This is why sleep is so important

  • Wellness
  • Thursday, 07 Nov 2019

Counting sheep because you can't sleep? It could be due to drinking caffeine or smoking near to bedtime, among other causes. — Perdana University Counting sheep because you can’t sleep? It could be due to drinking caffeine or smoking near to bedtime, among other causes. — Perdana University

“One sheep, two sheep, three sheep... 100 sheep... 1,000 sheep... 10,000 sheep...”


“Arghhh, morning already?!”

Does this sound familiar to you?

Have you just had another restless night and are dreading getting up as you know you’re going to have a lousy day ahead due to your lack of sleep?

For some of us, going to sleep may not be an issue. Yet, many others experience moments of regret and remorse in the morning for not going to bed earlier the night before when the alarm clock goes off.

Nonetheless, for some of us, this regret is somewhat short-lived and we continue to repeat the cycle of sleeping late and having to wake up early.

Restoring the body

Sleep is essential for overall health and wellbeing. It is a restorative process for our brain and body.

When we sleep, hormones that are important for metabolism are released, activities that regulates our blood pressure are “recalibrated”, our immune system mechanism is restored, fat and sugar metabolism is activated, and learning and memory function is consolidated.

Studies have shown that chronic sleep loss is associated with reduced immunity, weight gain and obesity, high blood pressure (hypertension), diabetes mellitus and coronary heart disease.

Sleep loss leads to poor vigilance and concentration, depressed mood, cognitive slowness, and behavioural problems and academic underachievement in children.

Poor vigilance and concentration due to lack of sleep in adults increases the risk of occupational and motor vehicle accidents.

These findings demonstrate the association between sleep deprivation and health problems, emphasing the importance of having regular good quality and duration of sleep.

There are many different phases of sleep, which fall into either non-rapid eye movement (non-REM) and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.

Each phase of sleep is characterised by distinct patterns of brain waves or electroencephalographic (EEG) activity.

The non-REM sleep consists of three stages: N1, N2 and N3.

N1 is the light phase of sleep where the transition from wakefulness to sleep occurs. This cycle lasts approximately 90 minutes.

It then progresses to N2 and N3, which are deeper cycles of sleep.

The next stage of sleep is the REM phase. It is in this stage that we dream.

In order for sleep to be restorative, there is a need for the transition between these phases of sleep to be undisturbed.

Lack of sleeping time, disruption of the sleep cycle and less time in deep sleep could all lead to adverse health outcomes.

According to the US National Sleep Foundation (NSF), on ave-rage, the recommended range of sleeping hours per night according to age group is:

• Infants (four to 11 months): 12-15 hours

• Pre-schoolers (three to five years): 10-13 hours

• School-going children (six to 13 years): Nine to 11 hours

• Teenagers (14-17 years): Eight to 10 hours

• Young adults and adults (18-64 years): Seven to nine hours

• Older adults (above 65 years): Seven to eight hours

Research shows that a shorter duration of sleep – less than 11 hours for infants, less than seven hours for adolescents and less than six hours for adults – is associated with poor health outcomes.

Sleep thieves

For some people, the effects of caffeine can cause difficulty in falling asleep.

According to a report by the US NSF, these effects could last as long as 10-12 hours after consumption.

So, try to avoid having your favourite caffeine-containing teh tarik, teh-C, teh-O, kopi kosong, coffee, tea or soft drink, close to bedtime, or else your sleep could be sabotaged.

Nicotine, which is a stimulant, also has the potential to cause sleep interruption, so it is advisable to avoid smoking at bedtime.

Alcohol, which is believed to be a sedative, could be potentially disruptive to good sleep.

Spicy food is also best avoided near bedtime as it may cause heartburn, which is made worse by lying flat, resulting in the pain interrupting your sleep.

All of us need sleep. No matter how short a duration we sleep in a day, we need it to function normally.

For many, sleep is not what it should be. Some experience excessively loud snoring, choking, gasping and difficulty in breathing during sleep.

All these symptoms disrupt sleep, both for the sufferers and their bed-partners.

If you experience these symptoms, as well as others that prevent you from sleeping well, like excessive sleepiness during the day, leg cramps or tingling, and prolonged insomnia (difficulty falling asleep, difficulty maintaining sleep or waking up earlier than desired), do go and see your doctor.

It is paramount that we have a good quantity of sleep (adequate hours daily).

It is also essential that we have good quality sleep.

For better health, make sleep a priority.

Associate Professor Dr Christina Liew Siaw Cheok is the Academic Lead for Clinical Competencies and Assoc Prof Dr Thidar Aung is with the Department of Biochemistry/Immunology at the Perdana University Royal College Surgeons of Ireland. This article is courtesy of Perdana University. For more information, email The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.

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