The 21st century is all about technology: the fastest broadband, the latest gadget, the sharpest high-definition television, the time-saving kitchen device and more. They add excitement and provide relaxation to a time-strapped, IT-savvy society that is increasingly wired 24 hours a day.
The problem is that technology is slowly but surely making its way into one of Man’s most precious domain- the bedroom.
Urban or rural, more people have televisions (complete with satellite services for 24-hour viewing pleasure) in their bedrooms today than before. Not to mention smart phones, smart tablets, laptops and other electronic gadgets that have become like a second limb to modern Man.
Urban Health speaks to Consultant Ear Nose, Throat (ENT) Surgeon & Snoring and Sleep Apnea Specialist at the Pantai Ampang Hospital and Global Doctors Mount Kiara Specialist Centre, Dr Raymond Tan Suan-Kuo, who also serves as the Treasurer of the Sleep Disorder Society Malaysia (SDSM), for some insights on how we are being slowly robbed of an oft-overlooked essential health element: SLEEP.
Q: How many hours of sleep do we need every night? Does it vary according to age?
Dr Raymond: Babies sleep between 12-18 hours a day. Interestingly 50% of their sleep time is in REM dream sleep.
Children usually sleep from 8pm to 6am averaging about 11-13 hours. 25% of their sleep is in REM sleep. Studies have shown that children who sleep less are more prone to gaining more weight and also resulting in poorer school grades and lower IQs.
Teenagers usually have a natural sleeping time from 1am to 10 am and they require about 9 hours of sleep. Less sleep again has been implicated in poorer school grades. Also, early school hours i.e. usually most schools start at 8 a.m., necessitating teenagers to wake up earlier in the mornings, often clash with their natural sleeping times of 1am to 10am.
Adults typically require 6.5 to 7.5 hours of sleep a night and their sleeping times are usually between 11 pm to 6 am.
Q: What happens when the body is deprived of sleep?
Dr Raymond: Sleep is so important! Experiments depriving rats of sleep for two weeks result in their deaths. A recent study looking at people who sleep an average of 5 hours a day versus people who sleep an average of 7 hours a day showed a much higher incidence of hypertension, heart disease, depression and even suicides in the group with less sleep. What a difference a mere 2 hours of less sleep can make!
Q: How is technology affecting the quality and quantity of sleep today?
Dr Raymond: If we go back to the basics, people were supposed to go to sleep when the sun sets and wake up when the sun rises. Yet, with electricity, people can now stay awake for longer hours. Modern electronic items have robbed us of even more sleep time.
In the past it was just the television; now the combination of Facebook/Twitter on internet-connected smartphones creates a perpetual state of being able to log on to the internet 24 hours a day! A recent study done on 201 volunteers showed that except for sleep and sex, the urge to log into social networking sites was stronger than almost any other urge- including the urge for a cigarette, coffee, food or alcohol. This obsessive-compulsion behaviour borders on addiction and ‘steals’ a lot of people’s time and unsurprisingly eats into their sleep time resulting in sleep deprivation.
Q: How long do the sights and sounds experienced from electrical items continue to affect us after we shut down?
Dr Raymond: There is research that shows that the mind retains the images of what was being viewed by the eyes just before we fall asleep. Brain activities continue to be active if we had viewed visually stimulating images or content just before going to sleep. This possibly affects keeps the brain busy throughout the night, preventing us from reaching the REM stage of deep level of sleep that the brain needs for it to regenerate new cells. Many people have reported getting disturbed sleep if they had watched a horror or disturbing movie at bedtime.
Q: Does keeping the lights on after dark affect the way our body heals and cell regeneration?
Dr Raymond: Different parts of our brain play different roles in maintaining sleep. The Pineal gland is responsible for the production of Melatonin when it senses darkness, and sets off a signal to prepare the brain to sleep. Keeping the lights on disrupts this process, hence affecting the quality of sleep. It is possible that healing and cell regeneration in the brain may also be affected.
Q: Can sleep debt be accumulated and then be ‘redeemed/repaid’ over the weekend or over holidays?
Dr Raymond: Often, people would sleep as few as three hours a night on weekdays and then sleep 20 hours straight on weekends, but this has been shown to be unhealthy. If you sleep more on weekends – and many of us do – this indicates that you have a ‘sleep debt’. A sleep debt accumulates when you don’t get enough sleep. The only way to reduce the debt is to sleep as much as your body needs every night.
Q: What are the possible dangers of insufficient sleep?
Dr Raymond: Firstly, there is the danger of daytime sleepiness, which can be dangerous for people who are constantly on the road, handling heavy machineries or moving around high-risk areas where wakefulness and response time is essential.
A 2008 study published in the Sleep journal shows that people who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to put on weight compared to people with normal hours of sleep. The rationale is that people who do not sleep enough often eat more because they are tired, here they eat to obtain energy to battle their fatigue to stay alert and awake.
Another study in 2011 also shows that short sleep and poor sleep are also novel risk factors for type 2 diabetes. Studies have shown that sleep restriction damaged the body’s ability to regulate eating by lowering levels of leptin, the hormone that tells the body when it has had enough of food resulting in overeating. Sleep disruption also causes an increase in insulin resistance in humans (thus causing the body to need higher levels of insulin) and resulting in causing the potential to develop diabetes.
Dr Raymond provides some snooze tips:
1) Recognise the fact that sleep is a valuable commodity. Guard it well!
2) Sleep at the recommended hours, for the recommended hours.
3) Keep potential sleep distracters- computers/TVs/CD players/radios – out of the bedroom
4) Keep the bedroom comfortable, neat, clean and quiet.
5) Remember to ‘cool down’ to sleep. Relax for half an hour before sleeping by soaking in a warm tub, do a bit of light-reading or listen to some slow, easy music. We cannot just switch off the computer or TV and jump into bed to sleep. Our minds would still be a beehive of activity and many would find it hard to sleep.
6) Do not take stimulating substances like tea, coffee, carbonated drinks or chocolates just before sleeping.
7) Visit www.sleepsocietymalaysia.org for more tips on sleeping well!