What’s the Harm in Sleeping So Long?

I’m 15 years old and I sleep a lot, as much as 10 to 15 hours a day. Is too much sleeping harmful? Can you please tell me the harmful effects of excessive sleeping?

This question touches home. As a father of two sons, 15 and 17 years old, I have first-hand experience with kids who love to sleep. What is it about teen-agers and sleep? Is it a biological need or a matter of laziness and sloth? I sometimes ask myself if I let the boys sleep to their hearts’ content, will they perform better at school, be more emotionally grounded, or able to concentrate and work more effectively? Or if I let them sleep, am I giving in to an old ruse, the desire of teen-agers to be left alone to do what they want with their lives regardless — even in spite of — what their parents think is best for them? Will they suffer on account of being allowed to sleep according to their own whim?

There are those who adhere to the notion that teen-agers need extra sleep, that it is good and healthy for them to get extra rest. But I am not so sure. For example, they do not seem to have problems with fatigue at nighttime. I find they talk on the phone or chat on the Internet for hours into the night looking pretty bright and perky.

What’s the Harm in Sleeping So Long?

So how would you know if you are sleeping too much? I don’t think there are any absolute rules, but here are some suggested guidelines. First of all, there is a difference between sleeping 10 to 15 hours per night every night vs. only on weekends or during vacations. Most kids would find it pretty difficult to get through their day, attend school and keep up with their other activities if they were sleeping that much on a regular basis. That much sleep begins to cause practical and logistical problems.

It is unlikely that anyone “needs” more than eight or nine hours of sleep a night. Indeed, I am familiar with the sleep patterns of many people through my medical practice and it is a rare patient who needs more sleep than that on a regular basis. Of course, some sleep much less than that, finding that four or five hours is all they need, but overall I would estimate the average hours of sleep per night for most adults is between seven and eight.

It is also informative to ask how you feel when you first get out of bed in the morning. If you are still feeling fatigued and sleepy after 10 to 15 hours of rest, I would be concerned about the possible presence of depression. Depression often causes problems with sleep: either too much or too little. If you are not feeling refreshed and ready for your day after that much sleep, then think about depression as a possible cause.

Teen-agers will sometimes suffer from a “late sleep phase.” Given the tendency to stay up late, sleep begins to extend into the following day with the result that school work and other activities suffer. Daytime sleepiness and poor concentration may be signs of a late sleep phase. Re-setting sleep habits to an earlier bedtime will solve this problem.

Most of us would probably agree that there is a natural tendency of teen-agers to want to sleep late. As a lover of sleep myself, it seems reasonable and even desirable to indulge that desire from time to time. There needs to be some flexibility for the son or daughter to experiment with their own body rhythms, to find what works for them and to catch up on sleep after a series of late nights. But as with other aspects of life, too much of a good thing can become self-indulgent. Old-fashioned concepts such as structure, restraint and self-discipline are beneficial elements of a productive and healthy life. I see my children do better in environments where there is some structure, where they adhere to concepts of family routine and responsibility, and if they need more than eight or nine hours of sleep, I encourage them to get to bed a little earlier. Sometimes they even listen to my advice.

As a next step, if you are indeed finding you need an unusual number of hours of sleep every night, it might be wise to consult with your doctor to rule out an underlying depression or other health problem. But you needn’t worry about bad consequences from prolonged sleep. The extra sleep by itself poses no harm and will not cause any ill effects on health.

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