Sleep Disorders

18 June 2020

What are the risks of sleeping too much?

In lockdown, you might be finding yourself napping a little too much – which could be detrimental to your health.

  • Some studies have found links between oversleeping and chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease and increased mortality
  • However, scientists are uncertain whether oversleeping is the cause or a symptom of these underlying issues
  • The world’s biggest sleep study found that oversleeping can have similar effects on your cognition as a lack of sleep

With lockdown keeping our range of activities limited, some South Africans may be finding themselves spending a lot more time in dreamland these days.

South African researchers even found that many people were experiencing longer nocturnal sleeping periods and taking more naps in lockdown. 

While everyone knows how a lack of sleep can be detrimental to your health – even cause death – but what are the risks of sleeping too much?

READ: Have your sleep patterns become disrupted during lockdown? You’re not alone

According to Vsevolod Polotsky – a professor at Johns Hopkins Medicine – while many studies have found links between chronic conditions, scientists are still unsure whether oversleeping is a cause or a symptom. 

Poor sleep and obesity

While one study from Oxford University published in Plos One did find that long sleepers tended to be more likely to have mental health issues and a higher BMI, they didn’t find an increased link to other chronic conditions. 

They did find that these heavy sleepers also tended to be women, fall in the 15 to 25, or 65 and above year ranges, have no academic degree and were mostly blue-collar workers. 

Diabetes, heart disease and higher mortality rate are some of the conditions that scientists have linked with sleep. According to Health24, there are links between poor sleep habits and obesity.

Lying down too much can also lead to back pain and stiff muscles, which can easily be fixed with a little exercise, though. 

The Nurse’s Health Study also found a link between sleep and coronary heart disease – women who slept more than the recommended average were 38% more likely to develop heart problems. 

ALSO READ: How to get better sleep while working at home

infographic on sleep

Cognitive impairment

Beyond chronic conditions, the world’s largest sleep study published in Sleep found that oversleeping can affect your cognitive abilities as much as a lack of sleep does. 

With over 10 000 participants worldwide, they tested people who sleep more and less than the recommended average, and found that their reasoning and verbal abilities were impaired. 

This could mean that too much sleep could even be dangerous when you’re driving or using heavy machinery. 

If you are sleeping too much, it’s also important to figure out if it’s just the Covid-19 situation, in general, that’s making you tired, or if it is something else that's making you doze off. Hypersomnia is a condition that forces you to sleep and can contribute to anxiety, low energy and memory issues. 

Forcing yourself into a regimented sleep schedule of seven to nine hours a day – depending on your age – and sticking to it even on weekends can help you figure out if you need to consult a doctor. 

You can also use the Epworth Sleepiness Scale to help you figure out if you need help with oversleeping.

READ: First good evidence that brain hits 'replay' while you sleep

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Ask the Expert

Sleep disorders expert

Dr Alison Bentley is a general practitioner who has consulted in sleep medicine and sleep disorders, in both adults and children of all ages, for almost 30 years. She also researches and publishes on a number of sleep-related topics both in formal research journals and lay publications including as editor of Sleep Matters, an educational newsletter on sleep disorders for doctors.

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