Sleepless nights

Early to bed, last to sleep

Tossing and turning all night long is not only physically tiring but emotionally and mentally too. Good sleep is necessary for the wellbeing of one’s general health. However, a variety of factors can affect a good sleep and one of the most common factors is sleep disorders.

Though, how do you classify a sleep disorder? Is it just when you’ve been unable to sleep for a few days? Or does it involve more than that?

Here, we speak to Clinical Psychologist, Yap Chee Khong, from Sunway Medical Centre to have a clear understanding of sleep disorders.

1Twenty80: What is a sleep disorder or sleep problem? 

Yap Chee Kong: Sleep disorders are broadly classified as the inability to fall or stay asleep. Sleep disorders happen when your quality and quantity of sleep are affected.

1Twenty80: What are the signs and symptoms of a sleep disorder? 

Yap: One indication is when individuals are not able to sleep for a duration of 30 minutes to approximately two hours for three days in a week. Other common signs and symptoms include:

  • Waking up too early. 
  • Unable to fall asleep within 30 minutes. 
  • Waking up in the middle of the night. 
  • Difficulty in falling asleep at night. 
  • Feeling tired during the day.

1Twenty80: What are the most common sleeping disorders? 

Yap: According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) there are different types of sleep-wake disorders and some of the common disorders include insomnia, parasomnias, sleep apnea and sleep deprivation.

1Twenty80: What causes sleep disorders? 

Yap: Sleep disorders can be caused by different circumstances.

Some individuals may have sleep disorders like insomnia that are usually due to stress, anxiety, overthinking and depression, while others can be affected by a sleep disorder due to environmental factors such as consuming too much caffeine or alcohol.

Apart from that, other common conditions associated with sleep disorders are medical conditions that include asthma, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The cause may vary among individuals.

1Twenty80: When should one consult a doctor? 

Yap: Firstly, explore the possible reasons of why you’re having difficulty sleeping.

Sometimes, simply being excited for a holiday trip, feeling anxious about a meeting or overthinking about an argument you had with someone close could actually disrupt your sleep but it does not mean you have a sleep disorder.

Being concerned about your sleeping pattern is a good thing, as you’ll try to find a solution to your sleep disruption. However, if you’re unable to fall asleep three times in a week and it continues for more than three months, then it is best to consult a doctor for further diagnosis.

1Twenty80: Who is usually affected by sleep disorders? 

Yap: People from a wide range of backgrounds experience sleep disorder. It is definitely hard to say which population has a higher rate of sleep disorder. This is because, at different ages, people encounter various issues. For example, a child with sleep issues could be because he or she is afraid of the dark, while for teenagers it may be due to excessive use of technological devices before going to bed. On the other hand, adults that are affected by medical conditions like difficulty in breathing, cardiovascular diseases or prolonged work-stress are prone to developing sleep disorders.


1Twenty80: Can sleep disorders be prevented? 

Yap: Sleep disorders like sleep apnoea can be addressed with medication. Despite that, not all sleep disorders can be prevented. For example, insomnia may last a few months for some individuals but may last longer in others.

1Twenty80: What are the consequences if sleep disorders are not addressed? 

Yap: Lack of sleep usually makes you feel grumpy or irritated the next day or you’ll be too tired to drive which could eventually lead to unfortunate incidents. Besides that, a sleep disorder that is on the more serious side can affect your overall health physically and mentally. It is possible to develop obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases at an earlier age.

1Twenty80: Is there a recommended sleep pattern to follow? 

Yap: One of the best solutions is to have a consistent sleep schedule. Practice waking up at the same time and going to sleep only when you’re sleepy. By doing so, you’re allowing your body to programme your daily routine and allow yourself to feel tired. Also, if you do not fall asleep within 30 minutes, then try to distract yourself by reading, listening to music or calm yourself down through meditation. This way, you will be able to fall asleep without much strain.