Can You Be Addicted to Sleep?
I sleep a lot. Could I be an addict?
Photo: Martien Uiterweerd/Flickr
"Sleep is a basic, biologic need—just like breathing and eating, we need sleep to live. To say that someone is addicted to sleep is like saying that one is addicted to breathing."
This is what Dr. Neil Kline, a representative at the American Sleep Association, responds with when I ask if there is a chance I could be addicted to sleep.
I'm not totally convinced.
I sleep a lot. I wake up around noon on weekends, nap two or three times during the day, then go to sleep around 11 PM or 12 AM. On weekdays I usually go to sleep around 9 PM, even though I get home at 7:30 PM, and wake up at 8 AM, half an hour before I need to leave for work. I am consistently late for work by 15 to 20 minutes.
Kline said you can't be addicted to sleep because it's a biological need. But people can be addicted to food and sex, which are also biological needs. So why not sleep?
The American Society of Addiction Medicine defines addiction as "a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry… This is reflected in an individual pathologically pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors." Essentially, you keep doing something over and over again no matter how bad it is for you.
You could argue that there must be a chemical reaction in order for dependency to occur, which is why you can be addicted to food or to sex. But there is a chemical reaction that occurs in sleep: Two chemicals, acetylcholine (the chemical that keeps you awake) and adenosine (the chemical that makes you drowsy) react in your body all day. When you wake up from a nap, you're flush with acetylcholine.
"It's not normal to just want to lay in bed all day long all the time."
When you google "sleeping addiction" you'll get the classic listicles—"X number of things only people who love to sleep understand"—WebMd explaining whether or not the answer to your question is cancer, and a lot of results about sleeping pill addiction, a common and concerning addiction. Sleeping pill addiction and sleep addiction, or the desire to sleep as much as possible all the time, are not the same, however.
The reason people get addicted to sleeping pills, according to BR Meier, a psychologist in Los Angeles who co-authored a paper on Ambien addiction for the Delaware Medical Journal, is because people have trouble sleeping. They'll take something as benign as Benadryl, which like regular sleeping pills can mess with the way you sleep and the quality of your sleep, creating a cycle of dependency.
"Just because people sleep a lot doesn't necessarily mean they're depressed, [but] it's not normal to be tired all the time. It's not normal to just want to lay in bed all day long all the time. There's usually something going on," he says.
When I ask what he thinks about the possibility of being addicted to sleep, even without being diagnosed as depressive, now matter how much I try he says the reason that you can't be addicted to sleep is that you just…. can't be.
"The first question I would ask is, which way does that bother you?" Dr. Emmanuel During, a doctor for the Stanford Sleep Disorders Clinic, asks when I bring up sleep addiction to him as well. "Medically speaking we don't see that [sleep addiction] as a disorder."
So, technically you can't be addicted to sleep, I suppose, because that's not really a thing. Bad news for my hopes of ever being on "My Strange Addiction."
The reason that you can't be addicted to sleep is that you just…. can't be.
My sleeping habit isn't disrupting my daily life in the way hypersomnia or sleep apnea would, so it doesn't make sense to call it a sleep disorder. It's also not ruining my relationships the way heroin or alcohol addiction would, so it doesn't feel right to call it an addiction. I just want to be alert and awake at all times, working with the optimal amount of energy as often as possible. Whenever I wake up, I feel refreshed and ready to focus on the task at hand. That's the point of napping, right?
In computing, there's a theory called "race to sleep." In this scenario, your phone and computer are always working as fast as possible in order to return to "sleep" mode, the lowest power state, and save as much energy as possible. Theoretically, the longer your device sleeps, the longer the battery lasts, conserving its energy for when it may be needed more. We all know what it's like to have your phone die at a bar, or in the middle of something important.
Sure, I could drink coffee. I could work out more, which would be the equivalent of running down my battery until it's almost dead but not actually dead, and only then charging it. But why? Your body, like your phone, naturally conserves itself when it slows down your metabolism, just like or going into idle mode. But why not just sleep instead?
You know the old saying that too much of a good thing is a bad thing. There are those studies warning us that oversleeping is bad, too. You can't overdose on sleep, but you may be able to sleep yourself to an early death, which is not good.This is the one place I luck out. All of the studies are too early to really confirm that sleeping too much is bad for me. But mostly they talk about oversleeping, akin to overcharging, which I'm not really doing. I'm just constantly napping, which seems to be OK to do for now. I might be sleeping myself to death, but that doesn't seem so bad.
You'll Sleep When You're Dead is Motherboard's exploration of the future of sleep. Read more stories.