Why Am I Sleeping So Much All of a Sudden?

You may think you’re sleeping a lot, but your body’s likely making up for lost sleep. Learn what can cause you to sleep more and how to get the sleep you need.
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Jeff Kahn, M.S., Rise Science Co-Founder
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Person waking up and looking at the time due to sleeping so much

Oversleeping can be frustrating sometimes, especially when trying to maintain a busy schedule. If you Google “Why am I sleeping so much all of a sudden?” you’ll find a long list of sleep disorders, medical conditions, and other potential causes of excessive sleepiness. Before you start self-diagnosing various health conditions and get stuck in an anxiety loop, consider this: You most likely aren’t “oversleeping” at all, and the probable culprit is sleep deprivation.

Read on to learn how your sleep need (how much sleep you uniquely need) can tell you if you’re actually oversleeping, potential reasons you might sometimes seem to sleep more than usual, and how you can use good sleep hygiene to make up for missed sleep and start getting the right amount of sleep for you.

Why Am I Sleeping So Much All of a Sudden? Start by Looking at Your Individual Sleep Need

Why am I sleeping so much all of a sudden: woman sleeping at her desk

Before we can actually be sure we’re oversleeping, we first have to know our individual sleep need — and many of us do not. Adults on average need about 8 hours and 10 minutes of sleep each night (give or take about 44 minutes), and 13.5% of adults need 9 hours or more. Note that this is longer than what you may have been led to believe, so if you think you’re sleeping too much, you could simply be meeting your sleep need!

That said, it’s more likely you’re not meeting your sleep need. More than a third of U.S. adults report getting fewer than 7 hours of sleep each night. If you’re not meeting your sleep need, you’re accruing sleep debt. Sleep debt refers to how much sleep you’ve missed (compared to your individual need) over the past 14 days. This can be difficult to track on your own, but the RISE app makes it easier by determining your individual sleep need and calculating your sleep debt.

Sleep debt is also known as acute sleep deprivation. The effects of sleep deprivation can be devastating; in fact, a recent study from Ohio state found the symptoms of sleep loss resemble those of a concussion. Sleep deprivation also raises our risk for developing illness, wreaks havoc on our mental health, and impairs cognitive processes.

Thankfully, it is possible to catch up on sleep debt, and this is the most likely explanation for why you sometimes sleep “too much.” Note that the only way to catch up on sleep debt is to sleep more than you typically need, which your body may be trying to do on its own despite your intentions to stick to your regular schedule.

Potential Reasons You Sometimes Need More Sleep

Why am I sleeping so much all of a sudden: people at a train station

As we’ve already seen, the most likely cause of sleeping more than usual is sleep deprivation. You may be accruing sleep debt due to circadian misalignment, or perhaps low sleep efficiency has you believing that you’re getting more sleep than you are. It’s also possible that a health condition is causing sleep disturbances and leading to excessive daytime sleepiness.

Circadian Misalignment

Your circadian rhythm is an internal body clock that determines your daily energy levels, including your ideal sleep and wake times. Circadian misalignment happens when you’re going to sleep and/or waking up at the wrong times for your individual circadian rhythm. This lowers your sleep efficiency (more on that in a minute), which can make it feel like you’re sleeping too much but still tired. 

Social jet lag, or maintaining an externally imposed schedule that isn’t aligned with your circadian rhythm, is one of the most common causes of circadian misalignment, particularly among shift workers. Unfortunately, circadian misalignment from rotating shift work is associated with frequent lapses in attention, increased reaction time, and increased error rates on performance tasks.

Jet lag from travel across time zones is another common cause of circadian misalignment. This includes the biannual daylight saving time (DST) change, which is essentially an imposed time zone change. Daylight saving time changes can cause sleep loss, and there is strong evidence to suggest the spring time change (in which we “lose” an hour) is associated with an increased rate of traffic accidents as well as an increased rate of heart attacks the next day — among other negative consequences. Importantly, both of these rates decrease after the fall time change. According to Matt Walker, the author of “Why We Sleep,” these shifts in and out of DST are a “global experiment” that proves even one-hour changes in the sleep you get on a single night can have drastic impacts. 

When dealing with circadian misalignment, you can gradually reset your sleep schedule to one that accounts for both your circadian rhythm and your sleep need. You can also use the RISE app, which tracks your daily circadian rhythm, to plan your daily activities according to the timing of your energy peaks and dips.

Sleep Efficiency

Another reason you may think you’re oversleeping could be inefficient sleep. Sleep efficiency is the ratio of your total sleep time to the total amount of time you spent in bed. For example, if you spend 10 hours in bed but only actually sleep for 7 of those hours, you’d have a lower sleep efficiency than if you spent 9 hours in bed and slept for 8.5 hours.

There are two factors that influence sleep efficiency: sleep latency and sleep fragmentation:

  • Sleep latency: This is the amount of time it takes you to fall asleep after getting into bed. Ideally, this is 30 minutes or less. If it takes you longer than 30 minutes to fall asleep, your sleep efficiency will be much lower.
  • Sleep fragmentation: This refers to how frequently you wake throughout the night. Waking up a couple of times is normal, but waking up repeatedly is not. Note that sleep disturbances can also be caused by external factors that wake us up during the night, such as pets or young children. While some external factors are beyond our control, many can be addressed with good sleep hygiene, as we’ll soon see.

