09/18/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Sleep Too Much?

Heads up: If you sleep too much, you could be putting yourself at higher risk for a stroke.

The first line in the article I read with this news amused me: "It seems that just about every ailment out here is linked to whether we're getting enough sleep or not..." True, every day we find new reasons to nurture our sleep as we uncover how it relates directly or indirectly with our risk for disease. And for the most part, we're plagued with news about how too little sleep can be detrimental to our health and happiness. But too much sleep? That's hard to come by these days.

The interesting part about the recent study, which focused on more than 93,000 post-menopausal women over a seven-year period, found too much sleep may be harder on our hearts, which is linked to stroke risk, than too little sleep. Compared to the women who slept seven hours a night, those who slept six or fewer hours had a 14 percent higher risk of stroke, while those who slept eight hours had a 24 percent higher risk. The most astonishing numbers are for those who caught nine or more hours of sleep each night. They had a 70 percent higher risk of stroke!

Don't panic. If you get nine or more hours of sleep a night, you're not doomed. You might, in fact, need it. Everyone is different. So long as you feel refreshed in the morning and charged all day, you're probably meeting your body's sleep needs. I'd only be concerned if you're sleeping until noon and still tired.

Keep in mind that this study looked at older women, and as one of the researchers pointed out, there's no way of knowing whether the longer sleep time was the reason for the increased risk or whether there was some other factor that both led people to sleep more and was also a risk factor for stroke. If you cut back on sleep, which is a prescription I don't fill for most people, you may not necessary cut your risk for a stroke.

The lesson here? Pardon the cliché, but everything in moderation--sleep included. Keeping a healthy heart and cardiovascular system requires a multifaceted approach:

  • Eat well (you know what that means by now)
  • Move well (daily exercise)
  • Sleep well (for most of us that means whatever you can get)
  • Live well (no smoking)

Sound like old news? It is. Just don't start counting minutes in bed like you count calories.

This article is cross-posted at Dr. Breus's official blog, The Insomnia Blog.