Sleep is one of the most basic and vital human necessities. We know that we need seven to eight hours of shut-eye each night to function at our peak. While most people aren’t getting that much — or even close to it, according to the American Sleep Association — getting too much on a regular basis is also cause for concern. “Countless research shows that fewer than seven hours and more than nine hours is associated with increased inflammation and a higher risk of heart disease, obesity, cancer, Alzheimer's, and all-cause mortality,” explains certified sleep science coach, Chris Brantner. So, as it turns out, there is too much of a good thing.
Ahead are some of the surprising health risks of hitting your snooze button and sleeping in one too many times.
There’s a myriad of causes of inflammation in the body, namely chronic diseases that limit the body’s immune response. However, another major culprit is oversleeping. “Long sleep — typically 9 or more hours — has been shown to increase CRP and IL-6 markers, both of which lead to inflammation,” says Brantner, pointing to a study in the American Journal of Epidemiology. “Additionally, sleeping too much can make you produce extra cortisol, the stress hormone that is harmful in abundance.”
Social jet lag
Just like the extreme fatigue you feel after traveling between states or countries with differing time zones, you can also experience normal jet lag when you sleep in by more than 30 minutes, according to Michael Breus, PhD, a clinical psychologist and author of the bestseller GOOD NIGHT. “It can have all of the problems that go along with normal jet lag, but the most likely is difficulty falling asleep on Sunday night and even more difficulty getting up on Monday morning,” he says.
You may be surprised to learn that oversleeping is just as dangerous as drunk driving to a point where you experience a similar drowsiness, notes the National Sleep Foundation. “One study showed that while short sleepers, meaning six or fewer hours per night, were always at a greater risk of driving drowsy, a sub-group of people who sleep around 10 hours also were at risk for drowsy driving,” explains Brantner. “This seemed to coincide with long sleepers who rated their sleep quality as insufficient.” The hypothesis, he explains, is that these people are ones who show signs of sleep disorders like sleep apnea. “I would also hypothesize that these could be people who are waking up at the wrong point of their sleep cycle and thus feel groggy when driving,” he adds.
Many are not aware that oversleeping can trigger migraines and headaches. “Sleep problems, including insomnia, are common among those with headaches, and sleep is a moderately strong and modifiable risk factor for headaches,” says Dawn Dore-Stites, PhD, Reverie Sleep Advisory Board Member and Assistant Professor in the Department of Pediatrics and Sleep Disorder Center at Michigan Medicine.
“While it is more common to hear of headaches associated with insomnia, many patients will report that sleeping in can trigger migraines as well.” In addition, she points out that migraines can be associated with obstructive sleep apnea, which can also lead to oversleeping due to poor sleep quality.
Bottom line: Aim to do everything in moderation, including sleep. “It is probably not a huge deal if you have a short period, no longer than a few months, where you experience social jet lag; however, if it persists, it could be masking serious sleep disorders, sleep deprivation, and/or put you at risk for the issues discussed above,” says Dr. Dore-Stites. “In addition, there are some folks that are more sensitive to disruptions in their routines.” So, if you know that you can be thrown off significantly by a change in your sleep, you want to preserve your sleep schedule more than those who are not as affected.