Is oversleeping a habit you can’t break?
Have you ever considered the consequences of oversleeping?
Well, sure, oversleeping can make you late for work or for a class. It can get you fired.
But here’s the worst consequence of oversleeping: you’re missing out on life.
Alright, maybe that statement needs some clarification. So let’s see what I mean. Take a look at your past sleeping habits. Right, now pick a time where you were full of energy and ambition. How did you wake up each morning? Did you slowly roll out of bed, turn off the alarm clock, go to the bathroom, only to convince yourself in your cognitive fog that you should probably go back and lie down? And what happens then — oops, you’re back asleep.
When your life is full of energy and ambition, this rarely happens. What does happen? You wake up with a jolt, excited to tackle the day. You think “there’s so much to do, and so little time,” but this motivates you to start working early. Sometimes you wake a few minutes before the alarm goes off.
The problem with oversleeping is that it affects the rest of your day. If you lazily crawl out of bed after a 10-hour sleep, what’s the rest of your day like? Full of energy? No. The rest of your day is spent in a cognitive fog. Why is it that getting a 10-hour night of sleep makes us feel worse than an 7-hour night of sleep?
Sleep—the more the better, right? Well, it doesn’t seem that way.
Fortunately, oversleeping is curable. But let’s first look at why we oversleep.
Oversleeping is caused by a failure in the body’s wake-up mechanism. Unfortunately, disrupting the body’s wake-up mechanism isn’t necessarily a difficult thing to do. Just a few bad habits can cause this failure.
What wakes you up in the morning? Increased blood flow to the brain, which is triggered by the hormones ACTH and cortisol. ACTH and cortisol levels slowly rise as you sleep and spike upon waking up, after which their levels decline during the day. Without a healthy spike in these hormones, waking up will be difficult.
This wake-up mechanism is competing with your body’s desire to sleep as long as possible. If the wake-up mechanism fails to kick in properly, then you will oversleep by a few hours. This extra sleep is usually poor-quality light sleep (stage 1 and stage 2), so it provides little extra benefit.
So how do we control this wake-up mechanism? It’s rather simple.
First, ACTH and cortisol naturally want to spike when your body thinks it should wake up. ACTH and cortisol response are closely tied with your internal body-clock, which dictates your circadian rhythm. To stabilize your circadian rhythm, you need to keep wake-up times consistent. It doesn’t matter if you wake up at 5AM or 10AM, as long as it is consistent from day to day your body clock will stabilize into a 24-hour rhythm.
Once your body clock is stabilized, then ACTH and cortisol will consistently spike when they’re supposed to — during your body’s wake-up time. This hormone spike will give you a strong morning jolt of energy.
One problem with oversleepers is that they are inconsistent with their sleep schedule. In a sense, their body clocks can’t decide when to start the wake-up mechanism, so the hormone spike becomes either too broad or too weak, which leads to unnecessary oversleeping and trouble waking up in the morning.
What else can we do to optimize our body’s wake-up mechanism?
One study showed that by merely anticipating a wake-up time, our bodies will spike ACTH and cortisol higher than normal. Researchers took two groups of volunteers. Group 1 was told they would be woken up at 6AM. Group 2 was told they would be woken up at 9AM. The volunteers all went to sleep at midnight and their ACTH levels were monitored throughout the night. At 5AM, the ACTH levels of group 1 started to rise in anticipating of the 6AM alarm. Levels spiked at 6AM when they were woken up. What about group 2? To their surprise, the researchers woke them up at 6AM as well — and guess what, their ACTH levels remained low even after waking up.
What does this mean? It means that by anticipating our wake-up time we can give ourselves that hormonal jolt of energy to hop out of bed with ease. On the other hand, if we go to bed with the intention of eternal slumber, we will oversleep and miss out on that jolt of energy our body intended us to have.
This brings up a couple points. Have you ever noticed that during your high-on-life periods you needed less sleep than usual? This is partly because through daily ambition we train ourselves to be excited to jump out of bed each morning. That anticipation facilitates the hormonal wake-up mechanism we’ve been talking about.
Conversely, depression has the opposite effect. It’s no surprise that several studies have shown a link between depression and long sleep — when sleep is used to escape the world, there is no anticipation for waking up, thus no hormonal boost.
In summary, how do we avoid oversleeping?
- Keep wake-up times consistent
- Maintain a positive, energetic attitude and “anticipate” each wake-up as best as you can.