Even if you are spending a long time in bed, you are probably getting less sleep than you think you are due to the above phenomena of sleep latency and sleep fragmentation. Both factors are exacerbated by poor sleep hygiene. Sleep hygiene is a set of behaviors promoting healthy sleep, and poor sleep hygiene can prevent you from getting a good night’s sleep even when you stay in bed long enough. Note that your behavior all day, and not just right before bedtime, will affect your sleep patterns. We’ll discuss some ways to improve your sleep hygiene soon.

Medical Conditions

If you’ve ruled out the above causes and still feel you are oversleeping while still suffering from excessive tiredness, consider speaking to a healthcare provider to discuss potential sleep disorders. Obstructive sleep apnea and restless legs syndrome can cause sleep fragmentation, and narcolepsy can cause excessive daytime sleepiness. Hypersomnia also causes oversleeping and excessive sleepiness, but this is very uncommon.

A variety of other health problems can also contribute to insomnia, making you feel as though you’re oversleeping but still tired. Heart disease, thyroid problems such as hypothyroidism, high blood pressure, and anemia can interfere with sleep, as can certain medications such as antidepressants and antihistamines. Mental health problems can also contribute to poor sleep, and excessive sleepiness is a symptom of depression.

Note that sleep deprivation can also lead to many of the above conditions, so the problem goes both ways. Sleep deprivation is a risk factor for the development of heart disease and high blood pressure, among other health conditions. Each of these conditions can cause you to rack up sleep debt.

Want to Stop “Oversleeping”? Catch Up On Sleep Debt and Improve Sleep Hygiene

RISE app screenshot showing your melatonin window which can tell you the best time to go to sleep
The RISE app determines the start time of your Melatonin Window every evening.

As we’ve discussed, when you think you’re oversleeping, it’s likely your body is trying to make up for lost sleep. Even if there is another underlying cause, such as a health condition, this is still going to cause sleep debt that will need to be addressed on its own. 

Whatever the source of your sleep debt, you need to pay it back in order to avoid negative consequences. This requires some forethought and planning so as not to disrupt your circadian rhythm. Improving sleep hygiene is a crucial part of this, since this will help to align your schedule with your circadian rhythm and raise your sleep efficiency, allowing you to fall asleep and stay asleep throughout the night. 

Improving sleep hygiene is a matter of simple lifestyle changes. Here are some tips to help you improve your sleep hygiene and catch up on sleep debt in the right way:

  • Be smart about light exposure: Sunlight signals to your brain that it’s time to wake up, so try to get some sun (or other bright light) as soon as you can after waking up. By that same token, avoid bright light as much as possible in the evening.
  • Get regular exercise: Exercise helps to build sleep pressure, which will allow you to fall asleep more quickly at night. That said, exercise also inhibits melatonin production, so make sure not to work out too close to your bedtime.
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol late in the day: Caffeine is a stimulant that promotes wakefulness, so you’ll want to avoid it in the late afternoon and evening. Alcohol is a sedative that may make you feel sleepy, but it can contribute to sleep fragmentation, so it’s also best to avoid it in the evening. The RISE app will give you specific cutoff times for these substances.
  • Nap during your afternoon dip: If you’ve been napping more than usual, it’s likely your body is trying to catch up on sleep debt. Napping can be a great way to do this, but it’s important to plan the timing and length of your nap appropriately to make sure you get the most out of it. If you need to catch up on sleep debt, plan to nap during your afternoon dip (the predictable energy dip in the afternoon determined by your circadian rhythm), and try not to nap for more than 90 minutes (about one sleep cycle) so as not to take away from your nighttime sleep. The RISE app will tell you the exact time of your afternoon dip each day.
  • Have a wind-down routine: Having a bedtime routine helps prepare the mind and body for sleep, and it can also help to ease stress and promote feelings of relaxation. Quieting the mind can lessen sleep latency and fragmentation, especially if worries and anxious thoughts tend to keep you awake at night.
  • Prep your sleep environment: Keep it cool, dark, and quiet. Use ear plugs and an eye mask to block out excess noise and light.
  • Go to sleep during your Melatonin Window: This is about an hour-long period in the evening when the production of melatonin (a sleep-promoting hormone) hits peak levels, and you’re primed to fall asleep. Going to sleep within this window will help you fall asleep more quickly and stay asleep. The RISE app tells you when your Melatonin Window begins and ends each day.

Use the RISE App to Help You Meet Your Actual Sleep Need

RISE app screenshot showing how much sleep debt you have
The RISE app calculates your sleep debt every day.

As we’ve seen, if you’re worried you’re getting too much sleep, it's more likely you're not getting enough sleep. This is where the RISE app can help. It will determine your individual sleep need, and use it to calculate your sleep debt. This is by far the most important data point when it comes to improving your sleep. Once you know your sleep debt, you can then work on catching up by using the sleep hygiene tips and guidance from the app.

The app also determines your daily energy peaks and dips, allowing you to plan your day accordingly. Even when you are sleep-deprived, you will still have natural energy peaks, and the app can help you figure out when those are going to happen so you can take advantage of those natural boosts of energy. Using this information will help improve your sleep habits so you can feel and function at your best.

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