By Jo Lynn Chong
Picture this scenario: you are in your workplace but your swollen eyes can hardly stay open, your headaches like a thousand needles just pricked you; your movements are uncoordinated and no amount of pinching or videos can restore your groggy mind to its rightful order.
You seem to want to collapse and just doze off.
For many, the above situation may sound familiar as lots of us face the ordeals of having to trudge through days with sleep-deprived bodies; some of us may even have experienced falling asleep during class or work. Whatever the reason, however, we need to be aware that sleeping insufficiently is bad for us, especially if we are doing it in the long-term.
Ipoh Echo had an exclusive one-on-one with Dr Foo Joo Ee, a Consultant Physician at Foo Medical Clinic along Jalan Leong Sin Nam to discuss the causes, effects and solutions to sleep deprivation.
The National Sleep Foundation published an updated summary of sleep requirement recommendations per day in 2015.
- Newborns (0-3 months): 14-17 hours
- Infants (4-11 months): 12-15 hours
- Toddlers (1-2 years): 11-14 hours
- Preschoolers (3-5 years): 10-13 hours
- School-age children (6-13 years): 9-11 hours
- Teenagers (14-17 years): 8-10 hours
- Younger adults (18-25 years): 7-9 hours
- Adults (26-64 years): 7-9 hours
- Older adults (65 years and above): 7-8 hours
Short-term (a couple of days or weeks)
Getting insufficient hours of sleep will lead to irritability, short tempers and tiredness in the short term. “Even after one late night, tomorrow you will also feel a bit drowsy, right?” Dr Foo explained. “You may also have slower reaction times, reduced vigilance, attention deficits and shorter attention spans, which is dangerous as accidents can be caused,” he added.
In the long term, if you are an adult, you can get high blood pressure as the level of stress hormones in your body increases when you are sleep-deprived. “Number two, again because of those stress chemicals and inflammatory chemicals, you can get a heart attack, or you can get a stroke,” Dr Foo stated. Other detrimental effects that can arise in adults are Type 2 Diabetes, weight gain and obesity. Type 2 Diabetes and weight gain are caused by an increase in insulin; obesity occurs due to a decrease in the leptin hormone and an increase in the ghrelin hormone, which are both hormones that control your food consumption. Adult men may experience a loss of libido as testosterone production is decreased. “For normal production of the male hormone, testosterone, you need rest,” Dr Foo explained.
On the other hand, young children may encounter growth and development problems as not sleeping enough will decrease their growth hormone production. “If they don’t sleep enough and they are stressed, they talk later and they walk later,” Dr Foo stated.
Both adults and children, however, may suffer from weakened immunity and therefore easily prone to infections.
Psychological effects caused by chronic sleep deprivation include mood changes, depression and anxiety. As Dr Foo mentioned, besides affecting your mood, it can also jeopardise your performance as you start to find it hard to concentrate on your studies or work, reducing your productivity. You may also find yourself making poor decisions. “The other thing is you can get forgetful,” Dr Foo expressed. “Short-term, long-term memory and stuff like that.”
Ageing is one of the causes of sleep deprivation. “As you grow older, you tend to sleep less, and your sleep tends to be more interrupted,” Dr Foo stated.
Behavioural causes may encompass voluntary and involuntary reasons. Staying up late voluntarily to study, work, play video games, binge-watch television series or videos, be on social media and visit pubs or cyber cafes till the wee hours, is common nowadays.
On the contrary, some people get sleep deprivation because of involuntary reasons. “There are people who work shifts, like nurses and people who work at night, then their biological clock is all messed up, so they get sleep-deprived. And then, there are certain people with personal obligations like new mothers, for instance, who have to take care of their babies. If their babies cry all night, they cannot sleep. Then, there are people who have to take care of old parents or those who are chronically ill and dependent. Say your mother is sick and has to visit the toilet a few times a night, so she has to wake you up,” Dr Foo explained.
First of all, if you think you have a medical condition such as a sleep disorder that is hindering you from a good night’s sleep, please consult a doctor.
Otherwise, as Dr Foo advised, “Of course, voluntarily go to sleep! Don’t study so hard lah, study until 11 o’clock, sleeping time, close the books and go to sleep. Stop your games, stop your whatnot and don’t go out to the pub too late.”
The next step is to adopt healthy habits to ensure a good night’s sleep.
Do not take long daytime naps.
Decrease stimulant use, such as coffee, tea, Coca-Cola and smoking before you sleep. Some people may have to cease drinking anything caffeinated by lunchtime.
Normalise your biological clock by going to bed and waking up at the same time every day.
Do not go to bed after heavy meals. So eat lightly and early for dinner and do have at least a three-hour gap after dinner before turning in.
Exercise regularly in the daytime, but not close to your bedtime. This is because exercising decreases your stress but at the same time, your body produces a lot of hormones that are stimulatory during exercise, so exercising right before your sleep is really not a good idea.
Destress yourself during the day or in the evening by doing a hobby. Also, as Dr Foo asserted, “Don’t bring your work to where your recreational time is. I tell people, for de-stressing purposes, give yourself at least half an hour of your own time and do what you love to do. Whether it is yoga, meditation, watching a movie, listening to music, playing a game, whatever it is, that is your time. During that time, don’t let your work, don’t let any of your worries bother you as much as possible; it needs some discipline to do it because things creep into your mind but you need to do that for your mental health.”
Create a comfortable environment in your bedroom by, for instance, ensuring the temperature is not too cold or too hot and that the room is not too dark or too bright. You can even have some soft music playing in your room if that can help you to fall asleep. And do switch off all lights when you sleep. Lights disturb your circadian rhythms.
Clear your mind before sleeping.
However, sleep deprivation may sometimes be unavoidable. You may be rushing to meet a deadline or you may have a sudden increase in homework or workload, or you may be experiencing jet lag when you fly to different places with different time zones.
In these cases, you can reduce the effects of sleep deprivation by taking caffeine, but strictly not at night. “I don’t advise smoking because it’s bad for you, I don’t advise using any stimulants because it’s bad for you but the commonest stimulant, really, is caffeine and you can find it in coffee or strong tea,” Dr Foo explained. “You can take cat naps, which are very short naps; 15 minutes, 30 minutes, you wake up. You don’t go into a deep sleep,” Dr Foo advised. You can also take prophylactic naps, which basically means sleeping more prior to the days that you know you will not be able to get enough sleep. Nevertheless, you should be going back to a healthy sleep pattern after those hectic days have passed. If, however, you are unable to deal with these sudden stressful days by yourselves, please consult a doctor who may give you advice or prescribe medications.
Dr Foo Joo Ee, Foo Medical Clinic, 5 Jalan Leong Sin Nam, 30300 Ipoh; 05-2530784.