Oversleeping: What Is It, Why Is It Happening and How Do I Make It Stop?

It’s normal to oversleep occasionally, but sometimes, there might be an underlying cause
someone reaching toward alarm clock to turn off from bed

We’ve all been there: You’re getting over the flu … or launching a rigorous workout routine … or recovering from a nasty surgery. Or you simply had a long, hard, crummy week. And now you. Just. Can’t. Get out of bed.

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If you’re worried about what’s going on with you, take heart — sleep specialist Michelle Drerup, PsyD, DBSM, has some good news.

“Sometimes, your body just needs a little bit of extra recovery time,” Dr. Drerup says. “Any kind of injury or illness, or even a work schedule that prevents you from getting enough sleep can cause you to sometimes sleep longer than usual. It’s generally nothing to worry about.”

On the other hand, sometimes oversleeping really is something to be concerned about. Dr. Drerup walks us through the distinctions.

What counts as oversleeping?

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), adults generally need between seven and nine hours of sleep each night. For teens, ages 13 to 18, the sleep requirement is a little longer: The CDC recommends between eight and 10 hours a night.

But there’s room for individual variation within these estimates. We all know people who feel just fine after six hours of sleep. And there are also those folks (officially known as “long sleepers”) who make a habit of hitting the hay at 9 p.m. so they can wake up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at 7 a.m. Whatever works for you is probably A-OK.

Unless your sleep habits are impacting your daily functioning, says Dr. Drerup. That could mean you’re having problems getting to work, attending classes, making it to appointments and keeping up with the routine demands of daily living, like eating, maintaining personal hygiene, paying bills and caring for children or other dependents. At that point, it’s reasonable to be concerned.

How to tell if you’re oversleeping

In most cases, people who oversleep (hypersomnia) are getting nine or more hours of sleep a night, for weeks at a time, and are still waking up feeling tired and out of sorts. “A common experience with oversleeping,” notes Dr. Drerup, “is that the more you sleep, the worse you feel.”

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Here are some other possible signs of oversleeping:

  • You sleep right through your alarm.
  • You wake up with the alarm but you turn it off and go back to sleep.
  • You wake up but can’t get out of bed.
  • You wake up most days with a headache. (This can also be a symptom of sleep apnea.)
  • You always feel sleepy, no matter how much sleep you get.
  • You never feel refreshed.

If these behaviors continue for more than six to eight weeks, consider talking to a healthcare provider.

Common causes of oversleeping

Routinely oversleeping is a symptom of an underlying disorder, not a disorder in and of itself. So, determining the underlying cause is an important part of getting effective treatment.

According to Dr. Drerup, two disorders are major culprits:

  • Untreated sleep apnea, a disorder that causes you to stop breathing while asleep. When this happens, your brain tries to protect you by waking you up enough to breathe. But the constant waking — people with severe sleep apnea can awake more than 30 times each hour! — prevents healthful, restful sleep.
    Daytime sleepiness, morning headaches and exhaustion upon waking are common signs of sleep apnea, “Because it causes fragmented, disrupted sleep,” explains Dr. Drerup. “And even when people with sleep apnea sleep longer, they don’t feel any better because the disruption continues.”

Fortunately, sleep apnea is relatively easy to diagnose and manage with the help of a healthcare provider or sleep specialist.

  • Major depressive disorder, a mood disorder that causes persistent feelings of sadness, loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy, and disruptions to thinking, memory, eating and sleeping. “People with depression can oversleep because they just don’t feel like they can face the day,” Dr. Drerup also explains. “There is the sense that staying asleep is a kind of escape, a way to avoid facing life.”

As many as 15% of people with depression experience oversleeping. Fortunately, depression can be diagnosed and treated. With effective treatment, symptoms, including oversleeping, can usually be managed.

Other conditions sometimes associated with oversleeping include:

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It can be hard sometimes to tell which is cause and which is effect, notes Dr. Drerup. “Most associations tend to be bi-directional, meaning the effects can go both ways. For instance, depression can cause oversleeping, and oversleeping can worsen depression. Or chronic pain can cause oversleeping, but staying in bed too long can worsen chronic pain.”

How is oversleeping treated?

Because proper treatment for oversleeping depends on knowing the cause, your first stop should be a family doctor or primary care provider, advises Dr. Drerup.

“If you report that you’re snoring and waking up gasping for air, your healthcare provider will want to rule out sleep apnea,” she says. “Or if you report you simply don’t feel like you can get out of bed, as you don’t want to face the day or have nothing to look forward to, they might suggest being screened for depression.”

Your healthcare provider might also refer you to a sleep medicine clinic for further evaluation. In that case, here’s what you might expect:

  • An appointment with a sleep medicine specialist to review your sleep history, sleep patterns and symptoms.
  • A sleep study, performed either at the sleep medicine lab or your home, depending on your circumstances.
  • After the sleep study, a healthcare provider will review and interpret the data, determine if you have a medical condition and diagnose it.
  • Your healthcare provider will contact you to let you know what they found (if anything) and make recommendations for next steps, including treatment options.

Tips to stop oversleeping

In the meantime, Dr. Drerup says there are several steps you can take to manage your symptoms at home:

  • Establish a consistent wake-up time — and stick to it. “We often see what you might call ‘sleep inertia,’” Dr. Drerup says. “It’s like in physics: A body at rest wants to stay at rest. But an extra hour or two of sleep is not going to make you feel better. So, set a consistent wakeup time and get up.”
  • Place your alarm clock on the other side of the room. Once you’re on your feet, maybe you can keep moving.
  • Give yourself a reason to get up. A morning appointment or a breakfast date with a friend may provide the motivation you need to get out of bed.
  • Once you’re up, go straight into the bathroom, wash your face and brush your teeth. “By that point, you might find you’re awake enough to keep moving,” she says.
  • Make your bed as soon as you wake up. “Lying in bed, watching the morning shows and drifting in and out of sleep isn’t going to make you feel more rested,” warns Dr. Drerup. “If it isn’t so easy to crawl back into your sheets, maybe you’ll choose to stay up.”
  • Aim for some physical activity as soon as you wake up.
  • Better yet, take your exercise outside. “Light exposure in the morning can be very helpful for increasing your alertness,” encourages Dr. Drerup, “and can help you fight some of that sleep inertia. So, get the dog and go for a morning walk.” 
  • Enlist the help of a housemate. “The people you live with may be reluctant to wake you up,” Dr. Drerup realizes, “but consider enlisting their help. You might ask them, ‘Be sure I’m up by 8,’ and let them be part of your motivational team.”
  • Consider a cup of coffee. “For some people, the strategic use of caffeine can be helpful,” she adds. “As long as your general health permits, a cup of coffee first thing in the morning — maybe out on the patio in the daylight — can be a motivating way to start your day.”

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