Insomniacs get all the attention. Pop songs lament the restless nights of the lovelorn, and drug ads describe the soothing sleep you can get if you pop the right pill.
It’s no wonder people’s eyebrows shoot up when Shawn Youngstedt tells
them he’s studying the health hazards of people who sleep too much.
"To many, it seems crazy, counter-intuitive," says Youngstedt, an assistant
professor of exercise science in the University of South Carolina’s Arnold
School of Public Health.
Yet studies have documented the health risks of "long sleepers" –
those who report needing more than eight hours on the mattress each night.
Most significantly, he said about 20 studies involving more than a million people
have shown that long sleepers have a greater risk of dying than do those who sleep
(Researchers ruled out the possibility that the long sleepers simply had fewer
diseases to start with.)
If sleeping too much can be hazardous to one’s health, does it follow that
long sleepers should try to sleep less?
That’s the focus of the unusual research at USC. Youngstedt and colleagues
are testing long sleepers to see whether restricting their pillow time has any
Researchers rule out conditions such as sleep apnea, severe depression, excessive
daytime sleepiness and abnormal blood-sugar levels. Then the long sleepers are
assigned to an eight-week treatment plan.
Half of them reduce their time in bed by 90 minutes a night. (Most average 7.5
hours of sleep, down from nine hours.) The other participants stay in bed for
the usual time. All participants keep diaries and have their daily and nightly
movements monitored by an actigraph, a device worn on the wrist.
"The bottom line is that we’re finding people are indeed able to reduce
their time in bed with no significant effects," he says. Some participants
have continued to restrict their time in bed after the study, he adds.
"You know how you feel kind of lethargic after spending too much time in
bed on the weekend or over a holiday? There’s some evidence that long sleepers
tend to feel that way all the time," he says.
Youngstedt invariably is asked whether long sleepers should try to sleep less.
"My answer to that is, it’s too early to advise people in that direction,"
he says. "On the other hand, I feel completely comfortable advising someone
who sleeps six hours and feels fine that they don’t have to worry about getting
eight hours," he says.
"They might actually live longer."
© 2006, The State (Columbia, S.C.).
Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
Culture: Pre-2/21/2007 [You Snooze, You Lose]
You Snooze, You Lose: Health Risks for Those who Sleep too Much
By Linda Lamb
Article posted on 3/7/2006
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