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By Alexandra Sifferlin
February 26, 2015
TIME Health
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Oversleeping feels like a treat on the weekend, but regularly sleeping too much is actually a sign that there may be a medical problem at play. According to a new study, people who sleep more than eight hours a day have a higher risk for a stroke compared with people who sleep six to eight hours.

In the new study, published in the journal Neurology, researchers followed nearly 10,000 people ages 42 to 81 for almost 10 years. They recorded both the amount of sleep they typically got each night, as well as whether they had a stroke.

Around 7 out of 10 of the men and women slept six to eight hours, and about 1 in 10 slept more than eight hours a night on average. The people who slept the most had a 46% higher than average risk of stroke when the researchers accounted for other variables that could contribute to risk. Their risk was about double that of people who reported getting a typical amount of shut-eye each night.

The study only shows an association, but it’s fairly surprising since in the past, sleep deprivation has been linked to a greater stroke risk too. The researchers speculate that long nights of sleep may be linked to increased inflammation, which can eventually lead to cardiovascular problems.

“Prolonged sleep might be a useful marker of increased stroke risk in older people, and should be tested further for its utility in clinical practice,” the authors conclude. Stroke isn’t the only risk that’s linked to sleeping too much. Physicians sometimes use sleep duration as an indicator for how well a patient is feeling. Getting too much sleep can often mean something under the hood is off.

“If people are sleeping too much, it’s a bad sign,” says Dr. David Gozal, a pediatric sleep disorders physician at the University of Chicago Medicine. “Very few people can sleep more than what they need. It’s a sign there is an underlying health-related problem, whether it’s depression, cancer or neurological deterioration. It’s usually not a good thing.” Gozal was not involved in the study.

If you like to sleep in on the weekends, don’t fret. Occasionally spending extra time in bed is likely not a bad sign, experts say, but when it becomes a regular habit, it might be worth checking out. For now, the researchers of the new study say their findings need further investigation, and priority should be given to understanding the underlying mechanisms.

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