Caution: Too Much Sleep Could Make You ‘Drunk’

If you’re getting too much sleep, you could be at risk for a condition called sleep drunkenness.

With our action-packed lives, nearly a third of Americans struggle with getting too little sleep. But there’s evidence suggesting that too much sleep may actually be just as problematic as too little sleep!

So how much is too much sleep?

Medical experts typically recommend seven to nine hours of shut-eye per night for adults, and even more for kids and teens. (Yikes, no wonder first period in high school was always so tough.) But everyone needs a different amount of sleep, and research suggests our sleep habits are influenced by environmental factors (like exposure to light) and genetic traits. Not getting enough sleep on a regular basis can contribute to a condition known as “sleep drunkenness,” which causes you to feel groggy and disoriented. We weren’t dreaming when we felt more tired after snoozing longer than usual — sleep drunkenness can happen when we get too little sleep or too much sleep. In both cases, sleeping more or less than usual can upset the body’s circadian rhythms, which regulate sleep cycles.

Getting too much sleep may be about more than just running to make the train or bus in the morning. Like sleeping too little, oversleeping has been linked to some serious health problems. Research suggests sleeping more than eight or less than seven hours per night is associated with an increased risk of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. Those who sleep less than five or more than six hours per night also show an increased risk of mortality. And one study found people who slept for more than nine or less than seven hours per night were about twice as likely to develop dementia as those who typically slept for seven hours.

Wake Up, Sleeping Beauty

Pulling a Sleeping Beauty is often a sign of a medical condition called “hypersomnia,” or excessive sleepiness. Hypersomnia can result from a range of factors, from central nervous system injuries to common over-the-counter medications. In certain cases, alcohol abuse can alter sleep cycles because booze prevents chemical interactions that take place during deeper stages of sleep.

Oversleeping can also be part of the cycle of depression, according to CBS News; people sleep more than usual because they feel depressed and continue to feel blue because they spend so much time sleeping. Whether we have someone to snuggle with influences how much we sleep, too; single people may be more likely to sleep in (longer than 8.5 hours) than their pals in relationships. But getting the right amount of sleep may not be as simple as setting an alarm clock.

Let Me Sleep On It — The Answer/Debate

Unfortunately, it’s not so easy to figure out the ideal amount of sleep for everyone. To find the right amount of rest, it might be necessary to experiment. Lame as it may seem, start setting an earlier bedtime than usual until it’s possible to wake up without an alarm clock. (It’s probably best to start these tests on a “sleep vacation” or a weekend to avoid missing the morning office meeting.) Once you start sleeping about the same amount every night, you’ve figured out how much rest you need on a regular basis. It may also be worth keeping a sleep diary with sleeping hours, daily alertness, and other stats like coffee breaks and workouts (e.g., drinking three late-afternoon frappuccinos might be important to note).

Keep in mind that not sleeping enough can have some scary consequences, too: Going 24 hours without any sleep can impair functioning just as much as a blood alcohol level of 0.1 percent! Sleep debt can also mask an individual’s basic sleep needs — so if it’s been busy season with all-nighters, wait until you’ve had a week or two of normal sleeping before trying to note any patterns. Until sleep debt is paid back, it’s fine to sleep longer than usual; one study found that just one 10-hour sleep session significantly improved cognitive function following five nights of sleep deprivation.

If it’s still tough to wake up in the morning despite consistently getting at least seven hours of sleep a night, it may be wise to see a doctor. Sleeping too much (or too little) can have serious consequences for health and well-being and can also be symptomatic of other medical issues. Figure out the cause of the change in your sleep habits, and then start counting those sheep.

By Laura Skladzinski