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


Why hello rest day! I think I love you


Transitions are hard. Both Tracy and I have blogged about moving from summer mode to the start of a new university year.  (See my Switching gears at the start of the school year and Tracy’s Routines.)

For both of us it’s the end of our research leaves too.

We’re back in the classroom. (Hi, Western students who’ve found our blog!)

I don’t know about Tracy but me, I’m extra tired. My household contains one very serious high school athlete whose alarm goes off during the school year at 5 am for practice of one sort or another. We’re the morning people in our house. Also, we’re the people yelling “Turn down the music it’s  9:30 pm, I’m trying to sleep. But other family members like their late nights and sometimes it seems sleep is lost at both ends of the day.

There is a much earlier start to my days usually during the school term. Partly too it’s saying goodbye to midafternoon naps (perfect when you’re up early running/biking/Crossfitting etc and rowing or doing Aikido in the evening.)

I love this infographic How to Nap and my favourite nap is the caffeine nap. Basically drink coffee, nap before it takes effect, sleep for 20 min and wake up extra bright eyed and busy tailed. The coffee nap is perfect for when lots more work beckons.

I haven’t yet worked out how office napping might go. I’ve got a comfy chair so perhaps I should just bring in a blanket.

More than ever I need my rest day. Saturday I did the Gran Fondo, rowing practice Sunday morning, Crossfit Monday, rowing practice Tuesday, Crossfit and Aikido on Wednesday. Thursday was more rowing practice  and then today NOTHING. Thank God. I do find that recovery time matters more as I get older and that time between efforts matters a lot. I’m going to blog about the science of recovery and my experiences later, I think.

One advantage of my new Friday rest day is that there’s no teaching either! Yes, yes, lots of work to do. Grant application due, chapters to finish, drafts to write, papers to read, letters of recommendation to write. But no exercise until biking with friends (hi Tracy!) and Aikido on Saturday.

Past posts:l-Sleeping-sloths

In praise of rest days

Hello again rest day. It’s been awhile. I’ve missed you.

Aikido · diets · martial arts · Rowing · running · team sports

In praise of rest days

Fridays are my new rest days and I’m liking it. I’m a bit of a weekend warrior (running, cycling, rowing, soccer, AikIdo!) and it’s nice to start out Saturday fresh. Traditionally I’ve rested on Mondays–post weekend–but now I’m doing Crossfit that doesn’t quite work with my schedule.

I’m looking forward to a weekend of active fun. I’m doing test review in Aikido and I enjoy the intensity and focus of that process. My indoor soccer team plays our 3rd game Sunday afternoon and so far we’ve lost one and won one and I’d like to kick the stats back into our favour.

I’m especially happy today that it’s a rest day because I did a bit more than I bargained for on Thursday. Crossfit included rowing and then rowing practice included weights. Too many deadlifts!

It’s also a sleepy, grey rainy day with snow in the forecast.

What does this mean for me? First, I get to sleep a bit later (though not this morning, spouse’s early morning train to Toronto alarm woke me up, followed by a phone call from teenager at basketball practice who’d forgotten a much needed item.) Second, I try to eat very well on recovery days, lots of protein and colourful veggies. And third, I do keep moving but just regular stuff like walking the dog, housework, stretching etc.

In the spirit of feeling good about rest and recovery days, I thought I’d read some other women fitness bloggers on the practice of rest days:

Sit yo ass down! The importance of rest  by Krista Scott Dixon at Stumptuous

What does rest day mean to you? by fitknitchick

Focus on rest days by Fitnessista

How To: Incorporate Rest into Your Fitness Routine by Fitblogger

Enjoy your Friday! I will. Back on the mats at Aikido tomorrow morning.