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PETALING JAYA: Besides food, water and oxygen, sleep is one of man­kind’s basic needs. We need sufficient sleep in order to function well. Yet, sleep tends to be one of the first things that gets bumped down the priority list when we are pressured to meet deadlines. In January, Philips Respironics, a global leader in sleep-related solutions, conducted a global online sleep survey to generate new insights into how people across the world slept.  Out of nearly 8,000 respondents from 10 countries, over half admitted that their sleep could be better. Twenty two percent reported waking up before their expected rising time five to seven times in a week, while only 17{123e3fafdb6db052bce257c2767c0501b4d69e09443e29bec7a694b24d0ee973} consistently slept through the night.  In 2010, Britain’s Sleep Council found that 27{123e3fafdb6db052bce257c2767c0501b4d69e09443e29bec7a694b24d0ee973} of UK citizens slept for just five to six hours per night. Three years later, the same figure shot up by 7{123e3fafdb6db052bce257c2767c0501b4d69e09443e29bec7a694b24d0ee973}, meaning that, in total, a third of Britons were surviving on highly limited amounts of rest.  Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, a 2009 Philips survey that focused on India found that 93{123e3fafdb6db052bce257c2767c0501b4d69e09443e29bec7a694b24d0ee973} of Indians were getting less than eight hours sleep per day, while 58{123e3fafdb6db052bce257c2767c0501b4d69e09443e29bec7a694b24d0ee973} felt their work suffered from lack of sleep.  An astonishing 11{123e3fafdb6db052bce257c2767c0501b4d69e09443e29bec7a694b24d0ee973} of Indians even admitted that they had taken leave from work just to catch up on sleep.  Harvard experts believe that society’s obsession with staying connected could be one of the main factors why sleep is increasingly falling by the wayside.  Speaking to NBC News in June, Dr Charles Czeisler, a sleep doctor based at Harvard Medical School, explained that in­stead of winding down, the person’s mental faculties remain hyper alert and unable to attain a state of rest when he stares at an electronic screen.  “The big problem with light exposure that we get from electronics is that it is de­laying what our brain interprets as sunset,” he said.  “The light from digital device screens sends a signal to our brains that it’s still daylight, triggering a surge of energy and blocking the melatonin that makes us sleepy.”

IMG_20150421_105451-250x250Amy Ho, senior sleep technician based at the Asean Sleep Research and Competence Centre (ASRCC), says that technology has become a major disruptive factor in sleeping patterns. Ho, who holds a diploma in medical lab technology and is one of the eight existing certified sleep technicians here, says those who have a hard time getting to bed often have bad sleep hygiene – the clinical term used to describe a person’s sleeping habits.  The result is that sleep slips further out of reach, no matter how physically tired one may be.  Sleep disorders are chronic disturbances in the quantity or quality of sleep that interferes with a person’s ability to function normally.  “Snoring itself is not normal – it’s the first tell-tale sign that something is not right,” says Ho. Last year, TNS, a global leader in market research, released a study entitled Connected Life, which assessed Malaysian netizens’ usage behaviours. According to that report, for over a third of Malaysian internet users, the screen of their mobile phone is the first ‘face’ they see in the morning.  Meanwhile, 35{123e3fafdb6db052bce257c2767c0501b4d69e09443e29bec7a694b24d0ee973} of internet users reach for their phone before they even get out of bed, while roughly the same number (34{123e3fafdb6db052bce257c2767c0501b4d69e09443e29bec7a694b24d0ee973}) use their phone in bed before they go to sleep.  These statistics seem to suggest that a fair number of Malaysians are not getting the recommended six to eight hours of sleep each night.  Is it really so bad to get fewer hours of shut-eye?

lim-kheng-seangDr Lim Kheng-Seang, president of the Malaysian Society of Neurosciences, says that this isn’t necessarily the case. “Some people can sleep little and still feel fresh, compared with a person who is out of routine … (that person) would not function as well.” According to him, this is because our bodies are internally regulated by hor­mones which determine how much sleep we need.  Lim, who is a consultant neurologist specialising in epilepsy at the University of Malaya Specialist Centre (UMSC), says that the side effects commonly associated with sleep deprivation could actually be related to external factors.  According to Lim, it is the quality of sleep one gets, rather than quantity, which is the key issue.  The dangers of an erratic sleep/wake schedule have been highlighted in a 2014 study that was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  In the study, 22 participants had their sleeping patterns shifted gradually from a normal pattern to that of a night-shift worker by a delaying of their sleep-wake cycle by four hours each day.  Researchers who collected blood samples from these participants found that several biological processes were disrupted when the sleep-wake cycle was altered.  In a BBC interview, researcher Professor Derk-Jan Dijk described how the heart, kid­neys and brain rhythms could all be thrown out of sync when the sleep cycle is disrupted.  At the end of the day, it would seem that get­ting more shut-eye might not be as important as having and sticking to a regular sleeping pattern. “A lot of people (who sleep less) are okay, so long as they lead a regular, healthy life­style,” says Lim. He adds that the best sleeping pattern is one where a person goes to bed and wakes up at roughly the same time every day.


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