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The Dangers of Oversleeping This Winter

Find out exactly the right amount you need for your health.

There's a good reason why bears hibernate in the wintertime. It's cold and dark. When snow blankets the ground, the days grow shorter and the air colder, who wouldn't want to curl up in a cave and sleep? But resisting the urge to take a long winter's nap might just do your body good. Just as getting too little sleep is dangerous to your health, sleeping too long can have disastrous consequences.

Why Too Much is Bad for You

A good night's sleep is critical to your health—but there can be too much of a good thing. According to a study conducted in the United Kingdom, sleeping more than 9 hours is linked to a 30% greater risk of early death. What's more, too much sleep is associated with cardiovascular disease, hypertension, depression, obstructive sleep apnea, type 2 diabetes, and obesity. 

"Oversleeping regularly, more than 9-10 hours in a row, may be associated with a significant medical problem that should be diagnosed," says Dr. Paul Weinberg, M.D. Because of these risks, doctors recommend getting just enough sleep—7 to 8 hours per night. And if you're sleeping a lot and still feel tired during the day, see your medical provider.

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Why it Matters More in Winter

The seasonal change in sunlight can also have a big impact on your sleep. Melatonin is a natural hormone produced in the brain's pineal gland that helps to regulate your body's natural sleep cycles. Production of the hormone is triggered in the evening, when darkness falls, and continues to be released throughout the night. Levels of melatonin drop when exposed to natural daylight—one reason why a darkened bedroom is associated with a good night's sleep. 

"Our sleep schedules are greatly affected by sunlight," says Dr. Kimberly A. Lemke, P.C., licensed clinical psychologist. "If we can be more active during the day and maximize sunlight then we are more likely to sleep better in the evenings. The danger in oversleeping is not only do you minimize the amount of physical activity by shortening your day, but you also limit hours of sunlight that your body desperately needs. This could result in worsening sleep problems including insomnia, difficulty falling asleep, early awakenings or waking up multiple times during the night."

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Your circadian rhythm is disrupted in the wintertime, when there is less natural light available, and that can disrupt your sleep cycle. But artificial lighting can be a problem too. One study showed exposure to room light just before bedtime shortens melatonin release by about 90 minutes, which can impact sleep quality and the body's ability to regulate body temperature. According to the National Sleep Foundation, oversleeping can actually weaken your immune system and make you more likely to get sick.

And the winter months can be extra tough on people with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). This type of depression is triggered by the change in seasons—specifically, the change in daylight hours. This seasonal depression typically begins in the late fall, when the days grow shorter and begins to fade in the springtime. Symptoms include feelings of hopelessness, sadness, a strong urge to sleep a lot, lack of energy, and changes in appetite. Phototherapy is one effective way to manage SAD—even a short walk outside can help. If you think you might have SAD, make an appointment with your doctor to get advice.

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The Rx 

We know, your bed is beckoning. It's oh-so-comfy between the sheets. But keeping your sleep habits in check is better for you in the long run, so aim for 7 to 8 hours of shuteye every night.

Winding down is an important part of the practice, so turn off electronics, turn down the temperature to about 67 degrees, and lower your light levels about an hour before you go to bed. It will help you fall asleep faster and feel refreshed in the morning. And to live your happiest and healthiest life, don't miss these 70 Things You Should Never Do For Your Health.