MEDICALLY REVIEWED

Sleep Deprivation And Cardiovascular Health : A Silent Epidemic Among Malaysians

Dr Sathindren Santhirathelagan sleep deprivation

A recent study shows that delaying sleep by just 90 minutes each night damages blood vessels, contributing to the development of cardiovascular diseases.

A study conducted in the University of Columbia recently showed that mild sleep restriction among female individuals causes an increase in oxidative stress in blood vessels. It is the first direct evidence linking mild, chronic sleep deficits to causing heart disease.

The study showed that after just 6 weeks of shortened sleep, cells that make up the lining of our blood vessels are attacked by harmful oxidants. These sleep-deprived cells fail to activate antioxidant responses to clear the damaging oxidants.

Cells lining the blood vessels become inflamed and dysfunctional, leading to the development of cardiovascular disease.

What Is Sleep Deprivation?

Sleep deprivation occurs when an individual does not get the sleep he/she needs. The right amount of sleep differs for each individual, but the Centres for Disease Control (CDC) advises at least 7 hours of sleep for adults. The CDC estimates that 1 in 3 adults are sleep-deprived. 

A study by the Asian Journal of Medicine and Health Sciences has shown that 9 out of 10 Malaysians experience insomnia or other sleep-related issues. Furthermore, 53% of working Malaysians do not get a minimum of 7 hours of sleep daily.

Lack of sleep directly impacts our thoughts and emotions. Just one night without proper sleep can lead to drowsiness, slowed thinking, delayed reaction time, irritability and lethargy. These short-term effects are more obvious, while chronic sleep insufficiency carries the risk of long-term physical and mental health issues.

How Much Sleep Do I Need? 

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society recommend sleeping hours as seen in the table below.

Age Recommended Hours of Sleep
4-12 months 12-16 hours per 24 hours (including naps)
1-2 years 11-14 hours per 24 hours (including naps)
3-5 years 10-13 hours per 24 hours (including naps)
6-12 years 9-12 per 24 hours
13-18 years 8-10 per 24 hours 
18-69 years 7 or more hours per night

 

Sleep quality is also essential alongside proper sleeping hours. Poor sleep quality can be due to various factors, including:

  • Exhausted/sleepy despite getting enough hours of sleep
  • Repeatedly waking up at night
  • Snoring/Gasping for air

What Causes Sleep Deprivation?

It is important to understand that sleep deprivation and insomnia are 2 different conditions. Individuals with insomnia are unable to sleep despite having enough time to do so. Individuals with sleep deprivation, on the other hand, do not have sufficient time to sleep due to responsibilities and lifestyle.

There are a myriad of factors that can contribute to sleep insufficiency. The common causes include:

  • Poor sleep hygiene
  • Lifestyle choices (e.g staying up late watching TV) 
  • Career obligations (multiple jobs/extended hours/night shift)
  • Sleep disorders (e.g sleep apnea)
  • Medical conditions that can cause sleep loss (e.g chronic pain, anxiety)

Consequences Of Sleep Deprivation 

Sleep deprivation has both short-term and long-term implications. Short-term complications increase the risk of delayed response time and microsleeps. This causes affected individuals to struggle at school/work. They may also experience mood swings which could affect personal and professional relationships. Dr. Sathindren, a consultant neurologist at Gleneagles Hospital Penang, shared that prolonged wakefulness can cause toxins to accumulate in the brain.

“Sleep serves as a waste management system, clearing out toxins to improve brain function. Without enough sleep, the brain becomes less efficient, impairing judgement, cognition and memory.’’

‘’It’s just like clearing out the cache of your computer. When you do that, your computer is able to receive more input. If you overload your hard drive, you’ll notice that none of the web pages are moving.’’  

Long-term sleep deprivation can cause: 

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Weakened immune system
  • Hormonal abnormalities
  • Pain
  • Mental health issues

Conclusion

As we have observed since the pandemic, many Malaysians have fallen victim to reduced productivity, road accidents and mental health issues. Getting good sleep can help reduce these issues besides improving quality of life. 

Here are some tips on how one can improve both quality and quantity of sleep: 

  • Practise good sleep hygiene
  • Exercise regularly
  • Avoid caffeine and nicotine
  • Reduce exposure to sounds and light before and during sleep
  • Turn off electronic devices (e.g TV, smartphone) at least 2 hours before sleeping. 
  • Avoid large meals/beverages at night.

In a nutshell, we should all try to get proper sleep to maintain sustainable energy levels, and improve performance, safety and health in general. 

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