Sleepy from oversleeping

1) Dear Alice,

I am in my second year at college and I have found myself falling into an unhealthy sleeping pattern. I sleep mostly at night (I don't nap too much) and don't go to bed too late (usually between 12 a.m. to 2 a.m.). But, unless I have some huge incentive to get up in the morning (class, etc.), I can sleep extremely late (1 p.m. to 2 p.m.). This makes me end up feeling even sleepier throughout the rest of the day. How can I keep myself from oversleeping?

— Sleepy

2) Alice,

Since final exams, I have been sleeping way more than I did during the semester. Normally, I can get by on six to eight hours a night, with maybe one morning to sleep late, if I've been leaning to the six-hour end for too many nights. And I would sometimes even wake up in the a.m. before any alarm clock and just get up since I would be wide awake. (Which was a good thing... )

But lately, I've been sleeping for eight to twelve hours a night, and still feel groggy when I do get up. I'm not doing anything noticeably different now than during the spring semester and don't think I'm depressed about anything. I would like to get up at 7 a.m. or 8 a.m. like I'm used to doing, but I just can't drag myself out of bed.

— Any suggestions?

Dear Sleepy and Any suggestions?,  

Rest assured that many folks experience sleeping troubles at some point in their lives. According to the National Sleep Foundation, most young adults aged 18 to 25 need between seven to nine hours of sleep per night, though some people need slightly more or less. Sleep patterns may get out of sync due to lifestyle factors or short-term disruptions. These could include erratic sleeping, stressors, or life changes (including moving, new or ending relationships, a new job, etc.). In other cases, oversleeping may be a sign of an underlying health condition (more on this in a bit). The effects of oversleeping may include feeling groggy or even sleepier after oversleeping, as you both mentioned. Other symptoms could be experiencing naps that don’t help decrease sleepiness, loss of appetite, thinking and memory difficulty, restlessness, and anxiety. If they last for longer periods of time, both not getting enough or getting too much sleep may increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, and mortality. But, don’t lose sleep over this just yet! There are also strategies you can try to help get you back on track to your regular sleep schedule.  

So, what is considered “too much” sleep? Typically, it’s when a person needs more than their usual number of hours of sleep to feel rested. Oversleeping may be a sign of excessive tiredness or fatigue, caused by health conditions or physiological factors. Some conditions that may contribute to these feelings include hypothyroidism, anemia, heavy menstrual periods, weight loss or gain, pregnancy, celiac disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, viral infections, restless leg syndrome, and sleep apnea. When symptoms include ongoing excessive daytime sleepiness or long periods of sleep at night, it may be a condition called hypersomnia. These individuals are more likely to fall asleep during meals, in mid-conversation, during work or at school, and may have trouble waking up. There are a host of potential causes including other sleep disorders (such as narcolepsy), head injuries, substance use, teeth grinding, certain medical conditions, and withdrawal from particular medications. If you suspect that you may have one of these conditions and think it could be related to your sleep pattern, it’s wise to speak with a health care provider. They can examine what's behind your sleepiness and give an appropriate diagnosis and suggest treatments, such as stimulant medications or antidepressants, as well as lifestyle changes.  

Also, as you mentioned, Any suggestions?, depression may be related to oversleeping, too. Other underlying psychological causes include stress and anxiety, which are common experiences when having to meet deadlines, take final exams, or deal with unplanned life events or emergencies (among other day-to-day stressors). In fact, research has found that college students who experience greater degrees of fatigue and stress tend to report worse sleep quality. In other cases, cognitive or mental fatigue (such as from studying for finals) may be a contributing factor. If you think that your sleepiness could be related to a psychological cause, it might be helpful to chat with a mental health provider to determine a cause and brainstorm possible solutions.  

The health effects of oversleeping may vary depending on how long they last and any underlying conditions. Most often, excessive sleep can disrupt social activities (such as meeting with friends or going to class) and impair appetite, mood, or energy. In the long-term, it may be associated with headaches, depression, obesity, chronic health conditions (such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease), and higher risk of death from a medical condition. So, what can you do to help with oversleeping? If the amount of time you're sleeping actually causes you to walk around rubbing your eyes and feel more tired, it may be a good idea to cut back on your zzz’s. It’s possible that cutting back on sleep and rising earlier in the morning will help you better manage your work, school, or social life. To help improve your sleep quality and regulate your sleep patterns, you might consider these tips:  

  • Try to go to bed and get up at the same time every day, even on weekends. If you need to, you could change the time you go to bed to make sure you get enough sleep. If you find yourself tossing and turning for a while, getting up and doing something relaxing until you feel tired enough to go back to bed may be beneficial. At your regular wake up time, it’s wise to try to avoid hitting the snooze button and instead, get up and start your day. While the snooze button may make you think you’re becoming more alert, it’s actually causing sleep inertia, which makes your body want to stay asleep.  
  • Balance the amount of light in the room. To help you fall and stay asleep, you could block out any lights and noises that may be disruptive by using window shades, earplugs, a white noise machine, or a fan. If waking up is the issue, window shades that will let light in as the sun rises may help, as light indicates to the brain that it’s time to wake up.  
  • Avoid certain foods and substances near bedtime. It’s advised to steer clear of alcohol close to bed, since it can interrupt rapid eye movement (REM) sleep — which could throw off your sleep cycle. If you consume caffeine (typically found in coffee, soda, chocolate, and tea), it’s best to do so earlier in the day so it’s out of your system by bedtime. Sugar can also cause peaks and rises in energy levels throughout the day, so you might try cutting back on refined sugars and avoiding heavy meals near bedtime.  
  • Limit long daytime naps. If you do need a nap, keeping them to 20 to 30 minutes and trying to keep them as far away from bedtime as possible may help them be most beneficial.  
  • Get regular physical activity. Regular physical activity can promote better sleep, helping you to fall asleep faster and to enjoy deeper sleep. Getting active right before bed keeps some people awake, but helps others sleep. A little experimenting may help to see what time of day works best for you to get your sweat on.  
  • Reserve your bed as a sanctuary for sleeping, cuddling, and sex. It may be helpful to keep activities such as watching TV, reading, or surfing the internet (including on your smart phone) out of your bed. These activities could prevent you from winding down.  

List adapted from Mayo Clinic and Cleveland Clinic.  

There's no "magic bullet" to fix sleep issues, so it may take a little trial and error to find the best solution for you. If the resources above don't work for you or if you simply want another perspective, you may consider seeking professional support. Additionally, a health promotion specialist may be able to provide some guidance to help come up with a sleep routine and schedule. Regardless of the strategies you choose, finding the right balance of sleep quantity and quality can change a few times during the average lifespan. Keeping an open mind to new sleep habits may help you find another sleep routine that works for you.  

Sweet dreams, 

Last updated Jun 25, 2021
Originally published Mar 15, 2007