Too Much of a Good Thing: The Risks of Oversleeping

by Wellness Editor – MH

This author isn’t a betting man, but I’d be willing to wager that the readers of this article have heard about the importance of sleep. In fact, most people are probably aware of the oft-repeated eight-hour guideline for nightly slumber. You probably also know that many people fail to meet this requirement, and that a lack of sleep can pose serious health consequences for the body.

What you might not be aware of are the dangers associated with getting much sleep. If you’ve ever slept for an unusually long period of time – say, 11 hours – you might have felt groggy and lethargic upon waking up, despite getting an abundance of sleep. Far from being inconsequential, these feelings are indicative of the ill-effects of oversleeping.

A Serious Problem

Getting too much sleep might sound like a rather trivial problem, especially when compared to the looming presence of mass killers like cancer and heart disease. Aside from feelings of sleepiness, it would appear that excessive sleep does relatively minor damage to the body. While such a viewpoint is understandable, it gravely underestimates the impact of such irregular sleeping patterns.

If you’re not convinced about the risks of oversleeping, then take a look at the findings of a 2007 Finnish study. According to this report, oversleeping on a regular basis increased the mortality rate of test subjects by a staggering 20 percent. These Finnish researchers aren’t the only experts sounding the alarm about the dangers of excessive sleep. A 2010 British study found that participants who began sleeping more than 7 hours each night increased their odds of succumbing to cardiovascular disease by 100 percent. Other studies have linked oversleeping to everything from diabetes to back pain to obesity and depression. Talk about a rude awakening!

Why Excessive Sleep Hurts the Body

It might seem puzzling that getting too much sleep can be so harmful to your health. After all, isn’t sleep a good thing? How could getting an extra hour or two of shuteye be so bad for you?

The reason for this surprising correlation has to do with the quality of sleep your body regularly receives. The process of sleep consists of five distinct stages, which repeat over and over again in a 90 minute cycle. The initial stage we enter when falling asleep is called, appropriately enough, stage one. This beginning stage doubles as the lightest stage in the sleeping cycle; if you are by chance awakened during this stage, you might not even realize you had fallen asleep.

On the other end of the spectrum are stages three and four, which are also referred to as the “delta” or “deep” stages in the sleep cycle. As you might expect, it requires much more effort to waken someone during these latter stages, and one will typically feel very groggy after being aroused during this part of the sleeping process. The fifth and final part of the cycle is known as the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) stage, in which our eyes flicker rapidly. During the REM stage, we often experience dreams.

An adequate amount of deep sleep is an essential ingredient for a healthy life. While we slumber through our sleep cycle’s “delta” stages, a number of important bodily functions occur; our skin produces certain minerals, our kidneys purge toxins from our bloodstream, our organs detoxify themselves while our bones undergo a slow replacement process. As you can imagine, insufficient deep sleep can disrupt all of these processes, eventually leading to problematic health conditions.

Oversleeping often leads to a “quantity over quality” sort of problem. During an overlong sleeping period, the bulk of the sleep a person actually receives comes in the form of “lighter” sleep. In other words, the body will tend to fluctuate between the first two stages of the sleep cycle. Consequentially, a person who sleeps for longer than nine hours will spend only a small amount in the all-important third and fourth sleep stages.

Getting Your Body Back on Track

Countless numbers of people have developed poor sleeping patterns, leaving them ill-prepared for life’s daily challenges. Like all bad habits, fixing a warped sleeping schedule can be challenging task. If you find yourself unable to fall asleep at night, only to struggle through the following workday, the following tips should prove to be especially useful.

Don’t Try to Make Up for Lost Time – A common mistake made by workers of all stripes is to compensate for a lack of sleep during the week with extra sleep on the weekends. By sleeping in on Saturday and Sunday, the theory goes, a person is able to finally receive all of the badly-needed sleep they missed during the week.  Of course, this strategy only serves to compound one problem with another, and leaves people sluggish during each day of the week.

Pick A Sleeping Schedule, and Stick to It – Another hallmark of a poor sleeping pattern are bedtimes and wake-up times that keep changing. To get the most out of sleep, it is crucial to go to bed and wake up at the same times every day. By forcing yourself to stick to a sensible sleeping routine, you can also strengthen your “circadian clock,” the brain’s internal mechanism that controls the sleep-wake cycle.

Develop a Pre-Bedtime Ritual – If you’re not used to going to bed at a reasonable time, it might be a good idea to implement some sort of ritual before hitting the hay. For example, you might consider taking a soothing bath or doing some light reading before turning out the lights. Please note that some activities, like watching TV or surfing the internet, might actually be counterproductive.

Avoid Long Daytime Naps – It can be tempting to take naps during the day, especially if you didn’t get enough sleep the night before. Unfortunately, naps that exceed 30 minutes can make it more difficult to fall asleep at a reasonable nighttime hour. Napping from 6PM to 7PM, for instance, could very well lead to restless tossing-and-turning a few hours later.

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