Oversleeping sounds like a #firstworldproblem we struggle with from time to time. When you Google "Why am I sleeping so much?", millions of search results tell you that prolonged sleep duration is often a harbinger of ill health.
Before you let your catastrophizing spiral out of control and believe you're now a victim of a chronic illness, we want to stop you there. That’s because the answer to "Why am I sleeping so much?", if you’re truly sleeping “so much” at all (more on that later), is more often than not a case of misperception.
For starters, many of us aren’t aware of our actual sleep need, which is why undersleeping is so much more prevalent than oversleeping. On top of that between sleep latency (you take some time to fall asleep) and sleep fragmentation (you wake up once or more during the night), time spent in bed does not necessarily equate to time spent asleep, so you may not be getting as much sleep as you think you are. These two factors invariably lead to sleep debt, which then prompts your body to try to outsleep its sleep need to catch up.
Ahead, we look at the real reasons why you think you’re “oversleeping” when you’re most likely not. You’ll also learn how to feel and function at your best (or as close to it as possible) with RISE.
Please note: This post is meant for informational purposes only and should not replace medical advice from a healthcare professional. While the RISE app is designed to support natural sleep and boost sleep hygiene to address symptoms of sleep deprivation, it does not treat medical conditions such as sleep disorders or mental health issues.
While you may think you’re sleeping a lot, there’s a chance you might actually not be sleeping a lot at all. This is for two reasons: You might underestimate how much sleep you biologically require (what scientists refer to as your “sleep need”) and you might overestimate how much time you were asleep.
To determine if you’re actually “oversleeping” or not, here are some questions to ask yourself.
Before you can determine if you’re actually sleeping “so much” or “too much,” you need to know your biological sleep need.
You've probably heard that healthy adults need eight hours of sleep every night. Unfortunately, that's a cookie-cutter generalization that fails to account for the unique nuances of individual sleep need. Just like your eye color and height are genetically determined, so is your sleep need (which may slightly fluctuate over the years).
Research indicates that the majority of us do best on an average sleep need of 8 hours and 10 minutes, give or take. A small percentage of the population — about 13.5% — need to sleep longer than that (roughly nine hours or more), otherwise they risk low energy levels the next day.
So if you think you sleep “so much,” it may be because you’re comparing yourself to others. Perhaps you’re sleeping more than someone else you know, so you think you must be sleeping too much. But in fact, that person may just have a different genetic sleep need than you. (RISE can reveal your unique sleep need — simply tap on the “Profile” icon on the top-right corner of the app.)
In addition, most people are actually undersleeping (it’s an epidemic), so there’s a good chance, statistically speaking, you may be comparing yourself to someone who isn’t actually getting enough sleep despite their own biological need also being higher!
Once you know your sleep need, the next thing you should look into is how much sleep you’re actually getting. You may be overestimating how much sleep you get. For example, even if you’re in bed for nine hours, you may only be sleeping for seven of those hours.
Scientists use sleep efficiency as an objective parameter to measure how much time you spend sleeping while in bed. To understand how sleep efficiency works in real life, picture this:
It's 9 p.m., and you're in bed trying to fall asleep. Unfortunately, your afternoon cup of joe has you spending the next hour or so counting sheep in bed before you finally doze off. Around 3 a.m., you wake up with the sudden urge to pee. Once you're back in bed, it takes you another 30-60 minutes to re-enter dreamland. When your alarm finally rings at 6 a.m., you think to yourself, "Why am I sleeping so much yet still feel tired when I wake up?"
The truth is, you're only getting six or seven hours of sleep. So your sleep efficiency is only around 67%. RISE can help you keep a close watch on how much you’ve actually slept each and every night, using phone motion-based sleep detection.
If you find yourself feeling sleepy and taking a nap in the early afternoon, you might think this is another sign that you’re sleeping too much. But actually, this is a normal, healthy behavior, and your early afternoon nap is happening at a time when you’re biologically primed to sleep (more on this later).
