Sleep is vital to our overall health and happiness. When we sleep, our bodies go to work cleaning up waste throughout the body. Muscles and organs are repaired. Cells clean themselves out. The brain gets to take time off from processing stimuli that occurred during the day, stores it, tries to make sense of it, or discard it. Basically, when we sleep, our memories are formed. Major events are usually stored and random things like where you parked can be forgotten. This way you don’t remember which shirt you wore on a Tuesday three years ago. So, your brain and body get a lot of benefits from sleep, so is there a such thing as too much sleep?
Hypersomnia is a symptom of atypical depression. In “traditional” depression, patients don’t sleep well or don’t get enough sleep. The opposite is true with atypical depression, and up to 40% of bipolar patients suffer atypical depression. So, about 40% of us could possibly be getting too much sleep.
“Too much” sleep is actually hard to quantify. There are general guidelines of how much sleep a person should get according to their age. For adults, it’s about 7-9 hours. According to the National Sleep Foundation, 6-10 is acceptable. That’s actually a huge range, and an individual’s needs will lie somewhere in between. Too much sleep also depends on your perspective. Three people could have four opinions as to whether 9 hours was too much sleep. In fact, a 2011 study out of UC Berkeley and Yale found that bipolar patients would say they slept too much, when they were sleeping the same amount as the control group. It’s possible that these patients were simply spending more time in bed, suggesting there may be more to self-described hypersomnia than simply too much sleep.
In bipolar disorder, that something more can be additional symptoms like lack of energy or motivation and general sluggishness is your mind and body. These symptoms can exist in between episodes of major depression or hypo/mania and have also been found to predict depression. The key to the prediction is the change in sleep pattern, not necessarily the length of time sleeping or level of sleepiness. Long sleepers may just be long sleepers, but when you go from needing only 8 hours of sleep to needing 10 and are still groggy during the day or experiencing an excess of other symptoms, you may be in for a depressive episode. This same effect has also been shown to predict hypomania or mania in some cases.
So, keeping a sleep diary is probably useful. If you can predict what’s coming, it’s easier to handle.
Hypersomnia can be treated medically, if need be, through stimulants. However, with the high addiction rate of stimulants, doctors will typically recommend trying behavioral changes first. These are the same recommendations for not getting enough sleep and include:
Having a strict sleep pattern. Get up and go to bed at the same time every day, even on weekends and during vacations.
Make your space comfortable for sleeping. Room temperature should be slightly cool. Your bed should be comfortable and make sure you have a good pillow.
Don’t nap. This is self-explanatory, and also a little sad. However, napping is not overall banned. If you can nap smart and in the appropriate setting, you can nap if it helps.
Lay off the stimulants. No coffee (gasp!) or other stimulants before bedtime. You may even need to switch to decaf in the afternoon.
Don’t overcorrect. Like I said, you may think you’re sleeping too much when you’re really not. Keep track and don’t deprive yourself of sleep when you need it.
If you think you’re having problems sleeping, talk to your doctor. You may need a sleep study that can show other problems, like sleep apnea. Fortunately these can be done at home a lot of the time. So while you do have to sleep with wires and tubes attached to you, at least it’s in your own, especially comfortable, bed.
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