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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
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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