Heymatt: My kids like nothing more than sleeping. They can sleep maybe 12 hours a night. On school days they have to go to bed really early, and it’s almost impossible for me to get them up. Is there something wrong with them? Is this normal? Can you sleep too much? I’m starting to worry. — Concerned Mom, San Diego
Woo-o-o, sounds like the research elves. You think you got problems? Grandma and I have to work in teams to get them out of bed every day. It takes hours. You just get one bunch awake and the last bunch is back under the covers again. The elves have no real excuse. Your kids might.
If they’re tweens or teens, they probably need a lot of sleep. Their bodies are growing, and so many things are going on inside them that they need sleep to get things back in order for another day of being an irritating teenager. According to the National Sleep Foundation, kids aged 5 to 12 need 10 to 11 hours of sleep each night. Preschoolers’ sleep needs make them sound like cats — 11 to 13 hours per night. And sleep needs vary from person to person. The National Sleep Foundation also says a teenager’s circadian rhythm (his brain-controlled sleep-wake pattern) makes him much more active at night and much less active early in the morning, so you can see why getting kids up for school can be a pain. But I’m not M.D. Alice, so if you’re really concerned, track down a real doctor for a checkup.
So, can you sleep too much? Sorry to say, you can. Or at least, if you do, it could be a bad sign. The sleep itself isn’t harmful; it’s what’s causing you to sleep so many hours that’s the problem. If you’re fit and healthy, it’s very hard to sleep more hours than your body needs to repair itself from the previous day’s nonsense. For most people, that’s between seven and eight hours. Science guys have done so much sleep research, it’s a miracle any of us get any sleep at all, what with them hooking us up to machines and wrapping us in wires and waking us up to ask if we’re asleep yet.
If you survey “common medical knowledge” about sleep, it’s nothing but contradictions. Some brush off long sleeping as just an individual quirk, assuming the sleeper is bright and chipper the following day. Others say it’s a sign of underlying illness, linked to diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and early death. It’s also an indication that the quality of sleep might be poor — snoring, sleep apnea, and the like. But the M.D.s admit that there is a lot of sleep-deprivation science but not much on oversleeping.
The most eye-popping sleep study comes from some locals, the department of psychiatry at UCSD. Their data massaging has produced some scary numbers with reference to over- and undersleeping. They say that “long sleepers” (8 hours or more per night) are 12 percent more likely to die within six years. More than 8 ½? Percentage goes up to 15. “Short sleepers,” 4 ½ hours or less, also have higher mortality. Seven hours is the safest number for adults.
All this has reduced me to a snoring lump. Nap time.
Oh, Most Knowledgeable One: Where did the origin of some weird animal phrases come from, like “working like a dog,” “cat got your tongue,” or one that I’ve never heard before until just recently, “an albatross around one’s neck”? The dogs that I’ve seen (including my own) live a pretty pampered life; they don’t work. How can a cat get at one’s tongue, and why would you open your mouth for the cat to get your tongue? And why oh why would an albatross even be tied around one’s neck? Was there someone stupid enough to try these things? — I Don’t Get It, Serra Mesa
Animals show up in our language in lots of weird ways. You’ve picked three of the weirdest. As for your dog, well, dogs have been used as work animals — pulling carts and stuff like that — since way back. Nobody can pinpoint the first imaginative serf who said he’d spent the day working the way his dog did, but that’s where the expression came from. Cats, on the other hand, have off and on been feared and hated and associated with witches. As a result, they too show up in lots of expressions. Strangely enough, there’s no print reference to the phrase before 1911, though it sounds like something the Puritans might have dreamed up. Again, the word nerds don’t really know who thought it up. The origin of your albatross is another matter. Consider Coleridge’s poem “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” written in 1798. A ship full of guys and a captain who shot an albatross. Albatross: sign of good luck. Kill albatross: not so good luck. Crew forces captain to wear albatross around his neck until he felt remorse for what he’d done. Everybody except captain dies. Captain finally feels remorse. Curse of the albatross is removed.