Today is World Sleep Day, an annual celebration of the importance of sleep.
While sleep is essential for health and well-being, many people in Singapore are not getting enough of it.
Results of a study released by scientists from the University of Michigan last year showed that Singaporeans clocked an average amount of 7 hours 24 minutes of sleep per day - tying with Japan as the country with the least amount of sleep among 100 nations.
Sleep expert Michael Chee, director of Duke-NUS Medical School's Centre for Cognitive Neuroscience, said people need to "re-value sleep". When they do, they will change how they allocate time.
He added: "It's like why would you diet, why would you study? You can't see the immediate gains (but) it has long-term benefits.
"The reason the current unhealthy pattern is so entrenched is because we are social beings. We tend to follow what our friends do."
Prof Chee noted that in the world of sports, it is known that the body will break down with over-training. "But for some reason, people have the simplistic idea that 'if I work harder, I'll have better results'."
He added: "If we were successful in changing the culture of sleep here, Singapore would be seen as a leader in east Asia. We are already looked up to in terms of leadership and education quality.
"It's a marvellous social engineering experiment, which if you did well, you could export it to your neighbours. It would give you a tremendous competitive advantage."
The east Asian work culture might be another reason people here do not get enough sleep.
He urged Singaporeans to sleep longer, discover its benefits and tell their friends about it.
And while employees should "strive to work smarter, not longer", employers should also not expect their staff to answer e-mails at night and while on vacation.
More could also be done in society to incentivise good sleep - for instance by awarding bonus points.
This is in society's own interest as sleep loss exacts an economic cost through earlier deaths, increased incidence of disease and absenteeism.
Dr Toh Song Tar, director of the Sleep Disorders Unit at SGH who is also senior consultant at SGH's department of otolaryngology, said the unit has seen a 5 to 8 per cent yearly increase between 2013 and last year in the number of people seeking help - mostly for insomnia, snoring and sleep apnoea.
He attributes this to greater awareness and more people experiencing problems.
Whether or not a sleep disorder is within a person's control "depends on the condition".
For instance, obstructive sleep apnoea can develop because of genetic predisposition or environmental allergies.
However, it is also linked to obesity which may be within a person's control.
As for circadian rhythm sleep disorders, people can develop those because of shift work, jet lag and not having good sleep routine and habits, he said.
Tips for better sleep
- Stick to a schedule with the same bedtime and wake-up time, even on weekends.
- Avoid bright light in the evening and expose yourself to sunlight in the morning.
- Exercise daily but don't do so three to four hours before sleep.
- Avoid alcohol and heavy meals about two to three hours before sleep.
- Your last caffeinated drink should be consumed before noon.
- Short naps (15 to 30 minutes) can be helpful. Longer naps might affect night-time sleep.
- Avoid using electronic devices at least about an hour before going to bed.
- Spend the last hour before sleep doing a calming activity.
- Sleep in a cool, quiet and dark room. Use a comfortable mattress and pillows.
- Speak to a doctor or sleep professional if you still have trouble sleeping or feel unrefreshed after getting the recommended hours of sleep.
- Cultivate good sleep habits from a young age.
Source: National Sleep Foundation; Dr Toh Song Tar, director of the Sleep Disorders Unit at SGH, and senior consultant at SGH's department of otolaryngology
Why submit yourself to torture?
Sleep is a basic human need, much like eating and drinking, and is crucial to overall health and well-being, said sleep expert Michael Chee.
Professor Chee, director of Duke-NUS Medical School's Centre for Cognitive Neuroscience, noted that lack of sleep or poor-quality sleep is known to have a significant negative impact on health in the long and short term.
Next-day effects of poor-quality sleep include a negative impact on attention span, memory recall and learning.
Longer-term effects of poor-quality sleep or sleep deprivation include a weakened immune system and an increased risk of diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, stroke, cancer (including colon, breast and prostate) and Alzheimer's disease.
One becomes more prone to accidents and is likely to suffer from reduced productivity.
Lack of sleep is also related to many psychological conditions such as depression, anxiety and increased risk of suicide.
Prof Chee added: "Sleep deprivation is widely used as a form of torture, yet many persons submit themselves to this when they short-change themselves of sleep."
This article was first published on Mar 17, 2017.
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