PETALING JAYA: Malaysians are increasingly finding it difficult to get a restful night’s sleep and experts are pointing to high obesity rates and growing usage of electronic gadgets as common causes for sleep problems.
It’s well known that the country is the fattest in Asia, based on a study by British medical journal The Lancet. And it is also topping global charts for its social media usage.
No wonder then that Malaysians are experiencing a lack of quality sleep.
Assoc Prof Dr Rusdi Abd Rashid, of the Sleep Disorder Society Malaysia, said sleep deprivation is one of the top sleep disorders among Malaysians.
“Exposure to blue light, the use of smartphones – that is the most common cause of sleep deprivation, ” he said in an interview at the Sleep Conference 2019 yesterday.
“The person may be very ‘busy’ with all the electrical gadgets in the room, such as the TV or radio.
“Or they are using their phones in bed, chatting to people, before they sleep. The condition of the room may be too bright, ” he said.
Such improper sleep conditions, he said, cause Malaysians to lose their beauty sleep, even though there is no medical reason.
He noted that there has been an uptrend in the number of Malaysians experiencing sleep problems due to the growing use of such gadgets.
According to research portal Statista, Malaysia has the second highest penetration rate for the use of WhatsApp in 2017 at 68% of the population.
Malaysians’ usage of WhatsApp has also carried over to their bedtime habits, with a 2017 study finding that 72.9% of Malaysians surveyed were found to be using WhatsApp late at night.
Dr Rusdi, who is from University of Malaya Centre for Addiction Science Studies, also said there is a high prevalence of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) among Malaysians.
OSA is a sleep disorder in which breathing is briefly and repeatedly interrupted during sleep as the muscles in the back of the throat fail to keep the airway open.
Dr Rusdi said the high prevalence of OSA is linked to the high obesity rates in the country.
“The obesity rates in Malaysia is one of the highest in South-East Asia. That is why in Malaysia we have more people suffering from OSA, ” he said.
Weight gain can cause fat to accumulate in the neck area, which obstructs one’s breathing passage and can lead to OSA.
Consultant Ear, Nose and Throat surgeon Dr Raymond Tan said many Malaysians do not have quality sleep.
Citing a 2015 study, he said only 33% of Malaysians surveyed were generally satisfied with their quality of sleep while some 69% of Malaysians admitted to having sleep issues.
The most common sleep disorder among Malaysians, he said, is OSA which affects about one in five Malaysians.
Tan, who is also a snoring and sleep apnea specialist, said that given Asians’ smaller facial skeleton, they are more predisposed to developing OSA compared to Western people who have similar body mass index.
This is because their smaller, lower jaw may obstruct their air passageway.
Tan said that those affected could seek advice from sleep specialists or visit a sleep clinic to prevent further health problems such as hypertension, stroke or heart attack.
“More people are visiting sleep clinics as there is more awareness nowadays, ” he said.
One such patient was Patrick Tan, in his 30s, who was fatigued during the day and was snoring loudly at night.
He then decided to visit a sleep clinic at a government hospital.
“I just needed a letter from the specialist. The clinic fixed an appointment and I slept there one night and returned the next morning, ” said Tan, who works in the IT line.
He was found to have mild sleep apnea and told to either undergo surgery or to lose weight.
“Thankfully I managed to reduce my weight, ” he said, adding that he no longer suffers from sleep problems.
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