If you’re like me, you look forward to the weekends (or whatever your days off happen to be) with pleasant fantasies of sleeping in. Oh sweet, long sleep! But, without fail, you wake up the next morning – or afternoon – feeling rather unwell, instead of rested and renewed.
Your limbs feel weighed down and you have a slight (or not-so-slight) headache. The daylight filtering into your room seems extra painful to your senses and your brain is on lag, persuading you to just go back to sleep some more. Maybe then you’ll feel better. You do this over and over again, convinced that you need to “catch up” on lost sleep, despite feeling pretty crappy whenever you sleep in. If too little sleep is a problem, then why is getting extra sleep such a terrible solution?
In fact, oversleeping feels so much like a hangover that scientists call it sleep drunkenness. Unlike the profound neurological damage that alcohol causes however, your misguided attempts to replenish your sleep reserves still leave you feeling languid by confusing the part of your brain that controls your body’s daily cycle, regulated by a process known as circadian rhythms.
Your circadian ‘pacemaker,’ a group of cells in the hypothalamus (a small part of the brain that also controls hunger, thirst, and sweat) is what regulates your internal rhythms. Light signals received by the eyes tell the pacemaker when it’s morning, therefore sending out chemical messages to make sure that rest of the cells in your body are following the same clock.
Scientists believe that the circadian pacemaker evolved in order to tell the body’s cells how to regulate their energy on a daily basis.
So, just why is chronic oversleeping so bad for us?
Sleeping too much throws off that biological clock, this then tells the cells a different story than what is actually happening. And this incongruence causes a sensation of fatigue. Simply put: if you wake up at say 11AM, your cells started using their energy cycle a few hours earlier, at 7AM.
You’ve heard of jet lag, right? Well, this is basically the process that causes that phenomenon. But instead of having the benefit of traveling to foreign lands, you’re doing this to yourself in the same ol’ place you wake up every day.
The Detrimental Effects of Oversleeping
Besides feeling sluggish and drained before you even start your day off, you’re robbing yourself of vital self-healing processes that usually take place during sleep. In healthy sleep cycles, your body cycles between different sleep stages. Your bones, muscles, and other tissues do their repair work during the deep sleep cycle, which occurs before you enter REM (rapid eye movement). But, if you have poor sleep hygiene such as an uncomfortable bed, or your room is too hot or else too cold, your body will spend more time in light, superficial sleep. Because of that, you’ll feel the need to sleep longer. And thus the unhealthy cycle of oversleeping begins.
If you’re oversleeping on a regular basis, you could be setting yourself up for developing diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. Harvard sponsored a massive Nurses Health Study, which found that people who slept 9 to 11 hours a night developed memory problems and were more likely to develop heart disease than people who slept a solid eight hours regularly. Likewise, people who get too little sleep – ‘undersleepers’ – are at an even bigger risk. And there are other studies that have linked oversleep to diabetes, obesity, and even early death.
The Problem of Chronic Oversleeping in Recovering Addicts
Although oversleeping is detrimental to all humans, it can be particularly problematic to recovering addicts. Besides those of us who make it a habit to oversleep as a way to catch up on lost sleep during our work week, people who work odd hours, have an uncomfortable sleep situation, or a sleeping disorder – an estimated 4% of the population also have a tendency to sleep too much, according to the Harvard Nurses Study.
I personally know a lot of people in recovery who work the graveyard shift, especially when it comes to jobs in treatment. Overnight techs, for example, need to make sure that they are compensating in a healthy way for their opposite sleep schedules.
Besides sleep disorders such as narcolepsy and sleep apnea, depression can also be causing you to sleep too much. In fact, oversleep can contribute to even more depression. But no matter what’s causing it, too much sleep is not good for your long term health. When you consider that PAWS can strike at any time, setting yourself for increased depression as well as the above mentioned health problems just isn’t supportive of people in recovery.
Doctors recommend using organic ways of regulating your sleep cycle, such as the use of black-out curtains and artificial lights, rather than medications or supplements. Another way to set yourself up for a healthy sleep pattern is to use an app like the University of Michigan’s Entrain, which helps you to reset your circadian clock by logging the amount and type of light you get throughout the day.
The best thing you can do is to practice good sleep hygiene which includes getting equal amounts of sleep on your weekends or off days as you do during your work week.
If you’ve had some time in recovery and have experienced a relapse, or if you’ve noticed that you find yourself becoming dependent on substances to sleep, wake up, or just feel normal, you might be experiencing a medical condition known as substance abuse. For others, it might be that you’ve developed an addiction, whether it’s to alcohol or other drugs. You are not alone and we can help. Call an Addiction Specialist directly today at toll-free 1-800-951-6135.