TODAY is World Heart Day, a global initiative to scale up the prevention of cardiovascular diseases such as heart attack and stroke. Cardio-vascular disease is the number one cause of death worldwide and in Malaysia.
Most of us know about typical cardiovascular risk factors like smoking, an unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, obesity, diabetes and hypertension. But there is another risk factor that lurks unknown to many, that affects a lot of people but is unrecognised and underreported: sleep deprivation.
Did you wake up feeling fresh and energetic this morning? Or did you feel tired and cranky when you got out of bed and are now finding it hard to concentrate? If you answered yes to the latter, you may be suffering from sleep deprivation.
Most adults need between seven and nine hours of good quality sleep each night. A recent workplace survey shows that one in two Malaysian employees have less than seven hours of sleep in 24 hours. A chronic lack of sleep increases stress hormones and inflammatory markers while lowering a sleep hormone (melatonin), and all this can lead to cardiovascular diseases.
Our globalised world has a large part to play in this sleep deprivation epidemic. People are now working around the clock, and our modern life gets in the way of sleep.
Most of us will recognises these habits and probably indulged in them in the past week:
1. Late into the night we are still browsing websites, shopping online, checking in boxes, chatting on apps, posting on social media, watching videos, playing games, etc – probably while in bed with our inseparable gadgets.
2. Our routine outdoor activities start late at night, such as meeting friends/families, eating at mamak stalls, playing sports, partying at nightspots, etc.
Sound familiar? So what can we do to get a better sleep quality?
1. Be consistent. Go to bed and get up at the same time every day, including the weekends.
2. Switch off electronic devices 60 to 90 minutes before bedtime.
3. Have a soothing pre-sleep routine, like listening to soft music, reading books, and practising relaxation techniques.
4. Exercise regularly during the day. Avoid intense exercise a few hours before bedtime.
5. Avoid large meals, caffeine, or alcohol before bedtime.
6. Keep the bedroom quiet, dark, relaxing and at a comfortable temperature.
7. Rule out a sleep disorder if you have difficulty initiating and maintaining sleep for longer than four weeks or have symptoms interfering with daytime activities and the ability to function. Consult your doctor because an underlying health condition may be causing your sleep problems.
We often devalue the seriousness of insufficient sleep, and “getting enough sleep” is considered a lower priority in life. For a start, policymakers should encourage educational efforts to raise awareness about the importance of sleep.
Healthcare providers should not let insufficient sleep and its health consequences in their patients go unrecognised. While working a night shift is probably unavoidable at the individual level, we can manage many other reasons to stay up late.
Remember, a consistent good night’s sleep is vital for our cardiovascular health and overall well- being.
DR WAN KIM SUI, PROF DR NORAN NAQIAH HAIRI & DR HAMIMATUNNISA JOHAR
Note: Dr Wan and Dr Noran are from the Centre for Epidemiology and Evidence-Based Practice, Department of Social and Preventive Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, Universiti Malaya; Dr Hamimatunnisa is from the Institute of Epidemiology, German Research Centre for Environmental Health, and the Department of Psychosomatic Medicine and Psychotherapy, University of Gießen and Marburg, Germany.