How much is too much sleep - for people who don't sleep much?
March 3, 2013 8:25 PM   Subscribe

No work today. Last night I went to bed at 12:30. I woke up this morning (around 7) feeling fantabulous, and decided "Meh, I'm still below the 7-9 hour mark. Let's get a few more hours of beauty sleep in." I slept for two and a half extra hours, and woke up at about 9:30 feeling like donkey dung. I also had a nightmare. This has happened before (having nightmares when oversleeping). I would like to know if anyone has had any similar experiences. I would also like to ask if anyone gets below the 'average' amount of sleep and wakes up feeling great, but then goes back to sleep and wakes up feeling cruddy - even if they are not technically 'oversleeping'.
posted by Thanquol180 to Health & Fitness (22 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I'm more inclined to think it is related to what part of your sleep cycle you were in when you woke up. Dreaming definitely has to do with that...
posted by celtalitha at 8:26 PM on March 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

That's me totally. When I wake up, I need to get up and get out of bed, because that "extra" sleep always ruins the whole day.

I don't know why that is, because if I sleep straight through to that later time, I'm fine, but if I wake up and then go back to sleep, I'm done for.
posted by xingcat at 8:28 PM on March 3, 2013

I get about 5 hours sleep a night. Usually, regardless of amount of sleep, if I get out of bed immediately upon waking, I feel better than if I linger or go back to sleep. Except, sometimes I feel better if I go back to sleep knowing I have no obligations I am missing.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:29 PM on March 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

This happens to me as well, especially if I've had a nightmare and am trying to figure out what the hell happened and fall back asleep in the process. I'm finding that if I want to be functional, I have to wake up at the 6 or 7 hour mark and stay up, rather than presume I can catch a few extra hours. The only time extra sleep works is if it's like an extra 6 hours, because usually that's when I'm like super overtired and my body really wants the additional sleep time to heal or whatever.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 8:32 PM on March 3, 2013

It's not so simple. You're going to get various people dis/agreeing with you, but it won't mean much of anything, because the conditions are highly personalized. You might want to check out Internal Time if you're really interested in this1. But according to the research, there isn't just one cycle involved in your "sleep cycle," and besides that you also have a largely built-in range for when you'd ideally prefer to sleep(the chronotypes in the title). Also, exposure to light will compress/expand your awake time, and you may not even be personally operating on a 24hr clock, and so on. It's lots of fun. But the end result is that even if the amount of sleep you had was usual, if the time was not it would probably still leave you feeling off, etc.

1 Or hunt down some writing or interviews with the author. I got to him directly through the book so don't have any links handy.
posted by Su at 8:39 PM on March 3, 2013 [4 favorites]

One possibility: Low blood sugar. If you normally get up and eat right away, your blood sugar may have dropped lower than usual. That can promote nightmares and also leave you feeling crappy.
posted by Michele in California at 9:05 PM on March 3, 2013

My boyfriend and I have a tendency to do the "wake up, reconsider, and then sleep until forever" thing on weekends, and we've noticed that if I get up at or close to our normal weekday time, everything is fine, but if I sleep for hours longer, I wake up stiff, sore, and much more groggy than I was when I woke up at 7 or 8. I suspect it has, as celtalitha and Su are getting at, much to do with how my sleep cycle aligns itself to, say, 7am as compared to 2pm, even if 2pm gives me nominally more "hours".
posted by badgermushroomSNAKE at 9:05 PM on March 3, 2013

As Celtalitha said, a lot of it depends on when you wake up during your sleep cycle. How much REM sleep you've gotten makes a big difference. I've had 9 hours of sleep and I awoke feeling like total ass, and I've had 20-minute naps that were amazingly refreshing. I've read that if you're really tired during the day, you should aim for a nap of 20 minutes or so. That way you get the benefits of the extra sleep, without your body deciding it's time to really sleep and plunging you into a deep stupor it's hard to shake off.

