From The Straits Times    |

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Our Experts

  • DR SIN GWEN LI, consultant, Department of Psychiatry, Singapore General Hospital
  • DR RAYMOND CHOY, general practitioner, Raffles Medical Group

1. Medication

Certain types of medication can cause insomnia. Dr Sin Gwen Li, a consultant from the Department of Psychiatry at Singapore General Hospital, says the list includes anti-hyper tension medicine like beta blockers and Ace inhibitors; cholesterol-lowering agents like statins, corticosteroids, non-sedating antihistamines and certain antidepressants and asthma medicine. Another culprit is the stimulant pseudoephedrine that’s found in Panadol Cold Relief. And just as you would avoid drinking caffeinated drinks like coffee or tea later in the day, be wary of caffeine in medication like Panadol Extra.

Other stimulants that can affect your sleep include nicotine, from cigarettes or nicotine patches, and alcohol. “While most people fall asleep more easily after drinking alcohol, it’s important to know that alcohol inhibits the dream phase of sleep and causes more frequent night-time wakings, on top of making a person want to pass urine more often during the night. Overall, it leads to poorer quality sleep,” says Dr Sin.

2. Illnesses and Medical Conditions

If you suffer from chronic pain, such as joint pain, abdominal pain, headaches, toothaches, post-surgery pain, or pain from heart problems or an open injury, you may experience severe insomnia or disruptive sleep to some extent. People who suffer from chronic pain are thought to spend less time in deep sleep, leading to disruptive sleep, says Dr Raymond Choy, a general practitioner at Raffles Medical Group.

And those who have been diagnosed with a psychological or psychiatric condition – such as depression, schizophrenia or anxiety, or are dealing with a lot of stress in their life – may have trouble falling asleep or maintaining a good quality of sleep.


Also read: 3 ways to stop snoring


3. Your Room Is the Wrong Temperature

Are you sleeping in a room that is too hot or cold? Surprisingly, room temperature is crucial to sleep quality, says Dr Choy. Use a thermostat to find out if your room is the perfect temperature for sleeping – the optimal temperature range is 15 to 20 deg C.

When you go to bed, your body temperature gradually drops in order to promote deep, continuous sleep. But if the room is too hot or cold, your body struggles to achieve this “set point”. This is one of the reasons why eating or exercising too close to bedtime can affect your sleep – both activities raise the core temperature of your body and make it harder for your body to cool itself down.

What else affects your body temperature? Memory foam pillows, which conform to your body, might make you feel warm; and cold feet, which is easily addressed with a pair of thick socks.

4. Stimulating Pre-bedtime Activities

You already know that spending time on your laptop, computer, tablet or smartphone close to bedtime can delay your ability to wind down, and potentially disrupt your sleep.

But Dr Sin cautions against other sleep disrupters, including reading a book you simply cannot put down, or watching a horror, action or thriller fi lm too close to bedtime. These activities increase your body’s production of adrenaline, which has a stimulating effect on your body and can make it hard for you to nod off. Similarly, having a heated discussion with your spouse or kids can stress you out and keep you from enjoying a good night’s rest.

5. Environmental Factors

Even if your bed is comfortable and your room is at the right temperature, your sleep can be affected by factors such as your hubby’s snoring or talking in his sleep, or if he tosses and turns or kicks during the night, or wakes up frequently to use the bathroom, says Dr Sin. Noise from traffic or the neighbours can also prevent you from sleeping well.

Ideally, your room should feel like a cave – quiet, dark and cool. So you should do whatever you can to create the perfect sleep environment, be it closing your windows at night or investing in blackout curtains. “A dark room is preferable, so that when you wake up to natural light in the morning, you will feel more alert and be more willing to get out of bed,” says Dr Choy.


Also read: The surprising reason why you’re having insomnia


6. Your Mattress Is Not Good Enough

A good mattress is essential for quality sleep, says Dr Choy. If you want to be able to fall asleep easily and wake up refreshed, you should first consider your physical health – do you or Hubby suffer from back, hip or shoulder pain, for example? If you do, a therapeutic mattress might work better for you.

If you don’t have any major health problems, you’ll want a mattress that offers good support. Soft, firm, or somewhere in the middle, the choice is yours, as long as it feels comfortable and allows you to toss and turn easily. And make sure your mattress doesn’t sag under your weight, as it can contribute to poor posture. If you feel aches and pain all over your body when you wake up, your mattress is the wrong firmness.

If you prefer a mattress with a soft to medium firmness, try a memory foam one as it conforms to your body and offers excellent spinal support, as opposed to an innerspring mattress. A memory foam mattress also offers better air circulation and pressure point relief, besides boasting hypoallergenic and antimicrobial proper ties. For those who prefer a medium or firm mattress, choose one that’s comfortable, although a hard or firm mattress is said to be bad for the lower back.


It’s perfectly normal to have a bad night’s sleep every now and then. But over time, these lost hours can add up and result in sleep debt. If you have not been getting enough rest for several days and are experiencing some of these symptoms, it could point to sleep deprivation. So deal with it before it becomes chronic, advises Dr Sin, as severe sleep deprivation can result in hallucinations, depression, mania and falling asleep at the most inopportune times. Here are the signs of poor sleep:

  • Poor concentration
  • Memory lapses
  • Headaches
  • Tiredness
  • Irritability
  • Weight gain
  • Hand tremors
  • Muscle aches
  • Clumsiness, slower response time and processing speed


This story was originally published in the March 2016 issue of Simply Her.