In our 24/7 always connected society, when it seems that most people are struggling to get enough sleep, the problem of sleeping too much may not seem like much of a problem at all. Yet prolonged sleep is associated with many of the same health problems as insufficient sleep. New research shows that both sleeping too much and sleeping too little are linked to elevated risks of chronic disease in middle-aged adults.
A large-scale study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control found that both insufficient and prolonged sleep are associated with a range of serious and chronic conditions including diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The study included 54,269 men and women aged 45 years and older. All had participated in the CDC’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, an ongoing survey that collects health information at the state level. Respondents in this study came from 14 states around the U.S. For the purpose of their investigation, researchers defined too little sleep as 6 hours or less per night. Too much sleep was defined as 10 hours or more per night, and optimal sleep duration was in the range of 7-9 hours. They found “short sleep” was more common than “long sleep,” but that both short and long sleep durations were linked to elevated risks of chronic disease:
As researchers themselves point out, the relationships between unhealthy sleep duration (too short and too long) and other factors such as mental health and body weight are complicated. The researchers suggest—rightly so—that more study is needed to understand how these factors of sleep, mental health, and weight interact with each other to influence risk of chronic disease.
The negative health effects of too much sleep are not as well known as the risks of not sleeping enough. Research shows that prolonged sleep duration can carry many of the same risks as insufficient sleep—and sometimes the risks are even higher:
There is still a great deal more to understand about how abnormal sleep duration, whether short or long, affects health. The more we learn about sleep and its relationship to health and disease, the more it appears that there is an optimal amount of sleep, in the range of 7 to 9 hours per night. The problem of getting enough sleep is markedly more common, and deserves all the attention it gets—and more. That said, we ought not lose sight of the health hazards associated with sleeping too much.
Don’t mistake sleeping more with sleeping better. For the best sleep for long-term health, aim for a not-too-little, not-too-much middle ground.
Michael J. Breus, PhD
The Sleep Doctor®