I have a job that often requires me to get by on very little sleep, like 4 hours or so, and I find that I don't feel too terrible early in the day but after just a few hours it catches up to me and I turn into a zombie. I've also found that my tolerance for being short of sleep has markedly decreased as I've gotten older. In school I used to get by on 5 hours of sleep, and I was drowsy but it wasn't a huge problem. These days if I get less than 7 hours, it will HURT in a way that it never did before. Being short of sleep feels like having a bad flu or something.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 9:50 PM on March 3, 2013

Yes, the 2nd sleep nightmare (or "stress-mare, as I call them) is a real thing.

I am a "short sleeper" - 5 to 6 hours or less per night.


Take a magnesium supplement an hour or two before bed. You'll sleep sounder and won't want to take that "extra few hours" and if you do, it'll be more relaxing than stressful.

I've tried everything under the sun (melatonin, valerian, herbal tea, kava kava, medicinal marijuana...Lunesta, Ambien.... wine, tequila, and vodka...)

Effing Magnesium. So easy. No weirdness. Just.... Simple Sleep. Real Sleep.

Easy to fall asleep. Easy to stay asleep (I usually wake up in the middle of the night, which is normal, but often not helpful.) Easy to wake up on time!!

No bad dreams like I get with Melatonin or presciptions... Just natural, non-druggy sleep.

Magnesium. $5 a bottle at your local drug store.

Magnesium Citrate, no combining with Calcium or whatever, that supplement did not work for me.

Just plain Magnesium.

Hope this helps!
posted by jbenben at 10:31 PM on March 3, 2013 [9 favorites]

Oversleep is a common migraine trigger. It wouldn't surprise me if oversleep / extra sleep has other unfavorable repercussions as well.
posted by hapax_legomenon at 10:32 PM on March 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Something to consider is how much sleep you need in general. Research has shown that people do best, i.e. have the best health and longevity outcomes if they don't sleep less than 5 hours, or more than 7 hours 20 minutes (for adults - teenagers may need to sleep a bit longer). Now, there may be nights when you sleep a bit longer because you're making up a sleep deficit, but generally, beyond 7 hours 20 minutes sleep becomes a negative. For the longest time, researchers couldn't establish the direction of causality - do sicker people sleep longer/shorter (than the "over 5, under 7.5 hours per night" ideal), or does longer/shorter sleep cause them to become sick. Recently the evidence is beginning to tilt toward the latter, i.e. if you sleep less than 5 hours a night, or more than 7 hours 20 minutes, you are not behaving optimally from a health/longevity point of view.

People are pretty well tuned to the idea that too little sleep is unhealthy. But they are less likely to think that there is anything wrong with too much sleep - and indeed there persists the old wives tale of "healthy sleep is 8 hours a night". In fact, 8 hours a night is too long (by 40 minutes). And one can absolutely sleep too long. To adjust your feelings about this, think about sleep the same way you think about food. Both too little and too much food is unhealthy (not optimal from a health/longevity point of view). Sleeping too long, like being a glutton is unhealthy.

The deleterious effects of too much sleep are fairly serious - one paper I've read compared it to something pretty outrageous, like smoking two packs of cigarettes a day.

Bottom line - sleeping more than about 7 hours a day may or may not make you feel worse, but research seems to say it is not healthy regardless of how it makes you feel (again, possibly excepting situations of making up a sleep deficit from the past couple of days).

Sorry for not linking to any studies at the moment, but everything I've written is based on research I've read.
posted by VikingSword at 11:01 PM on March 3, 2013 [3 favorites]

I have the opposite experience to you - more sleep, especially if I've been dreaming, makes me feel better, not worse. Napping doesn't help, but waking up and then getting another hour definitely does.

I think you have to find what works for you. If you're not tired, then don't go to sleep.
posted by Solomon at 12:52 AM on March 4, 2013

Yes, I' too often feel awful after over-sleeping. But feeling bad when you wake up doesn't necessarily mean you didn't need the extra sleep.
The food analogy is often used, and if you gorge yourself after you're starved, you'll get a tummy ache, but it doesn't mean you didn't need the food.

