Counting sheep

Good sleep is an integral component of healthy living writes Meera Murugesan

WHEN was the last time you had a good night’s sleep?

Did you fall asleep immediately or toss and turn for hours?

Do you spend every night staring at the walls as insomnia grips you or do you sleep and wake up feeling rested?

All of us should ask ourselves these questions as good sleep is crucial for good health.

However, it’s a rare quality today given our fast-paced, stress filled lives.

Most of us either don’t get enough sleep or don’t have quality sleep.

Humans rely on sleep for cognitive function, yet sleep the least of any primate says Dr David Samson, assistant professor in Biological Anthropology at the University of Toronto Mississauga, Canada.

Speaking at a World Sleep Day event, he explains that sleep is critical for a strong mind as poor sleep has been linked to mental disorders.

Quality sleep on the other hand, protects adults from age-related cognitive decline and helps reduce the physical signs of ageing.

However, sleep disorders are on the rise in the region. Samson says an estimated 300 million people in Southeast Asia suffer from insomnia, and sleep apnoea, among others.

Dr Koyabu Miki an integrated Chinese and Western medicine practitioner from Japan says the role of quality sleep in promoting healthy ageing and preventing lifestyle-related diseases is crucial.

“Sleep is important to let the brain and body get rest, on top of ensuring hormones are balanced, and improving immunity to diseases.”

He adds that to ensure we age healthily, we need to practise good sleeping habits.

A sleep survey by The Nielsen Company indicates that 9 out of 10 Malaysians suffer from one or more sleep problems and 78 per cent of Malaysians feel that poor sleep can cause health-related issues. Around 47 per cent also believe that lack of sleep can cause beauty or skin problems.

But poor sleep is not just a local and regional problem but a global one too.


People around the world are making do with less sleep each night, with some getting as little as 6.3 hours of sleep on weekdays and 6.6 on weekends, significantly lower than the daily recommended eight hours according to the Royal Philips’ annual global sleep survey report “The Global Pursuit of Better Sleep Health.”

The annual global sleep survey, carried out in conjunction with World Sleep Day surveyed over 11,000 adults in Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Japan, the Netherlands, Singapore, South Korea, and the United States to capture attitudes, perceptions, and behaviours around sleep.

Results revealed an increasingly sleep-deprived world – while awareness of sleep’s impact on overall health is on the rise, for many people across the globe, achieving good sleep health remains elusive.

Besides having insufficient sleep, 62 percent of global adults describe their sleep as “somewhat” or “not at all” well, and almost half (44 percent) say their sleep has worsened in the past five years.

The impact of this is demonstrated daily, with as many as 60 percent saying they have experienced several episodes of daytime sleepiness throughout the week.

In the Asia-Pacific countries surveyed, stress was the main reason keeping people up at night, with half of those surveyed losing sleep over worry or stress. Other factors include their sleeping environment, distraction from entertainment such as television and social media, health conditions such as pain or breathing problems, drinking caffeinated drinks or using simulants close to bedtime and their partner’s snoring.

Facing such sleep deprivation, 78 percent of Asia-Pacific respondents say they want to improve their quality of sleep. To get better sleep, some are experimenting with a variety of methods, including instituting a set bedtime/wake-up schedule, watching television, reducing their caffeine consumption, playing soothing music, and even sleeping in a different location from their partner.

“It’s worrying that people in some parts of the Asia Pacific are among the world’s poorest sleepers, despite public awareness around the importance of quality sleep for overall health,” says Muhammad Ali Jaleel, country manager, Personal Health and Health Systems Leader for Philips Malaysia.

To bridge the current gap in diagnosis and treatment of sleep disorders, last year Philips launched Southeast Asia’s first Sleep and Respiratory Education Centre in Singapore to upskill healthcare professionals across the region, aimed at enabling better access to sleep and respiratory care.


Despite the obvious need to address their lack of sleep, sleep issues are often deprioritised. In seeking better sleep, 31 percent of Asia-Pacific respondents say they would be willing to use online search engines to learn more about sleep and/or treatments to improve their sleep, and 34 percent would be open to seeing a sleep specialist.

Yet, 75 percent of adults have not sought help from a medical professional, mainly due to the perceived high costs of sleep consultation and treatment.

“Sleep is a key pillar of good overall health, as equally important as having a healthy diet and getting regular exercise. While most are aware that sleep is fundamentally important, achieving the recommended eight hours of quality sleep is still an elusive goal for many people each night,” says Mark Aloia, global lead for Behaviour Change, Sleep and Respiratory Care at Philips.

He adds that lack of quality sleep may not only induce low productivity and daytime sleepiness, but also pose serious health issues if not addressed.

Those who suffer from prolonged poor sleep should consult their doctor to identify contributing factors and determine if they or their partner are at risk of underlying health issues such as obstructive sleep apnoea.

As a seldom-discussed, under-diagnosed condition, obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) is characterised by repeated interruptions in breathing throughout the sleep cycle and prevents oxygen from reaching the lungs.

Symptoms include choking or gasping for air during sleep, loud and persistent snoring and excessive daytime fatigue and poor concentration during the day.

If left untreated, sleep apnoea can lead to serious short and long-term health risks including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke and high blood pressure.


Key data from the Nielson sleep survey about Malaysian sleep habits:

*50 per cent rate their sleep quality as average.

*63 per cent of Malaysians between ages 25 and 49 take over 30 minutes to sleep.

*35 per cent face sleeping problems 1 or 2 times per week, while another 20 per cent face it 3 or 4 times per week.

*70 per cent are aware that stress is among the top causes of sleep disorders.

*Malaysians in the Northern (48 per cent) and Southern (43 per cent) regions are more prone to taking more than 30 minutes to sleep.

*Malaysians in the Central (43 per cent), South (52 per cent) and East Malaysia (46 per cent) feel natural solutions are most important when seeking solutions to sleep better.

*More females (46 per cent) prefer natural solutions compared to males (40 per cent).

*The top five sleep remedies that Malaysians are aware of include exercise (59 per cent), lifestyle changes (54 per cent), relaxation and meditation (48 per cent), massage (46 per cent) and aromatherapy (37 per cent).

*48 per cent rely on reading books, watching television and listening to the radio to help them sleep.


HAVING recently launched its new tagline, “Life, Redefined,” AmLife is spearheading the movement to enable Malaysians to achieve better health through better sleep, thus redefining their lives.

It has recently repositioned itself as a total sleep health expert – looking into more holistic ways to improve sleep, as well as address sleep-related matters including health, beauty and wellness.

“In our journey to realising our dreams, we need to have a healthy body to pursue those destinations, and more importantly, enjoy the journey and the fruits of success,” says founder and president of AmLife, Lew Mun Yee who is a firm believer of natural healing through deep sleep.

AmLife has introduced innovative, sleep health products including the AmPower Platinum Blanket, an anti-ageing technology from Japan which assures its user not only quality sleep, but also to wake up feeling restored, refreshed and rejuvenated.

Lew says while the current health market is expansive, the natural sleep health market is virtually an untouched sector.

Research conducted by The Nielsen Company indicates that consumers are looking for natural treatments to improve their quality of sleep.

“This has shaped our business strategy which is to provide natural, technologically-driven solutions to help people sleep better,” says Lew.