Singaporeans not clocking enough sleep, study finds

Dr Tan Ngiap Chuan, one of the authors of the paper, said: "If we are able to identify a modifiable factor, such as taking caffeinated drinks before sleeping, then we can have a very quick solution for these patients."

Singaporeans are known to be overachievers, but they lag behind when it comes to sleep.

Four in 10 people, or 44 per cent, lack sleep on weekdays, according to a study by SingHealth Polyclinics. They had less than seven hours of rest a night.

Meanwhile, 26 per cent failed to clock enough sleep on weekends.

The rate of 44 per cent is higher than that in countries such as the United States, where studies found that between 35 and 37 per cent slept less than seven hours daily.

In Singapore, the sleep-deprived tend to use mobile devices in bed or in the bedroom, the study found.

They also tend to hold full-time jobs, smoke, and have caffeinated drinks two hours before turning in.

Based on these findings, the researchers plan to come up with a checklist for patients who experience sleep-related problems.

Dr Tan Ngiap Chuan, one of the authors of the paper, said: "If the patient has a sleep issue, what we can do, given that we already know the common factors, is to quickly go through these factors.

8 ways sleep can solve your problems

  • If you often suffer from monthly period cramps, try to clock in more Zs. In a study done in Georgia, it was found that a lack of sleep made period cramps worse, as less serotonin is produced when we don't sleep enough, resulting to a lower threshold for pain.
  • Here's something we can't complain about. Sleeping more can indeed help you burn calories. So don't put in hours in the gym, but hit the sack an hour or two earlier for the sake of your waistline!
  • A lack of sleep causes the emotion centre of the brain, known as the amygdala to become more sensitive, hence sleep-deprived people often react more negatively to situations.
  • Your best self will definitely arise from a well-rested you. When we are sleep-deprived, we lose focus, attention and vigilance.
  • Even with excessive amounts of vitamins, you are still likely to fall sick if you're not sleeping enough. Our bodies stop reacting to vaccinations when we suffer from a lack of sleep, similar to how we always sleep to feel better after our medication when we're feeling under the weather.
  • Beauty sleep is indeed a real thing. When we are sleep deprived, our skin will suffer from inflammation and dehydration. Increased stress hormones can also arise which worsens any inflammatory skin conditions like acne.
  • Try getting a full night's sleep and you might see a difference to how you approach the everyday stressors in your life. Even with the world weighing down on your shoulders, a well rested night could definitely make anything better.
  • When we're running on minimal sleep, anything can seem more risky and daunting to attempt. With more sleep hours clocked in, you could be more willing to try out adventurous things in your life, be it in your work or downtime.

"If we are able to identify a modifiable factor, such as taking caffeinated drinks before sleeping, then we can have a very quick solution for these patients."

The SingHealth study, which was published in the international journal Medicine in August last year, involved 350 people aged between 21 and 80.

They were approached at Sengkang and Bukit Merah polyclinics, and were interviewed using a standardised questionnaire.

People who reported having enough rest tend to have regular sleeping times, do not smoke, and are retirees or unemployed.

In addition, more Chinese participants had adequate rest, compared with Malays and Indians.

While mobile devices were partly to blame for robbing people of much-needed sleep, their effect was dampened on weekends.

More people who use mobile devices in bed were able to get enough sleep on weekends, compared with those who did not, the study found.

Dr Tan Ee Ju, who has a practice in Toa Payoh, agrees that insufficient sleep is a common problem.

"Students may develop poor sleep habits because of school work, exam preparation and the Internet, and take these habits into their adult life," he said.

"Parents should cultivate good sleep habits and patterns in their children when they are young," he added.

A lack of sleep can lead to health problems such as headaches, fatigue, poor focus, hypertension and anxiety issues.

Bank manager Poon Sau Peng, 59, who sleeps five to six hours a night, has dozed off at work.

She said: "I have fallen asleep at work meetings, especially if I'm not participating actively. Sometimes I even snore. My colleagues have to pinch me to wake me up."

6 types of common sleep disorders

  • These are conditions in which the body's biological clock has been disrupted, leading to unstable or undesirable sleep-wake cycles.
  • Today, more people are also staying up late to play computer games, watch videos and movies, or communicate via their smartphones. This can disrupt their body clock.
  • Bright light therapy for patients with circardian sleep rhythm disorders can advance or delay sleep.
  • This is a condition in which a person wakes up many times in the night because of snoring and intermittent stoppage of breathing.Causes include narrowing of the airway at the back of the throat and behind the tongue during sleep.
  • This can be due to obesity, tonsillar enlargement or having too small an upper or lower jaw. If untreated, OSA not only leads to poor sleep and excessive daytime sleepiness, but also raises the odds of developing or worsening heart disease, stroke and hypertension
  • The most common and effective treatment for OSA is to use a continuous positive airway pressure or CPAP device, which involves wearing a pressurised mask over the nose or mouth during sleep to keep the upper airway open.
  • These include sleep walking, sleep talking and dream enactment. They are uncommon conditions which often run in the family but are also sometimes associated with neuro-degenerative conditions, such as Parkinson's disease.
  • Alcohol intake, stress or sleep deprivation can trigger these episodes. Management of these conditions includes avoiding these triggers and, in severe cases, medication.
  • One in five people complains of being unable to sleep or of waking up frequently at night.
  • Tackling this problem involves identifying and treating issues such as sleep apnoea, excessive noise or light, and practising good sleep habits, such as having a fixed bed time and avoiding caffeine four hours before going to bed.
  • Sufferers complain of uncomfortable, painful, cramping, itchy or often hard-to-describe sensations in the lower limbs associated with an urge to walk or shake the limbs, in the evening and before bedtime.
  • This is a rare condition caused by a deficiency of a special hormone in the brain which is required to regulate sleep and wakefulness.

This article was first published on Jan 11, 2017.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to for more stories.