I'd be interested in some references, VikingSword, that sounds really interesting and, as you say, not the received wisdom
posted by Gomoryhu at 5:08 AM on March 4, 2013

Another consideration - coffee. If you normally wake up after 5-6 hrs and get up and the first thing you do is grab a coffee your body expects coffee at that time. If it's the weekend and you get up a few hrs later and your body has to make do without coffee for much longer this definitely doesn't work for me for example....i then need to have that coffee and wait for it to kick in and that takes a lot longer if it's later in the day. I still benefit from the extra sleep in other ways but missing out on my 7am coffee is not a good thing...but that's just me and may not be relevant for you.
posted by koahiatamadl at 5:43 AM on March 4, 2013

This happens to me. My current hypothesis is actually that I have sleep apnea that kicks in during REM sleep.

I'd noticed that the longer I slept, the worse I felt -- especially when I'd had long, vivid dreams or nightmares. I felt groggy and headachy on those mornings, like the intense dreams had ripped through my brain and left me exhausted.

I did some self-observation with a device that records which sleep stage I'm in throughout the night, combined with an overnight recording pulse oximeter. The oximeter showed that on the nights when I slept for less time, I had no drops in blood oxygen levels. But on a couple of nights when I slept in, I did have a few drops in blood oxygen.

The sleep-stage recorder showed that on nights when I slept for less time, my REM cycles were fairly short. But when I slept in, my REM cycles got very long towards morning -- and the drops in blood oxygen corresponded with the long REM cycles. I felt much more groggy and headachy on those mornings.

In general, people spend more and more time in REM sleep the longer they sleep. I know that's true for me. And during REM sleep, your muscles are essentially paralyzed (so you don't act out your dreams), so the muscles in your mouth and throat lose muscle tone. So it's easier for your airway to partially or fully collapse during REM sleep.

So the longer I sleep, the more time I spend in REM. And the more time I spend in REM, I suspect the more likely I am to have some kind of apnea.

No idea whether this applies to you, of course. (I don't even know for sure that it applies to me, since I haven't yet gotten a proper sleep study.) But I find it an interesting hypothesis.
posted by snowmentality at 7:52 AM on March 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

I've had lots of experience with low-sleep and no-sleep situations and have found that 90-minute cycles are the key to everything, at least for me.

A 90-minute nap is better than a 2-hour nap, for instance. A 3-hour nap is good because it's two cycles. If I sleep for four hours, I'm back to a rough wake-up and I get a headache.

So, when I get to sleep on a normal schedule, I try for 7-1/2 hours. Sleeping in feels right at about 9 hours.
posted by dacbeerpig at 8:58 AM on March 4, 2013

In fact, 8 hours a night is too long (by 40 minutes). And one can absolutely sleep too long.

While it's true that you can sleep too long, it's an overgeneralization to say that there is a perfect sleep time to aim for that works for all people. The National Sleep Foundation has written a long article summing up what research has shown about optimum sleep length. While not denying that there is a correlation between oversleeping and increased mortality, they're not clear why this is the case and often there are other health factors involved that are causal for the longer sleep times. They have this to say about oversleeping and health factors
"Currently, there is no strong evidence that sleeping too much has detrimental health consequences, or even evidence that our bodies will allow us to sleep much beyond what is required," says Kristen L. Knutson, PhD, Department of Health Studies, University of Chicago. "There is laboratory evidence that short sleep durations of 4-5 hours have negative physiological and neurobehavioral consequences. We need similar laboratory and intervention studies to determine whether long sleep durations (if they can be obtained) result in physiological changes that could lead to disease before we make any recommendations against sleep extension."
posted by jessamyn at 9:23 AM on March 4, 2013 [4 favorites]

There certainly is no "perfect sleep time to aim for that works for all people", and I doubt anyone would make such a claim. However, a different claim can be made: "[...]The relationship between duration of sleep and mortality has been often described as a U-shaped association[...]". As with almost all medicine there are conflicting studies, and sometimes metastudies attempt to resolve these conflicts, rather than relying on a single study for prescriptive recommendations.

