Extra Sleep Isn’t Always A Good Thing. Here’s Why

Too much sleep.

You know too many nights of too little sleep can seriously impair your physical, mental, and emotional health—cue the I’m-sorry-for-what-I-said-before-I-had-my-coffee memes—but research now shows that getting too much shuteye may be just as bad.

A 2015 review of studies found that people who sleep fewer than seven hours a night or more than eight have a significantly increased risk of developing type-2 diabetes. Short and long sleepers also tend to gain more weight than moderate sleepers, according to another study. And then there are the brain effects of prolonged sleep—things like memory impairment in older adults and an increased risk of developing dementia.

“There are several theories regarding increased sleep and its association with obesity and diabetes,” says family medicine doctor, Natasha Bhuyan, MD from Phoenix, AZ. “One theory is that people with sleep apnea have an increased need to sleep longer, and they are also at risk for obesity and diabetes. Another theory is that the long sleep itself is just a symptom of underlying issues, like depression. Certainly, it doesn’t seem that longer sleep duration is the cause of these health hazards; rather, there is some association that needs to be studied further.”

It’s crazy to think you should put a cap on something that’s so good for you, but that’s exactly what some experts recommend. Unfortunately, figuring out whether you’re getting too much sleep—and what to do about it—isn’t cut and dry. Below, advice from leading health experts you won’t want to sleep on.

Are You Getting Too Much Sleep?

As you might expect, sleep patterns (like so many other aspects of health from nutrition to exercise) vary from person to person. And while agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) often cite seven to nine hours a night as the recommended sleep duration for adults, many experts argue that the definitions of “too much” and “too little” sleep are murky.

“The number often floated around is eight hours because it’s the average, but that’s not a set number for everyone,” says Fitbit sleep advisor Allison Siebern, PhD, consulting assistant professor at The Stanford Center for Sleep Sciences and Medicine and director of Sleep Health Integrative Program at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Fayetteville, NC. “There’s no definition of too much.”

“The number of hours of sleep you need per night mostly depends on your age and your own body,” says Bhuyan. The younger a person is, the more sleep they require—that’s because sleep directly impacts mental and physical development. Counting naps and nighttime snoozing, newborns typically need to sleep between 14 to 17 hours a day, toddlers need about 11 to 14 hours, preschoolers require 10-13 hours, school age children need 9 to 11 hours, and teenagers require between 8 and 10.

To figure out if you’re getting too much sleep, first you have to know how much you’re currently getting. When worn to bed, all wrist-based Fitbit devices can automatically detect any sleep session at least one hour in duration.

To see your sleep stats, including hours slept, just tap the sleep tile on your Fitbit app dashboard. If you’re using an iOS or Android smartphone, you can then tap the expander icon at the top right of the graph to see average time asleep across various time periods (time asleep is calculated by subtracting your time awake or restless from the overall tracked time. For example, if you slept 8 hours, but woke up twice for 15 minutes each, the time asleep will show 7.5 hours).

There are a few different ways this info may be helpful. “If someone is making changes or making correlations with health factors, looking week by week can be beneficial,” says Siebern. “If someone is noting a change in their sleep (i.e. needing more over time), looking at longer trends can be helpful.”

Once you know what your average time asleep is, start paying attention to how you feel each day. By connecting how much you’ve slept with how you feel, you can start to figure out whether the amount of sleep you’re getting each night is actually the right amount for you.

“If you consistently sleep nine hours and you wake up feeling sluggish and you’re not able to complete both mental and physical tasks without issues throughout the day, then nine hours of sleep might be too much for you,” says Bhuyan. “You could also have an underlying medical condition that needs to be explored, so it’s worth seeing your primary care provider.”

Why Your Body May Be Craving More Sleep

If you know you feel great with seven hours of sleep a night but notice your daily tally is starting to creep upwards, you’d be smart to investigate.

“It’s hard for the body to surpass a sleep hour unless there’s a reason,” says Siebern. “Let’s say someone who is hardwired as a seven-hour sleeper tries to sleep eight to nine hours—they’ll lie in bed and it will not be a nice experience.”

There are a few possible causes, including a busy lifestyle. “Adults may become a little restricted with sleep during the work week due to life responsibilities,” says Siebern. “And on the weekends they may tend to sleep longer than what’s average to make up some of the sleep debt.”

Unfortunately, you can’t really make up for lost sleep by sleeping in one day. If you think you’re in sleep debt, here’s how to balance your bedtime budget. If you do that and still feel overly sleepy, consider whether medicine might be a factor. According to research, one common reason people oversleep is prescription sleep medication which a CDC study says about 4% of U.S. adults aged 20 and over reported taking in the past 30 days. One study found that people using insomnia medication regularly experienced residual effects like drowsiness and impaired memory that interfered with work, home life, and social relationships.

The effects can also be much more serious. “Emerging research shows that sleeping pills are dangerous and linked to increased mortality,” says Bhuyan. “So if you suffer from insomnia, you’re better off finding natural ways to fall asleep (and sleeping a shorter amount) than taking a prescription sleeping medication.”