If you’ve learned your sleep need and how much sleep you’re actually getting, and still worry that you’re sleeping too much, the next step is to determine if you’re carrying sleep debt that your body is trying to repay. This is the amount of sleep you've missed out on in the past 14 days, relative to your sleep need. The RISE app shows your running sleep debt on the Sleep screen.
The reason you're lounging in bed far longer than you intend is most likely your brain trying to compensate for prior sleep loss. Since you wrack up sleep debt over a two-week period, you’ll likely need more than one night to make up for the sleep you’ve missed.
It can take a while for your body to recover. Just like how you need a few days (or even a week) to get over travel jet lag, sleep debt repayment can take anywhere from one to several nights, depending on how much sleep loss you’ve accrued.
The rationale in paying down sleep debt is to outsleep your sleep need. If your biological sleep need is eight hours and you have 10 hours of sleep debt to recoup, you'll probably need several days to fully pay it back.
During that time, it's natural to experience a longer-than-usual sleep duration. In other words, don't misconstrue what you perceive to be “oversleeping” as anything but your body's drive to compensate for sleep debt.
To stop feeling like you're sleeping too much, take back control of your sleep debt. This, of course, starts with identifying your sleep need. Your plan of action should also center around good sleep hygiene that's aligned with your circadian rhythm and chronotype (your ideal sleep and wake preferences).
First, determine your sleep need. As we’ve mentioned, the RISE app takes the guesswork out of that. Here’s how it works: Once you've downloaded the app, it uses a year's worth of sleep data stored in your phone to calculate your unique sleep need, right down to the exact hour and minute.
The RISE app shows your running sleep debt on the Sleep screen to help you keep tabs on where you currently stand in terms of sleep insufficiency. Follow these three rules to quickly bring down sleep debt without upsetting your circadian rhythm:
While zero sleep debt is realistically impossible, you'll want to work toward a sleep debt goal of five hours or less.
Poor sleep habits (or poor sleep hygiene) from dawn to dusk, like caffeine consumption at inappropriate times, contribute to increased sleep latency and sleep fragmentation, which can lead to sleep debt.
To get the most out of your sleep hygiene, tie it to your circadian rhythm. Here are three tips to keep yourself circadian aligned without inciting more sleep debt:
Of course, what we've covered here is merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to good sleep hygiene. For a more in-depth read, our Sleep Guide illuminates every step of the way as you tweak your lifestyle habits for better sleep at night.
Remember, your surroundings play an essential role in helping you meet your sleep need, too. Ideally, your bedroom should be kept cool (between 65-68 degrees), dark (use light-blocking curtains and an eye mask), and quiet (think carpets and closed windows).
Follow the simple steps in our Sleep Guide to prep the perfect sleep environment tonight.
There's been lots of talk about the link between long sleeping and medical conditions like obesity, heart diseases, and even death. Yet, is there any truth to it? The answer is more complicated than that.
First and foremost, the relationship between oversleeping and poor health is correlation, not causation. Unfortunately, bad medical reporting and tons of technical jargon mean that readers like you and me often confuse correlation for causation when they are two vastly different concepts.
To clear up the air, a 2007 review shares three illuminating points:
Instead of worrying about sleep surplus contributing to poor health, the fact remains that the threat of sleep deficiency is many times more common. From 1995 to 1998, the Sleep Heart Health Study found that amongst 15,000 participants, the likelihood of short sleep is 27.5%, while that of long sleep is a mere 9.2%.
In a modern world where our society seemingly runs on sleep insufficiency (which is incidentally labeled as a public health epidemic), long sleep duration sounds like a good problem to have.
And it is for the most part — especially when paying down sleep debt. That said, outsleeping your sleep need, particularly if done by sleeping in (rather than going to bed earlier) and by more than an hour past your typical wake time can come with a sleep hangover that causes your circadian rhythm to go awry. This dampens your overall energy levels for the day, so you feel befuddled instead of refreshed.