In such a scenario, the optimum is a range, not a single point - the range being from less than 5 hours to about 7 hours 20 minutes. This is a statistical derivation. What this means, is that the mortality for a large cohort tends to start increasing with less than 5 hours of sleep and with more than 7 hours and 20 minutes. It doesn't mean that an individual might not find him/herself outside of this range with perfect health - it's just statistics for large groups. Same with caloric intake of food - there's a range, and if you fall outside of the range, odds of trouble start increasing - that's of course, odds, not a guarantee.
posted by VikingSword at 12:26 PM on March 4, 2013

The metastudy article that you linked to does not support the "7 hours and 20 minutes" marker and I'm curious where you got it from?

The article does state that for people concerned with health, making sure they are getting enough sleep is important as a preventative. However, people who are sleeping longer generally have co-presenting issues already. The sleep in and of itself is not causing any medical problems, the long sleep is just a marker of pre-existing ill health. Specifically:
no studies published to date have demonstrated a possible mechanism mediating the effect of long duration of sleep as a cause of morbidity and mortality. The association between long duration of sleep and mortality may be explained by residual confounding and comorbidities. In particular, depressive symptoms, low socioeconomic status, unemployment, low level of physical activity, undiagnosed health conditions, poor general health, and cancer-related fatigue have all been shown to be associated with long duration of sleep and to confound the association with morbidity and mortality
They also mention that there may be an age component in that the longer sleepers tend to be older and have a higher mortality rate generally. I'm someone who sleeps more than 8 hours from time to time and I reject the notion that, in the absence of any other health issues, just doing this is unhealthy.
posted by jessamyn at 2:00 PM on March 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

I don't want to derail the green, or overpost, so I'll try to be as brief as possible - but it is entirely fair to ask me to back up any assertions I make. I'm a bit pressed for time, so rather than tracking down the studies I've read, I'll post an overview that bears on the specifics and in turn cites studies.

Here is an accesible overview in article form of some studies, including a study which identifies 7 hour sleep length [PMID: 14998237] as statistically optimal, though with adjustment for co-morbidities the lower limit (shorter sleep) is extended.

The overview addresses the corollary issues of: mental states, co-morbidities, age differences, gender differences.

This still doesn't address the causality (which has been in contention for decades), and I'd have to find the recent study where the first hints showed evidence starting to lean toward sleep being cause rather than effect of increased morbidity leading to increased mortality. Until I find that study, this assertion is unsupported (I'm simply relating from memory).

Sleeping more than 7-8 hours from time to time, especially if making up sleep deficits is unlikely to be unhealthy from what I understand (and I believe I stated so in my first post). Of course, the same is true of any number of behaviors, whether alcohol consumption outside of the U/J curve, exercise or caloric intake, "from time to time" is not "habitually". And then, there are individual differences. Every individual's exact optimum is going to be different, even if it's somewhere along a spectrum.
posted by VikingSword at 2:58 PM on March 4, 2013

This happens to me. I am a natural night owl, but it's more that I feel great when I go to bed when my brain wants to go to sleep, and I wake up naturally. For me going to bed at 11-1am and getting up at 7-9am is perfect. I will naturally sleep 8ish hours, but I've figured out(since I have to get up at 6am right now) that it's not just the amount of sleep I get, but when I get it. I go to bed at 10pm(or before!) and get up at 6am and I am still exhausted.

I used to consistently get 5-6 hours of sleep, but I was waking up at 9am and that worked for me. Getting up while it is still dark out is something that I go to drastic lengths to not have to do.
posted by fromageball at 3:44 PM on March 4, 2013

Until I find that study, this assertion is unsupported (I'm simply relating from memory).

I found it now: Long sleep duration and cause-specific mortality according to physical function and self-rated health: the Ohsaki Cohort Study.
Kakizaki M, Kuriyama S, Nakaya N, Sone T, Nagai M, Sugawara Y, Hozawa A, Fukudo S, Tsuji I.
PMID: 23005259

I can provide copy/paste of the study to anyone upon request (up to the length limit of MefiMail, if any).
posted by VikingSword at 4:19 PM on March 4, 2013

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