Part One: What Does It Mean If You’re Sleeping Too Much?

There's plenty of news out there about the risks of not getting enough sleep, but what does sleeping too much mean for your health?

John Scott Lewinskiby John Scott Lewinski

There’s no shortage of news out there that most adults in the western world aren’t getting enough sleep. The experts tell us that humans used to average about nine hours asleep a night earlier in the 20th Century – with that number declining to 7.5 hours these days.

That median suggests there are plenty of men and women not in their beds and getting by on six, five or fewer hours of rest per night — risking damaged immune systems, higher blood pressure and a host of other problems.

All this heavy-lidded worry is a result of the industrial revolution. We used to enjoy segmented sleep — a phenomena from the Middle Ages. Back in the ages of no air conditioning, people would go to bed when the day was hottest, then wake up in the middle of the night to get things done before going back to bed to avoid heat. You’ll find references to first and second sleep in documents of the time. In fact, it’s said Leonardo Da Vinci slept in four hours, four hours off cycles to maximize his mental and physical effectiveness.

This idea of eight straight hours is a result of an industrialized society looking to maximize production in working shifts. The Information Age only made matters worse with 24/7 media and communication changing how our brains are wired. A lot of folks walk around like semi-zombies, consistently failing to rest effectively.

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But, what if you fall on the opposite side of the spectrum and languish in the land of slumber aplenty? Can getting too much sleep do damage to body and mind?

On the most basic and essential level, the answer is no. You can’t sleep yourself to death. Otherwise, we wouldn’t see injury victims emerging successfully from comas. And, you’re not facing muscle atrophy or similar problems unless you’re in some sort of suspended animation on en route to Alpha Centauri or something.

Still, after talking it over with doctors across the country, it’s clear too much sleep can serve as a clear herald of serious health problems. What follows are some clear reasons to keep your eyes open.

Sleep Apnea: According to Dr. Rafael Pelayo, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Stanford Center for Sleep Sciences and Medicine, excessive sleep can threaten wellbeing if that rest is consistently disturbed by Sleep Apnea. This consistent interruption of breathing during sleep can often leave its victim feeling exhausted even after a long rest because he or she struggled so hard to get some air.

“With (Apnea), you might end up sleeping longer every night, but end up feeling tired or ill,” Pelayo says. “The problem can be chronic, and you really to get tested. Long hours of interrupted sleep — what we call poor Sleep Efficiency – is less restorative.”

“The more you sleep, the less you’re breathing. So, that kind of sleep is like cheap gas in a car. It’ll run, but it won’t run well and will eventually break down.”

• Stroke: Doctor Rachel Marie E. Salas is an Associate Professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine’s Neurology/Sleep Department. She pointed to a recent study that suggested a disturbing to so-called “long sleepers” and stroke victims across a wide range of ages.

“The study looked at 9,000 people with an average age of 62. They found that getting more than 8 hours sleep each night was associated with a 46% increased risk of stroke.”

Check back in tomorrow for part two of our look at the dangers of resting that little but too much.