Here's how it happens. When you sleep, your brain goes through several sleep cycles. Each sleep cycle consists of four sleep stages:
Keep in mind that stages 1-3 are non-REM sleep.
When you sleep more than what your body biologically needs, you're more likely to wake up in the middle of your sleep cycle during non-REM sleep. While everyone experiences sleep inertia when they roll out of bed in the morning (we call it your Grogginess Zone in the RISE app), awakening during deep sleep has been shown to intensify this wake-up grogginess.
A later wake-up time also means you miss out on the energizing effects of your morning cortisol surge. That's because cortisol is an alertness-boosting hormone that helps you transition from sleep to full consciousness.
Safe to say, when your Grogginess Zone overlaps with your morning energy peak, coupled with lower cortisol levels, you inevitably feel groggier than usual.
While sleep debt is most likely the cause of why you’re sleeping so much, it's possible that health issues or medications may be the root cause of oversleeping.
Roughly 4-6% of the population struggle with idiopathic hypersomnia, a rare sleep disorder characterized by prolonged, undisturbed nocturnal sleep (around 10 hours or more). It's often accompanied by sleep drunkenness (a more severe form of sleep inertia) and excessive daytime sleepiness.
On the other hand, narcolepsy, another sleep disorder, features fragmented sleep patterns and overwhelming daytime drowsiness.
Other health conditions, like obstructive sleep apnea and back pain, induce sleep fragmentation, making it harder to meet your sleep need. Consequently, you wake up feeling like you had too little sleep despite adhering to your regular sleep schedule.
Circadian rhythm disorders, like delayed sleep phase disorder (your bedtime is a few hours later than what's societally accepted) and shift work disorder, can dampen your odds of a good night's sleep. When your sleep schedule is out of sync with your internal body clock, your sleep-wake cycle naturally takes a hit in the form of greater sleep latency and sleep fragmentation.
On top of that, mental health issues like depression and seasonal affective disorder (SAD) often manifest as oversleeping. While depression can happen to anyone at any time of the year, SAD usually occurs during the wintry season. Research indicates that 80% of people with SAD suffer from hypersomnia, with almost half of the respondents sleeping an extra two hours per day.
A 2019 study notes a bidirectional relationship in which sleep problems lead to depression, too. And, some antidepressants may trigger or worsen sleep disturbances, further muddying the issue of daytime drowsiness and oversleeping.
Other medications such as over-the-counter antihistamines, blood pressure medications, and muscle relaxants also trigger sleepiness and, by extension, long sleep duration.
If you’ve paid down your sleep debt but still believe you’re often sleeping too much, it’s best to consult a healthcare professional to rule out any underlying medical issues.
Depending on the nature of your health condition, you will be directed to the specialist best suited for you. For instance, a sleep specialist addresses sleep problems like hypersomnia and narcolepsy. Meanwhile, a therapist or counselor is adept at tackling mental health issues.
Those with chronic health conditions that require medication, say, high blood pressure, should keep tabs on whether these drugs make you sleepy. If so, speak to your primary doctor for non-drowsy alternatives.
To recap, if you think you’re sleeping too much, it’s likely because, one, you’re underestimating your sleep need; two, you’re overestimating the time you’ve spent asleep; and three, you’re recouping sleep debt as a result of the first two factors.
As you can see, sleep insufficiency is often the root cause of what you perceive to be “oversleeping” rather than an insidious disease. Even when there is a chronic illness at play, long sleep duration is most likely the accompanying symptom rather than the direct trigger for early mortality.
Now that you've set your mind at ease and discovered the true culprit of why you’re sleeping so much, work on minimizing your sleep debt. The RISE app can help you with that. It calculates your individual sleep need and shows your running sleep debt on the Sleep screen at all times.
Once you've put a number to your sleep loss, it becomes easier to stay in control of your sleep debt with the sleep hygiene tips we've mentioned earlier. Remember, better sleep at night equals better days ahead — always.
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