No matter where you are on your fitness or weight-loss journey, you’re probably already aware of the important role sleep plays in your routine. Not only does lack of sleep affect your athletic performance, but it can also sabotage your fitness goals. According to the Centers for Disease Control, about 35% of adults in the U.S. are not getting the recommended 7–9 hours of sleep, so first and foremost, you’ll want to make sure you’re hitting that range in order to conquer your health-related goals.
But is it possible to get too much of a good thing?
After all, research suggests sleeping more than 9 hours per night is associated with an increased risk of health issues like chronic inflammation, heart disease and even depression and anxiety. On the flip side, pro athletes often swear by crazy long sleep sessions (we’re talking 12+ hours) to maximize recovery and performance, Andy Murray and Michelle Wie are among them. These are arguably some of the healthiest people on the planet, so what gives? Let’s dive in.
READ MORE> TOP ATHLETES ON WHY THEY PRIORITIZE SLEEP
THE CASE FOR “OVERSLEEPING”
As it turns out, “oversleeping” is a bit of a misnomer. “I am not sure people really can sleep too much,” says Dr. Steven H. Feinsilver, director of the Center for Sleep Medicine at Lenox Hill Hospital. After all, sleep is pretty individual, and if you’re feeling tired after a long, active day, it can’t hurt to get some extra shuteye. It might even help your athletic performance, considering that one study done on college athletes found they logged faster sprint times after 5–7 weeks of sleeping 10 hours per night. Another found that two hours of additional sleep time each night improved tennis players’ serve accuracy.
Plus, each person’s sleep baseline is different. “The average human is thought to need about 7.25 hours of sleep time,” Feinsilver says. “But, if this is the average, there are certainly some of us who need 9 hours and some lucky individuals who can function well with 5 hours.” It’s certainly possible you might naturally need more sleep than others to perform at your best both physically and mentally.
And what about all that research that shows sleeping too much is bad for you? “Most of that research is based on self-reported sleep duration, so the ‘long’ sleep may indicate longer times in bed, which may not necessarily translate into more sleep,” explains Dr. Susan Redline, Farrell Professor of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, a senior physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and co-chair of the Society for Women’s Health Research Interdisciplinary Network on Sleep. The most important factor, she says, is staying consistent with your sleep schedule. If you really need 9 hours, you should be getting that amount every night, plus going to bed and waking up around the same time.
THE DOWNSIDE OF SLEEPING TOO MUCH
One thing’s for sure: Not sleeping enough is bad for your weight-loss and fitness goals. “Research clearly shows that insufficient sleep is associated with weight gain, cravings for high-caloric foods and increased snacking,” Redline says. “Some research shows that people who sleep less are less likely to lose weight and keep off any lost weight. So, sleeping the recommended amounts is an important component for keeping healthy, including maintaining a healthy body mass.”
And while the research around long-term effects of sleeping long durations might be somewhat debatable, there’s a certain practical element that’s irrefutable. “Spending more than 9 or 10 hours in bed may impinge on time you may normally be up and active,” Redline points out. This is especially concerning for those who are trying to lose weight. Think about it: If you normally wake up at 7 a.m. and are up and about, walking around and doing things, but suddenly you’re sleeping until 9 a.m., you’re losing two valuable hours of activity that could be going toward your calorie deficit for the day.
For those mainly concerned with performance, it’s important to remember pro athletes who see such great performance results from sleeping for many hours at a time aren’t exactly typical specimens. “Athletes on average train with higher degrees of intensity and frequency than the rest of the population,” notes Brandon Mentore, a certified strength and conditioning coach based in Philadelphia. “There is a point at which the recovery timeline needs to be extended, and that typically makes itself apparent when performance starts to drop off.” If you see your athletic performance starting to decline, and you think sleep might be a factor, talk to a qualified trainer or coach who can help optimize your recovery schedule.
Like many things in health, there’s no one answer to how much sleep you should be getting.
Depending on your goals, you might find sleeping more or less, pushes you closer to, or further away from, where you want to be.
If you’re not sure whether you’re getting adequate shuteye or are potentially overdoing it, pay attention to how you feel when you wake up. This factor, according to Redline, is generally a good indicator. “You should feel refreshed when waking up,” she says. If you can’t seem to get enough sleep, no matter how much time you spend in bed, she recommends checking in with your healthcare provider, as it might not be as simple as just oversleeping. “While you may be spending too much time in bed, it is more likely that a sleep disorder is interfering with your sleep quality — triggering you to spend more time in bed despite not getting the restorative benefits of good sleep quality.”