Can Too Much Sleep Be a Sign of Bigger Problems?

Catching seven or eight hours of Zzzs every night would be a dream come true for any insomniac. But if you're sleeping over nine hours nightly -- and still craving more shuteye -- here's what could be making you Rip Van Winkle -- and what you can do about it

Hypothyroidism

If you often feel sad, sluggish and achy, and you’re constantly struggling with your weight, your thyroid could be the reason why you constantly feel so exhausted. This tiny gland controls how efficiently every cell in your body converts food into energy, and when it goes on the fritz, it can make you feel worn out 24/7.

Rx1: Ask for a TSH test

Over half of the women struggling with hypothyroidism have never been diagnosed or treated, according to researchers at Harvard. To find out if you’re one of them, ask your doctor for the Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) blood test -- a high score means your thyroid is lagging, and your brain is trying desperately to get this gland up to speed. Getting hypothyroidism treated with prescription meds can erase your nonstop need for sleep in as little as 12 weeks.

Rx2: Pair protein with carbs

Eating protein at every meal steadies carbohydrate absorption and prevents massive insulin spikes — a proven thyroid suppressor, say Tufts University researchers. Plus, protein is rich in the amino acid tyrosine, an essential building block of thyroid hormones.Start adding some of these protein-rich foods into your diet: one ounce of nuts, eight ounces of milk or yogurt, one egg or four ounces of poultry, meat or fish.

Too Much Sleep from Depression

If you often feel irritable, anxious or blue, crave sweets and starches and have trouble concentrating, you could be depressed. One of the hallmarks of depression is that sufferers crave lots of sleep -- and no amount ever really feels too much sleep, according to UCLA researchers.

Rx1: Put on your dancing shoes

In a recent British study, depressed women lowered their depression scores by 67 percent after only nine weeks of dancing -- an improvement that's tough to match with any other form of exercise or antidepressant meds. Physical activity prompts the brain to produce feel-good chemicals called endorphins and dancing incorporates mood-boosting rhythm and music, the study authors say. To soothe symptoms of depression, try dancing for 20 minutes, four times weekly, -- either with a partner, or alone with a dance workout video you can do solo.

Rx2: Eat "happy" meals

If you eat 16 ounces of fish weekly, and you could cut your risk of depression-triggered sleep problems in half, say Stanford University researchers. "Your brain uses the essential fats in fish to produce antidepressant hormones," says psychiatrist Norman Rosenthal, M.D., author of The Gift of Adversity. "Even if your diet is otherwise healthy, missing out on these fats can trigger depression, sleep disturbances and nonstop fatigue."

Too Much Sleep Due to Heartburn

If you have to sleep long hours to make up for sleeping lightly, nighttime bouts of heartburn could be to blame. According to University of Oklahoma researchers, at least 40 percent of people with acid reflux wake up repeatedly every night -- and many of those groggy folks have no idea stomach acid is the culprit -- their nighttime mild reflux doesn’t cause a typical burning sensation.

Rx1: Slow your roll

Eating more slowly can cut your risk of sleep-sabotaging heartburn flare-ups in half, and in a recent study at the University of Southern California, just switching to the non-dominant hand while eating was all it took to slow down meal consumption by 30 percent.

Rx2: Add apple cider

Mixing one tablespoon of apple cider vinegar with eight ounces of water and sipping it before meals can soothe even chronic heartburn within 48 hours. “Cider vinegar’s natural acids help food digest and move into the small intestine before it can back up into the esophagus,” explains gastroenterologist Joseph Brasco, M.D., author of Restoring Your Digestive Health. One caveat: use cooking vinegar that has been sitting in the pantry for two years. The active ingredients in cider vinegar are damaged by heat, so pick up fresh, unpasteurized bottle at your local health food store.

Sleep Apnea

If you snore loudly, have been told you stop breathing in your sleep or sometimes wake up gasping for air, sleep apnea could be the reason you’re always exhausted. Apnea occurs when the upper airway collapses, triggering dozens -- sometimes hundreds -- of sleep-disrupting breathing pauses every night.

Rx1: Snooze on your side

When back sleepers roll onto their sides, it takes so much pressure off their chest and airways that their apnea episodes and fatigue are cut in half, Japanese researchers say. “To keep yourself snoozing on your side, tape a tennis ball to the back of your pajamas,” suggests Walter Gaman, M,D., co-author of Stay Young. “It’s cheap, simple to do, and works really well.”

Rx2: Lose weight

It's not easy, but shedding 15 pounds takes so much pressure off the upper airway that it can cut your apnea episodes in half -- reach your goal weight, and your sleep apnea could disappear, say researchers at New Jersey’s Mountainside Hospital. To make weight loss a whole lot easier, enjoy a big breakfast and several hearty morning snacks, then taper off from munching as the day wears on. A study at Virginia Commonwealth University found that when subjects moved more of their calories to the morning, they lost four times more weight than when they followed a strict, low-carb eating plan. The researcher’s best guess: Morning meals improve all-day appetite control, plus they rev up your ability to burn fat for fuel.

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