If sleep medication isn’t the issue, talk to your doctor about the potential of an underlying health condition or whether a prescription medicine you’re currently taking for that condition may be contributing to your fatigue. Many medical conditions are known to cause sleep changes, including:

  • Depression and anxiety
  • Sleep apnea
  • Infections
  • Asthma
  • Gastrointestinal disorders, and more

“People with depression often have a hard time waking up in the morning,” says Bhuyan. “People with sleep apnea will wake up [feeling] unrefreshed, snore at night, or sometimes, have episodes where their sleep partner thinks they stopped breathing at night. These conditions can be subtle, so it’s important to see a primary care provider so they can pick up on any small clues.”

If you’re concerned about your sleep stats or the quality of your rest, make an appointment with your doctor to investigate the issue. “It’s important to see your primary care provider for a general health exam so you can discuss your sleeping habits,” says Bhuyan.

And if your doctor rules out any potential medical condition affecting your sleep, then it’s time to do a serious self-assessment on your nightly patterns so you can start to make improvements. Fitbit sleep tools, like bedtime reminders and silent alarms, can help you establish and maintain a consistent sleep schedule.

16 Comments   Join the Conversation

16 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Too much sleep is created a very big problem. I always try to help women to solve their all daily life problem. In this time most of the person goes to the bed very late. That is not good for everyone. In this situation, they face some different type of a problem to their body. Have you any solution to solve women waistline problem? That is very urgent to solve.

  • I have found that my bedtime have been creeping later and later as I watch TV I have successfully been using the Fitbit bedtime reminder To start bedtime routine to get to sleep earlier

  • I agree that sleep too much is not good, we should find the proper time for sleeping. I used to have short vacation and I decided enjoy it at home, every day I sleep 8 hours at night, some naps if I feel sleepy. After that I get slow and tired. Fibit is a great equipment to help you sleep better.

  • I seldom sleep longer than 7 hours (according to the fitbit). I do not set an alarm. I am in bed 7 to 8 hours, but fitbit thinks I am too restless and takes 1 to 1 1/2 hours away every night, even though I think I slept well. Can I change the 8 hour goal to a 7 hour goal?.

  • I would very much like to know how the “time awake” on my Fitbit app fits in with the standard recommendation of “seven to nine hours” a night. It seems to me that the recommendation is general, and probably doesn’t take into account that time awake figure. If that’s not true, then it feels like science is moving the goal posts on me — I’m in bed for 7-1/2 hours, but only getting 6:45 of sleep, so now I’ve got to carve out even more time.

  • Thank you for posting this article. I have been aware that I have a sleep debt for some time now, and I am not managing this very well. I know sleep is important. Your article is definitely food for thought.

  • Surprised no-one’s yet mentioned REM – or did I miss it? Some define long sleepers as having REM sleep for the majority of their ‘long’ sleep. REM can be said to have all sorts of problems. There was a load of research on this when I was in college in the 60s-70s but not a lot since I gather.

  • No one’s mentioned REM sleep. This is arguably forming the majority of the extra sleep of ‘long’ sleepers. Used to be a ton of research on this dating from the 60s and 70s but not a lot since it seems.

  • Hello, I sleep too much everyday. If i was to stay in bed all day i could. But i miss the sun, when i get up at 5pm. I get up have a hot chocolate or tea then back to bed, as im so drowsy. My head hurts and im so fatigued. My husband has MS and he is away atm. So i can have respite. But im sleeping more and more each day. I have a fitbit, that showed that i was up 40 times a night. I snore, but im not worried about sleep apneoa, as much as im worried about depression and fatigue. Pls help me.

    • It sounds like you need to see a mental health professional, like a psychiatrist, clinical psychologist and possibly a therapist. They may be able to help diagnose any depression that you are suffering from and any other conditions that are contributing to your oversleeping. Your primary care physician can address the sleep apnea, which sounds like an issue as well. Please reach out for help. There are resources available for you to get better. Stay strong.

  • As someone who is overweight, suffers from sleep apnea and rheumatoid arthritis I can say that Fitbit does help (but my natural sleep cycle does not fit in with a standard working day). It appears that my ideal sleep pattern is about 8 hours but normally I have just under 7 with occasional bouts of sleeping 10-14 hours in order to function. The worst is waking unrestored in the morning; something I lived with unknowingly for years until my sleep apnea was treated. When sleep deprived I crave sugary foods and drinks and eat more.

  • Thank you for an interesting article on sleeping. I was an 8 hour person, all my adult life. BUT then from peri menopause to now full menopausal symptoms, some nights I only get 3 or four hours sleep. This silent part of the menopause is rarely discussed. As your article proves.

  • One reason my partner brought me a fitbit was after I read the fascinating book ” why we sleep” by Matthew Walker… Brilliantly written with huge amounts of compelling research in it… So I now due aim for my 8 hours per night… But lots of insights into teenage sleep patterns explained and so do let them have their lies in… Its essential for their memories and educational achievements and social functioning!!

  • I am 84 normally very active.i am type 2 diabetic,but well controlled with metformin
    Every night I go to bed at 1030 and read for 30mins
    I then sleep for 10hours,wake up have breakfast and could easily go back to bed and sleep two hours.
    I feel lethargic
    I have all the blood tests but they seem ok
    My doctor is baffled
    What do you suggest

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