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Do you get enough sleep but still feel tired?


If you’re one of those affected by chronic fatigue, i.e. ploughing through the day with a cloud of sluggishness and lethargy hanging over your head, you should read this carefully.

You might be wondering, why does this happen to me, even though I make sure to get a reasonable amount of sleep for at least seven to eight hours?

Heck, you may even go over the recommended eight hours, but still struggle to rise and shine every morning.

Many people who suffer from persistent fatigue are resigned to being condemned to a lifetime of always being asked by friends and co-workers: “Why do you look so tired today?”

By asking yourself three questions about your lifestyle patterns and choices – and not just those related to sleep – you will have a better idea on what robs you of the vitality needed to power through daily life like the Energizer bunny.

Am I eating the right food?

What you eat probably seems entirely unrelated to fatigue levels, but just recall the last time you had a big plate of mee goreng for lunch on a workday. Did you return to the office feeling all fired up to complete that pile of work waiting at your desk?

Or did you need to reach for a cup of coffee, only to find that an hour later, you’re trying to stay productive, but actually struggling to keep your eyes open?

Foods that are high in fat, sugar, carbohydrates, and even caffeine, are not ideal for balancing our energy levels. The effects are temporary, providing you with a short burst of high energy, but every rise comes with an inevitable fall.

Your body is constantly having to pick up the pieces, and that in itself requires energy, both physical and mental.

Considering that some of us eat up to five meals in a day (including tea and supper), if you are making poor food choices, it’s no wonder that you are feeling tired all day long!

Such foods also lack the nutrients that fortify your body and improve the immune system, hence you are consuming calories without much of the benefits. This puts you at risk of weight gain and obesity, which could also cause you to be more sedentary.

So, put down that piece of kuih talam and pick up a piece of guava instead. The fibre in the fruit will keep you full for longer and it’s much lower in calories.

It never hurts to remind yourself that making other similar types of healthier substitutions in the rest of your meals can help you feel lighter and more alert all day.

Am I getting enough exercise?

If exercise tires a person out, why would anyone recommend exercise to reduce fatigue?

Insomnia studies indicate that light to moderate exercise of around 30 minutes daily not only helps you to fall asleep quicker, but also improves the quality of your nightly sleep.

While it’s not entirely clear why exercise helps to improve sleep quality, we do know why it helps to increase alertness. Many physiological processes occur when you exert yourself by brisk walking, running and doing other moderate activities.

The heart pumps faster, blood circulates through your system and body temperature increases. Hormones like endorphins are released, sending “good vibe” signals to your body and brain.

Organs like the latter benefit greatly from exercise; it has been noted that exercise appears to boost cognitive function and alertness, as well as the size of the hippocampus – the part of your brain where memory and learning activities are stored.

The body of research by the world’s top health institutions continues to grow in support of being physically active, and you don’t even need expensive equipment to do it.

Doing light to moderate exercise (running, brisk walking or cycling) at least three to four times a week for 30 minutes can improve heart health, alleviate depression and anxiety, strengthen joint muscles, and perhaps even fight off dementia.

The growth of the fitness industry in Malaysia also means that gym memberships and fitness classes have become more affordable, and you are spoilt for choice when it comes to fitness activities, whether it is cycling, yoga, boxing, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) or others.

Regulating your sleep time will ensure that you won’t even need the alarm clock to get up in the morning. Photo: AFP

Am I sleeping the right way?

Now that we’ve covered diet and activity levels in our personal lifestyle, we have to take a look at our sleep habitstoo – yes, there is a right and a wrong way to sleep that goes beyond getting your eight hours of shuteye every night!

For starters, the body operates better when you’ve fine-tuned your sleep habits, winding down from the day and going to sleep at the same time every night. Having an endless list of chores makes it a challenge to be consistent on that front, but a reasonable start is to get 7.5 hours of sleep every night.

Determine what time you have to be up in the mornings, then subtract 7.5 hours in order to pinpoint the time you should be tucked under the covers, on your way to dreamland.

In 7.5 hours, the average person cycles through 90-minute sleep intervals five times, alternating between light or non-rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, and deep or REM sleep.

If you are interrupted during a deep sleep phase, chances are you’ll wake up feeling like you’ve hardly slept.

The point of regulating your sleeping and waking up times is so that your body clock becomes so well acclimated to your routine that you will eventually wake up naturally in the mornings, without needing to hear the alarm go off.

Adjust your bedtime by moving it 15 minutes earlier each time until you’ve found your sweet spot. Keep that bedtime routine consistent, and you might find yourself more alert and functioning better. Getting a good night’s rest includes prepping properly for bed too.

Young or old alike, we are so glued to our gadgets nowadays, poring over social media and games on our phones, even when we’ve climbed into bed in a dark bedroom.

If there’s a TV in the room, it may be on as well, emitting another source of blue light that wrongly signals the brain that it’s daytime, thus, suppressing the production of melatonin.

This hormone is released when your circadian rhythm kicks in, but when these blue wavelengths throw your night rhythm out of sync, it leads to poor sleep quality and is even linked to increased chances of cancer, diabetes and other conditions. This is sad news for the night owls amongst us!

Sleeping tips

Once you’re ready to start adjusting to better sleep habits, here are some tips to help you succeed:

• Halt the caffeine intake early in the evening.

This includes breath mints, sodas, tea, energy bars, and even chocolate.

You don’t need a boost of energy when you’re about to turn in for the night.

• Fix a “wind-down” period before your actual bedtime.

Allocate one hour for all your before-bed activities, i.e. skincare and dental care routine.

Consider playing soft music and using aromatherapy to make going to sleep even more enticing.

• Use white noise to absorb other sounds that may disrupt your sleep.

White noise is a low and consistent background sound that helps to drown out sudden loud noises that occur in the night, such as honking from a passing car, loud music from an inconsiderate neighbour or barking dogs.

Your air-conditioning unit can double up as a white noise machine, or you can buy a machine that produces white noise.

• Keep your room dark.

This may be the toughest one to get right, as it means breaking your addiction to electronic gadgets.

Not only does the artificial light trick your brain into thinking it’s still daytime and impairs melatonin levels, the concentrated light from your phone or tablet screen can impair eyesight by damaging eye muscles and the retina over time.

So, what if you’ve done all of the above and still find no improvement in your sleep quality – could it be something else?

Yes. Problems with sleeping well may indicate underlying sleep pro-blems that require medical treatment.

Not sleeping well may be a symptom of sleep apnoea, thyroid problems, hormonal imbalance, nutrient deficiency and other health issues.

If your sleep problems persist, don’t ignore the signs and consult your doctor for more advice.


By Datuk Dr. Nor Ashikin Mokhtar
Published in Star Newspaper, JULY 1, 2019