Sleep is one of those things we all need, but very few of us actually get enough of. There are plenty of excuses for this: busy lives, last-minute projects, constant distractions, and so on. However, even though we recognize our need for sleep, we don’t recognize how great that need is. Truth be told, sleep is very important. A lack of sleep can be an indicator of serious health problems, and not sleeping in itself can lead to other issues. Still, how much sleep does one actually need? Well, that depends on a number of factors, most notably age.
Humans spend around one-third of their lifetime asleep, which translates to about eight hours of sleep per day, Missing an hour here or there doesn’t hurt, but when one consistently gets less than eight hours, health problems can arise. Oftentimes, people don’t even realize that they aren’t getting enough sleep, which can make it hard to determine when it’s time to adjust their sleeping habits. Here’s what you need to know about getting enough sleep, the problems that arise when you don’t, and what you can do to get the right amount of sleep every night.
As stated earlier, it’s generally accepted that adults should get eight hours of sleep every night. However, that eight hours does not apply to everyone. It’s thought that children under the age of 18 years should sleep for longer, while the elderly should sleep less than eight hours. If you’re looking to find out where you fall on the sleep to age ratio, the National Sleep Foundation has provided a chart to help you.
This chart, which indicates how much sleep you should aim for, as well as some wiggle room for sleeping a little more or less, was compiled by experts in various fields dealing with health or sleep. Obviously, if possible, you’ll want to stay within the acceptable range of your sleep hours. If you fall too far outside this range, serious health issues could arise, some of which you might overlook or not attribute to sleeping habits. If you’re still not sure if you have a sleep-related problem, here are some signs and symptoms to look for:
(credit: Sleep Foundation)
8. Anxiety and Depression
Both insomnia and oversleeping can be caused by mental conditions such as anxiety or depression. As you might expect, anxiety can make it difficult for a person to get to sleep at night because of all the constant thoughts, the worrying, and the restlessness, which leads to insomnia. Likewise, you might expect that depression generally leads to oversleeping due to fatigue and lack of motivation. However, both anxiety and depression can result in insomnia and/or oversleep; in fact, depression tends to cause insomnia more often than it does oversleep, but both can have adverse effects on the body’s overall health.
Believe it or not, both getting too little sleep and getting too much sleep are associated with diabetes. While this link is not entirely understood, some research has found that when we don’t get enough sleep, the body responds in a manner very much like insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is a precursor to type 2 diabetes. Some speculation indicates that a lack of sleep can lead to changes in the nervous system that in turn unbalance the production of insulin within the body. Insulin-producing cells may then produce insulin incorrectly, which can lead to an increased risk of diabetes.
6. Back Pain
It’s thought that excessive sleep could be related to persistent back pain based on a lack of stimulation. Essentially, the problem arises when your back muscles become too weak to properly support your body. Any muscle, if not exercised regularly, will become weaker over time, and the muscles in the back, designed for stability and support, are no exception. In order to avoid this, try and work in a workout that targets muscles in the back, something with low intensity in order to build up your strength and stamina. You may also want to look into correcting your sleep posture.
Much like back pain, it is possible to develop headaches from oversleeping as well. It’s not entirely understood why this happens, but researchers believe that it has a lot to do with the neurotransmitters in the brain. Specifically, these neurotransmitters can be damaged by oversleeping, and this can even have an effect on serotonin levels. Serotonin plays a significant role in regulating the sleep-wake cycle along with melatonin, and when too much sleep occurs, less serotonin is produced. This in turn generally leads to a hormonal imbalance, which may include effects such as inflammation, daytime fatigue and of course, headaches.Related: 8 Foods to Help You Get to Sleep
4. Weight Gain
When we sleep, our metabolism slows down; this is partially to give our bodies a rest, but also to prevent us from burning through nutrients too quickly from being “active”. When we oversleep, however, our metabolism stays at this decreased level for a more significant period of time, which means more and more energy is stored, rather than put to good use. This leads to weight gain. Weight gain can greatly impact your quality of life and is associated with a number of health complications, including some of the issues on this list, such as diabetes, depression, and back pain.
3. Cardiovascular Function
The heart is among the hardest working and most critical organs in your body. At night, when you sleep, it rests, which is why resting heart rates and sleeping heart rates are much lower than active ones. However, too much rest can weaken the heart; it is a muscle, after all. Research from the Nurses’ Health Study concluded that out of around 72000 subjects, those who slept more than the recommended eight hours daily were more likely to have coronary heart disease. Furthermore, heart disease is another factor that may be compounded by weight gain, along with oversleeping.
2. Circadian Rhythm Imbalance
As mentioned earlier, there are a number of hormones regulated by neurotransmitters in the body; in the appropriate proportions, these lead to bodily health and balance. However, oversleeping or insomnia can throw this balance off. Serotonin, which is produced during the day, can dwindle if one oversleeps into daylight hours. Likewise, bright lights at night can completely interrupt the production of melatonin. An imbalance here can not only leave you with daytime sleepiness and insomnia at night; it can also cause irritability, and limit your body’s ability to perform essential repair and maintenance functions that only occur in deep sleep.Related: Soothing Plants for More Oxygen and Better Sleep
1. Mortality Risk
You may have noticed by now that a lot of these factors compound upon each other. Anxiety can place more stress upon the body, which can make it difficult to sleep. Fatigue can lead to (or occur with) depression, and this can lead to oversleeping. Oversleeping can lead to various pains, chemical imbalances, and weight gain. These chemical imbalances, particularly with the extra weight, can encourage serious conditions like heart disease and diabetes. Ultimately, all of these together can create numerous health risks and decrease quality of life, a problem that exacerbates itself and may even lead to death.
For Falling Asleep:
Making sure you’re not just getting enough sleep, but also avoiding too much sleep, is important to the maintenance of good health. Generally, because the problems themselves are linked, it’s possible to find solutions to ensure your level of sleep is balanced every night. Ideally, you’ll want to set and adhere to a strict sleep schedule. Avoid electronics an hour before bed, as they stimulate the eye and brain. Meditation can help you relax. Doing these things will make it easier for you to sleep when it is time to sleep because your body is relaxed and in rhythm.
For Staying Awake:
Likewise, there are also things you can do to curb oversleeping and make it through your day. For starters, one good idea is to stay hydrated throughout your day. There are a number of good reasons to do this, aside from remaining alert. Furthermore, engaging in regular exercise can boost your metabolism; this will not only give you more energy, but it will promote weight loss and cardiovascular health and keep you alert. Other activities that stimulate the mind are likewise helpful. If all else fails, cold showers are also an option and have been linked to improved cognitive function.
Sleep is critical for our health and well-being, but like all things, moderation is key. Improper levels of sleep, whether you are getting too much or too little, can lead to decreased health and a poorer quality of life.Related: Sleep Facts and Myths