from the perspective of someone who used to sleep an awful lot before my sleep apnea was diagnosed and treated. So of course the first thing that comes to mind is that these studies may include people with undiagnosed sleep disorders who are getting poor quality, unrefreshing sleep, leading to both longer sleep duration and higher health risks.

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