NuMEROUS surveys on the quality of sleep suggest that many Malaysians are not satisfied with the sleep they get, and chances are, you might be one of them.
But more often than not, the source of the problem lies in our own routine in the hours leading up to bedtime, and adopting good habits can help us sleep better.
This week, in search of tips to help Malaysians sleep better, we sought the advice of Sleep Disorder Society Malaysia treasurer Dr Raymond Tan Suan-Kuo, who is a consultant ear, nose and throat (ENT) surgeon as well as snoring and sleep apnea specialist.
1 Right bedroom setting
The right environmental cues will indicate to our bodies that it is time to get ready for bed. Humans are not nocturnal creatures, so we sleep best when it is dark. To keep our bedrooms as dark as possible, we should close our curtains or blinds and switch to lower lighting such as a bedside lamp when getting ready for bed.
2 Suitable temperature
According to Dr Tan, the ideal temperature for humans to sleep comfortably is between 18 and 24 degrees Celsius. This is why in a country as warm as Malaysia, having air-conditioning will be a major help. He added that sometimes, young families made the mistake of overwrapping their babies in blankets, making it uncomfortable for them to sleep and causing them to wake up more often throughout the night.
3 Eliminate distractions
Naturally, we would want to eliminate all distractions that would interrupt our sleep. Avoid taking work-related calls close to bedtime and switch off your phone. If there are other devices in your room that can bother you while you sleep, move them to another room. It may also be a good idea to hang a “Do Not Disturb” sign on your door if you live with housemates.
4 Regular bedtime
The human body works best when we stick to regular routines, which means regular meals and bedtimes. No matter what, we should make it a point to go to bed at around the same time every night and the earlier, the better. The recommended duration for sleep is eight hours and adults can get away with slightly less, but getting enough sleep is essential to giving ourselves enough energy to function throughout the day.
5 Wind down before bed
We tend to find it hard to sleep at night when our minds are unsettled, so winding down with relaxing activities will help. Dr Tan said it was best to avoid looking at bright digital screens just before bedtime, so we should obviously not watch horror movies or play action-packed video games right before going to bed. Instead, try activities such as reading a book, listening to relaxing music or even taking a warm bath.
6 Watch what you eat
While it is generally not good to eat anything too close to bedtime, we should be extra careful when it comes to caffeine, which can affect us for up to five hours. Coffee is the main culprit, but we should also be aware that other things like chocolate, black teas and even green tea have small amounts of caffeine. However, herbal teas such as chamomile are caffeine-free and it is known to help the body relax.
7 Restrict vigorous activity
Exercising during the day is good because we will get tired enough at night to sleep well, but squeezing in a workout just two hours before bedtime will achieve the complete opposite effect. Vigorous activity at night gets the heart pumping and will make us too restless to fall asleep. Instead, we should consider doing yoga or meditating to help us relax.
8 Get a comfortable mattress
A lot of people underestimate the importance of having a comfortable mattress. Mattresses come in different sizes and firmness to suit individual needs, so when buying a new mattress, it is important to be able to try out each one and find the mattress that we are most comfortable with.
9 Identify sleep disorders
Sometimes, the problem is not in our habits, but in our bodies. Sleep disorders such as insomnia and sleep apnea can have a serious effect on our daytime performance. According to Dr Tan, some signs of having poor sleep can include constant daytime tiredness as well as increased cravings for food, leading to weight gain. Obstructive sleep apnea in particular is dangerous; it is identifiable by the loud snoring and episodes of choking throughout the night because of blocked airways. If you or anyone you know might be suffering from a sleep disorder, it may be a good idea to seek professional medical advice.
10 Avoid smoking
Smoking is another bad habit that prevents people from sleeping well because it contains nicotine, which is a stimulant. For smokers concerned about their poor quality of sleep and constant daytime tiredness, perhaps they should consider giving up the habit and pursue a healthier lifestyle.
Special thanks to Dr Raymond Tan Suan-Kuo