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What is Hypersomnia? How Sleeping Too Much Affects Our Health

We often hear about the dangers of not getting enough sleep — and with our busy lifestyles and a trend for multitasking that shows no sign of slowing down, undersleeping is a very real threat to just about everyone. But what about sleeping too much? Is that even a thing that happens? And how does sleeping too much affect our day-to-day living?

It turns out, chronic oversleeping — also known as hypersomnia — is just as serious a problem that can have a real impact on our health. Not only can sleeping too much put us at a higher risk of several health complications, it can also be an indicator of a more serious underlying problem. Let’s explore what exactly hypersomnia is, how it affects our bodies, and what we can do about it.

What is hypersomnia?

Hypersomnia happens when we sleep too much without feeling rested. There are two types: primary hypersomnia and secondary hypersomnia.

Primary hypersomnia is when it occurs independently, without being linked to any other medical conditions; it shows up all by itself. Secondary hypersomnia is when you’re sleeping too much because of another condition such as sleep apnea, depression, or a neurological disease like Parkinson’s. Sometimes we might feel like we’re sleeping too much but we don’t know the exact cause. In this case it could be either primary or secondary.

People with hypersomnia can sleep for more than ten hours a night without ever feeling like they’ve really gotten a full night’s sleep. You might start feeling tired without warning as you’re going about your day, working, or driving.

What causes us to sleep too much?

Excessive sleeping can come from a number of different causes. Here are some of the things that might cause us to oversleep.

Neurological disorders

Certain neurological disorders are linked to excessive sleeping, such as Parkinson’s disease. Others have a direct impact on our sleep. Idiopathic Hypersomnia is when a person needs to sleep for at least ten hours each day; this is believed to come from abnormalities or damages to the brain. Narcolepsy is another neurological disorder that affects a person’s ability to control their sleep cycle.

Sleep disorders

While hypersomnia, or excessive oversleeping, is considered a type of sleep disorder, other sleep disorders can also lead to sleeping too much. Sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, and REM behavior disorder all inhibit your body’s ability to properly recharge while you sleep. This can lead to needing to sleep too long and still feeling exhausted during the day.

Sleep-inhibiting substances

Certain substances can cause the same problems in our bodies, making it difficult to get a proper night’s sleep. These are things like alcohol, caffeine, cigarettes, and certain medications. They make it harder to fall asleep at night, and when you do finally sleep, your body won’t get as much benefit from it. This causes your body to try and catch up by getting more sleep during the day.

Environmental disturbances

Like sleep-inhibiting substances, living in an area or with a lifestyle that doesn’t allow for a deep, healthy sleep can also make you oversleep later. This might be things like noisy neighbors, a partner who snores through the night, or busy traffic nearby. Even if you manage to sleep through these problems, your body might move from a deep sleep into a lighter sleep and you won’t get the same health benefits. Then you’ll sleep later and feel more tired during the day.

Poor mental health

Mental illnesses like depression and seasonal affective disorder, as well as acute stress and anxiety, can cause your body to oversleep. When we’re struggling in our waking life, we often want to “hide away” in our sleep and spend less time awake. While this can feel like a temporary solution, even subconsciously, sleeping too much can cause even more health problems down the line.

How does sleeping too much affect our health?

Much like sleeping too little, excessive sleeping can have a serious impact on both our bodies and our minds. Here are a few of the ways we might be affected by hypersomnia.

Increased risk of diabetes

Oversleeping has been shown to increase your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. This is because it breaks down our insulin resistance and our ability to process sugars in the body.  Another study proved that our bodies process sugar most efficiently within a narrow window of sleep. When we don’t sleep enough or sleep too much, this ability becomes inhibited.

Weight gain

There’s a proven correlation between hypersomnia and a higher body mass index. Additionally, hypersomnia often makes you feel exhausted during the day, which can have a negative impact on your diet and your physical activity. If you’re oversleeping and have low energy levels during the day, you might not be able to prepare healthy meals and get proper exercise, which can lead to unhealthy weight gain.

Increased risk of heart disease

Getting the right amount of sleep for your body is essential to your heart health. Studies have shown that excessive amounts of sleep can contribute to fatal cardiovascular disease; in addition, other effects of hypersomnia such as poor diet and weight gain also contribute to risk of heart disease.

Impaired fertility

Research has shown a link between irregular sleep patterns and infertility risks in women. This is because our reproductive hormones run on an internal clock, just like our circadian rhythm. When we sleep too much or too little, our body’s ability to manage those reproductive hormones is negatively impacted. Even if fertility isn’t your biggest priority, this shows how interconnected our bodies are and how poor sleep affects us in surprising ways.

Increased depression and anxiety

Although depression and anxiety can be the underlying cause of hypersomnia, excessive sleep habits can also exacerbate mental disorders and illnesses, making them even more difficult to manage. This is likely related to low energy levels and feelings of reduced productivity, as well as poor diet and physical activity.

Impaired cognitive function

Several studies have examined the link between sleep duration and the way our brains perform, and they’ve found that if we sleep too much or too little, our memory and ability to process information become negatively impacted. Over time, this can have a severe degenerative effect on our minds and lead to a higher risk of neurological diseases.

How can we stop sleeping too much and keep a healthy sleep balance?

As you can see, our sleep habits, brains, and bodies have a circular symbiotic relationship. Each one affects and is affected by the others, and we need to take care of ourselves and our sleep habits to function in the best possible way.

Eight hours is considered the gold standard for an adult’s nightly sleep. Some might need a little bit less and some might need a little bit more. If you’re sleeping more than ten hours each night, it’s a good idea to look at your lifestyle and seek a medical practitioner’s opinion if necessary. Keep also in mind that your sleep needs will also change with your age.

If you find that you’re sleeping too much, do your best to maintain a regular sleep schedule each night; this means going to bed at the same time and setting an alarm so that you wake up at the same time every morning. If you still feel exhausted the next day, try energizing your body with healthy snacks instead of a mid-afternoon nap. If you still feel like your body never has enough energy no matter what lifestyle changes you make, check-in with your doctor to make sure it’s not a sign of a deeper underlying condition. Sleep should be a safe place for your body and a time of restoration; by maintaining a regular sleep schedule and a healthy relationship between sleep and your body, you can get the most benefits possible to perform at your very best.

Matt Pulnett
Matt Pulnett is an experienced sleep expert and mattress enthusiast who has been writing about the importance of sleep and the best sleep products for over 10 years. He is a recognized sleep expert and has been featured on many of the top websites and magazines devoted to sleep and mattresses.
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