“I get too much sleep!” is not a complaint you often hear. Most people these days have the opposite problem—the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that 29% of Americans are chronically sleep-deprived—so you might not know that oversleeping can be just as bad.
But not always. Here’s when too much shut-eye is something to worry about.
When It’s Normal
Infants and Toddlers
Infants, toddlers, and young children need far more sleep than the average adult’s 8 hours. In general, the younger the child, the more needed, with infants needing 13 to 16 hours, school-aged kids 9 to 12, and teenagers, 9 to 10. Check out the detailed sleep chart at the University of Michigan Health System for breakdowns by month and year.
As any parent can tell you, infants in particular have irregular sleep patterns, so it can be a little hard to tell with babies if they are sleeping too much or too little.
When you’ve been (or still are) sick, your body needs time to rest and repair itself. Generally, sleeping during such times should not be restricted.
However, it is important to try to sit up, get out of bed, and walk around a little a few times a day, to prevent problems like blood clots and stiff muscles. Needing to rest doesn’t necessarily mean needing to lie in bed all day.
When It’s Not
While teenagers have a reputation for wanting excessive sleep (and if you have kids, you’ve probably noticed your teen sleeping until noon, or 1, or 2) this is more likely a sign of too little sleep during the week. So while oversleeping is not the problem itself, it does point to another one.
If your teenager is sleeping for more than 10 hours on the weekend, adjust bedtimes during the week. If this is not possible, then at least make sure he or she is aware of the risks that come with too little sleep—including increased risk of auto accidents.
If you’re sleeping for 18 to 20 hours a day, there’s definitely a problem. If this comes in episodes coupled with binge eating or unusual moods, and you sleep normal amounts otherwise, you might have hypersomnia. If you need a lot of sleep, but wake up unrefreshed, you may have idiopathic hypersomnia.
More details about these disorders can be found in The International Classification of Sleep Disorders, Revised (ICSD), put out by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. If either of these are things you experience, talk to your doctor.
Sleeping Too Much, or Sleeping at Irregular Times?
Sometimes irregular sleeping patterns seen in certain sleep disorders, such as those in narcolepsy and non-24-hour sleep-wake syndrome—when the body has trouble regulating when to sleep and when the body clock keeps shifting, respectively—can look like too much sleep.
Even so, irregular sleeping can be problem in its own right, and can still be a reason for concern. The above disorders, if severe enough, can have effects on your ability to drive, hold down a job, and enjoy a strong social life. Page through that massive ICSD for more info.
Depression and Mental Illness
Often, sleeping too much is not the problem per se, but it can be indicative of a problem somewhere else.
Sleeping too much can be a symptom of many mental illnesses, such as depression, bi-polar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, panic disorder (such as social phobia or obsessive-compulsive disorder), alcoholism, psychoses (such as schizophrenia), and head trauma. But sleeping too much is only part of the picture in these conditions, so unless you have other mood or health problems you can’t explain, these explanations may not be likely.
If you’d like another, different manual to page through for possible mental illness diagnoses for yourself, try The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association.
And What About Naps, Anyway?
If you’re taking multiple 90 minute naps throughout the day, this could be a sign of idiopathic hypersomnia. But just one nap can temporarily improve your short-term memory, and certainly isn’t going to kill you—as long as it’s on the couch, and not while commuting on the highway, of course!