Sleeping late may seem harmless, but it could be an indicator of health problems, from depression to heart troubles
Many of us look forward to the weekend when we can keep the alarm clock turned off and sleep in – at least for a little bit. But what happens when that extra half hour turns into an hour or more? Sleeping late can cross the line into oversleeping territory and become a red flag indicating underlying health issues.
What’s the big deal with oversleeping?
Most adults need somewhere between 6 to 8 hours of sleep. When it stretches beyond that range with any kind of regularity, experts say it’s time to take action.
“Oversleeping can be a sign for compensation among individuals who are in sleep debt or do not get sleep during the week; however, this is not healthy,” says Dr. Jagdish Khubchandani, professor of public health at New Mexico State University. “Beyond that, sleeping too much to the extent that it makes someone socially dysfunctional, disrupts routine and causes avoidance of routine activities, could be a serious underlying issue. Just like sleep deprivation, oversleeping is associated with heart disease, obesity and chronic diseases, and mental health issues.”
Dr. Khubchandani researched sleep deprivation for a 2019 study and he found that the number among working Americans has been steadily increasing since the 1980s. While he isn’t entirely sure why that is the case, he suspects stress is playing a significant role. Some people are over-sleeping in an effort to catch up on lost sleep.
Too much snooze time may be linked to depression and anxiety, chronic fatigue and pain disorders, diabetes or hypothyroidism, and sleep disorders such as sleep apnea and narcolepsy. “Oversleeping is also a common issue and does not get enough attention,” he says. “Family members or household members can notice it in an individual if the person does not acknowledge the problem and ask for professional help.”
What constitutes oversleeping?
Psychologist and sleep expert Dr. Jenne Gress-Smith says that sleeping more than 9 hours and still not feeling refreshed is a strong indication of health problems. If that oversleeping is a regular occurrence, studies says show that there is an increased risk of mortality (as much as 30%). “Sleeping too much, or hypersomnolence, can also be a standalone sleeping disorder that has a significant impact on one’s functioning and quality of life,” she explains. She emphasizes that it’s important to see a medical provider to rule out any other health issues.
There are some medication options available that could help.
Behavioral changes such as a consistent sleep wake schedule and regular daytime activity may also be helpful. People who have the above mentioned medical conditions may be more likely to have excessive nighttime sleep and daytime fatigue. “In general, our sleep needs decrease as we age, so we would not necessarily expect older individuals to get more total sleep and should also seek medical attention of significant changes in sleeping are noted.”
Which age group tends to oversleep?
Anyone can oversleep from time to time, but health experts can identify patterns.
Newborns and young children up to 5 years of age can oversleep without affecting their health – at this age, it helps them stay healthy. School-age kids ranging from 6-12 can also safely sleep for more than 10 hours. Teenagers, adults and older adults should avoid sleeping for more than 7-9 hours.
Generally, adults need to sleep less as they age, starting around the age of 30. Those aged 65 and older continue to require about the same amount of sleep, but their need for REM sleep decreases.
10 tactics to avoid oversleeping
Ruling out any underlying health conditions causing oversleeping, there are a few healthy habits worth embracing to help regulate your sleep. Martin Reed, a certified clinical sleep health educator (CCSH) and the founder of Insomnia Coach, suggests the following:
- Set an alarm. And put the clock on the other side of the room so you have to get out of bed to switch it off.
- Make plans. A phone call, meeting or appointment early in the day will force you out of bed by the end of your sleep window.
- Put your feet on the floor. As soon as your alarm goes off, pivot your feet to be on the floor while the rest of your body remains lying in bed. This is an uncomfortable position that might make it easier for you to get motivated and out of bed.
Alex Savy, a certified sleep science coach and founder of SleepingOcean.com, says that oversleeping can be just as bad as sleep deprivation. His recommendations to sleeping too much include:
- Go to bed and wake at the same time every day. Even on weekends. This will help re-establish a healthy, natural sleep routine. Avoid staying up late and oversleeping on weekends.
- Get as much daylight as possible in the first half of the day. Take a walk in the morning. If that’s not possible, try to spend more time near windows (even if the day is gloomy).
- Dim the lights in the evening. It sends signals to the brain that it’s time to sleep, potentially helping you fall asleep earlier and wake up earlier the next day.
- Create a relaxing bedtime routine. To help wind down before sleep, enjoy improved sleep quality and wake up easier. It should be something enjoyable, preferably not involving screens, like listening to soothing music, journaling, gentle stretching and meditating.
Some additional tips to consider…
- Change up your alarm. Over time you may get used to the sound of your alarm and may develop the ability to tune it out. Switch to something new in hopes you’ll pay attention to it.
- Get the coffee brewing. If you’re a morning joe drinker, use a coffee maker with a programmable timer. The aroma drifting into your bedroom will help coax you out of bed.
- Enlist back-up. Have your roommate or significant other give you an in-person wake-up call. Or ask a friend or family member who is on the same wake schedule as you to text or call in the morning to get you moving.
Rest well & wake up ready to go!
Better sleep gives rise to better mornings, bringing your goals into focus and dreams within reach. Hungry for more sleep info? Dig into these posts:
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- Heart health and how you can live longer