How much or little you sleep has a profound effect on several key areas of your health. Some may shock you depending on whether, after reading the following, you currently fall into the group of sleepers who’re getting “just enough but not too much” sleep every night to both maintain health and avoid serious health complications.
Life is all about balance. And walking that fine line to a long, happy and prosperous life has never been easier thanks to all the great research being done in this area over the last decade or two.
There’s always been two sides to the “how much should you sleep argument” up until now. One says “sleep 5 – 6 hours then get up and start grinding!” While the other side says “If your body wants it, your body needs it. Sweet dreams!”
It appears neither group is right. We all need just the right amount to function properly and, if the current research is correct, we need just the right amount to avoid a number of nasty health complications.
Health issues caused by having too much sleep
So, what are the potential health problems that are caused by having too much or too little sleep?
While too little sleep can easily cause depression and a number of other brain-related disorders, it appears that sleeping too much can cause the same problem. Adults that sleep at least 7 hours appear to function just fine, whereas those who sleep upwards of 8 ½ to 9 hours have shown a 27% higher risk of depression when doing so on a regular basis (source).
Using the same criteria as listed above, people who are having too much sleep were found to subtract, on average, more than 2 years from their expected life span. It appears there’s a fine line between too much and too little and sleeping much more than 8 hours per night can take years off your life if you regularly engage in the practice of getting too many “restful” hours of sleep every night.
In as few as 6 years, people who sleep more than 8 hours every night are two-and-a-half times as likely to develop insulin resistance; the precursor to full-blow type-2 diabetes. It would be expected that some in the group tested were already well on their way to diabetes due to a diet high in sugars and processed foods. But, after weighing all the variables, researchers still concluded that the eight-hour-plus group were twice as likely to develop the disease. Considering that over 60% of all afflicted with this condition eventually develop heart disease, and most certainly kidney problems at some point, the consequences of too much sleep with regards to diabetes and its many complications are far reaching.
It should come as no shock that more time spent lying on your back or side and not moving around can lead to more weight gain. A six-year-long National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey completed in 2012 by the Chicago Medicine School, found that people who slept between 8 and 9 hours, or more every night over a period of six years had gained over 11 pounds in comparison to those who slept less than 8 hours per day during the study. There are a number of reasons behind this. Like sleeping too little; sleeping too much can increase cortisol levels (ie., stress hormones) in the body, leading the body to store more fat. “People who sleep too much may also not make the best food choices,” said researcher Dr. Rohit R. Arora.
Increased aging, diabetes and carrying more dangerous fat stores in the midsection are each on their own contributing factors to fatal heart disease and stroke. Each brings with them a plethora of problems including cholesterol imbalance, high triglycerides, kidney disruption, hyperinsulinemia and hypertension, among other problems. Sleeping beyond 8 hours increases your risk of angina by double and has been found to slightly increase one’s risk of coronary artery disease – usually when combined with one of the other complications listed already.
So few consider this side effect of sleeping too much until they start to get older and begin to realize how fleeting time is. Consider an adult who sleeps 7 hours per night (ie., the low end of the National Sleep Foundations recommendation), then compare that to someone who sleeps 9 (ie., the high end of the NSF’s recommendations):
The adult sleeping 9 hours every night is losing 3024 hours of living per year over the 7-hour sleeper. That’s 60,480 hours of life experiences lost just over the course of 20 years! Imagine the difference made to the quality of one’s life and career when choosing to get “just enough” sleep at night.
Higher Risk of Death
A 2010 study compiled data from 16 studies featuring over 1,300,000 participants, found some surprising increases in death rates in groups whose sleep times fell out of the ideal time range set out by the NSF currently. While having a 1.3 higher chance of death from health complications brought on by too much or too little might not seem like a big deal, it is. Using data from the study, that means 17,979 more people who slept outside the 7 – 9 hour time range set out by the NSF died when compared to those participants who were found to get just the right amount of sleep!
The National Sleep Foundation currently recommends between 7 – 9 hours of sleep per night for optimal performance the next day. From what you’ve learned in this post, it’s probably safe to say that 7 – 8 hours is the real optimal range, as next day and overall health appear to start to decline when exceeding 8 hours per night on a regular basis.
It all comes back to balance: Just the right amount of “A” and just a sprinkle of “B” and you have the makings of a perfect dough or pastry. Get either wrong and you’ll have a culinary disaster on your hands.
We all need a few extra ZZZs than normal once in a while when we’re sick, injured, or overworked. And yes, sometimes we have to sacrifice a few hours, even an entire night on occasion. However, getting too much or too little on a regular basis could well be a death sentence.
Cover photo credit: Benjamin Busch / Flickr