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You are probably already aware that a good night’s sleep is essential for wellbeing. Being constantly sleep deprived can harm your health, but did you know that getting too much sleep can actually be just as bad?
There is an ideal amount of sleep that we should aim for every night and sleeping too much can cause more problems than you might expect. Oversleeping, or hypersomnia, has been linked to various illnesses including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity and depression. Further to this, research published in the journal Sleep found that our brains age by around seven years when we don’t get enough sleep, but that this also happens when we sleep too much.
Too much sleep can also result in persistent headaches, particularly in those who already experience this problem regularly. It’s thought this is due to the effect that too much sleep has on brain neurotransmitters and the release of serotonin.
One US study found that people who sleep for 9 or 10 hours every night are 21% more likely to be obese than those who only sleep for 7 or 8 hours, even when exercise and food intake were taken into consideration.
If you sleep excessively or feel very sleepy during the day it may begin to interfere with your daily life. Poor quality sleep can cause loss of appetite, low energy, restlessness and memory problems. Hypersomnia sufferers may also find that they nap repeatedly during the day, possibly at inappropriate times such as during a conversation, while working or at mealtimes.
Severe sleep deprivation can lead you to overcompensate and sleep too much later on. It may be that conditions such a sleep apnoea or restless leg syndrome are interfering with the quality of your sleep. Certain medications, depression or a head injury can also cause you to oversleep.
It’s thought that unexplained, constant tiredness can occur as a result of the body producing too much GABA, a molecule involved in the sedation process, and the effect is like being constantly medicated with alcohol or sleeping pills. This is known as idiopathic hypersomnia, because there is no obvious cause for the oversleeping.
Visit your doctor if you are experiencing any of the above symptoms as he or she will be able to perform blood tests, CT scans or even sleep tests to check for an underlying problem. You may be prescribed treatments such as stimulants or antidepressants to help manage your sleep.
In the meantime you can help your symptoms by avoiding alcohol and caffeine before bedtime, going to bed earlier and sticking to a strict sleep pattern, even on weekends. Also try to avoid using electronic devices such as a computer, phone or TV in the hour before going to bed.