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Sleepless In Asia

Are you getting your ‘beauty sleep’ every night? Sleeping eight hours every night can save you from many chronic health problems later in life, writes Kavitha Sundralingam.

| December 23, 2013 | Editorials

AsianScientist (Dec. 23, 2013) – If you wonder how Aurora, the Disney princess from Sleeping Beauty, remains so youthful, energetic and radiant – you should know that she’s got nothing short of a lifetime of adequate sleep.

When the alarm clock buzzes loudly in the morning and you tap the snooze button a million times, it is already a sign of insufficient sleep. Lugging yourself out of bed and dragging yourself to get ready after that seems even more torturous. Expect the same feeling of lethargy and unproductiveness to creep up later in the afternoon.


Health problems

A busy and stressful lifestyle could be the reason for inadequate sleep, and as much as we prioritize work-life balance, it is equally important to practice sleep balance. Students should also take their sleep seriously, as disrupted sleep can hinder performance in school.

If you can count your sleeping hours on one hand, that’s bad! Eight hours of sleep a day is recommended by experts, yet Singaporeans are getting insufficient sleep, according to an editorial in the Annals, a journal by the Singapore Academy of Medicine. Long work hours, post-work socializing and commuting usually get in the way of precious sleep. In the US, Asians get an average of 6.9 hours of sleep a day compared to 7.4 hours for Whites, according to Mercedes Carnethon, professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

You may wonder what could possibly be so detrimental to our health from not securing enough sleep? If you are thinking about the common cold, fever or headache – think again. Lack of sleep comes with a wide range of long-term health problems including diabetes, obesity, depression, myocardial infarction, stroke and an increased risk of hypertension. You would not want to incur such a huge health burden from cutting back a few hours of sleep every night.


Mind, body and soul

Working mothers have the busiest schedules: office duties, household chores and heavy-duty parenting. All this hard work usually results in less sleep. But what women need to realize is that poor sleep can increase the risk of breast cancer and, according to a study published in the Oxford Journal, Chinese women in Singapore who get sufficient sleep have a reduced risk for breast cancer. The result of longer sleep hours is an increase in melatonin levels, which leads to a lower breast cancer risk, according to the study.

Sleep problems usually arise from a change in sleep habits. Having enough sleep is just as important as exercising and taking supplements. An article published by the Singapore Health Promotion Board lists some reasons for changes in usual sleeping habits: pain, anxiety, worry, depression or side effects to prescription drugs.

But sleep is in no way effective unless it is undisrupted sleep. What constitutes of good sleep? It is when we wake up feeling naturally refreshed and not sleepy in the daytime, reports an article published by the Singapore Sleep Society. The article also states that the common sleep problems among adults are insomnia and obstructive sleep apnea, possibly leading to the risk of coronary heart disease. A population-based study examined the risk factors associated with habitual snoring and sleep-disordered breathing in an Asian population. Risk factors include cigarette smoking, obesity, aging population, neck circumferences, race and gender.


A brand new you

A common misconception about sleep is that people assume they are doing themselves a favor by ‘catching up on sleep’ over the weekends. It doesn’t work that way – sleep is not accumulative. A study shows that even one night of sleep deprivation can reduce performance levels and result in significant hormonal changes.

Sleep loss is an Asian epidemic that can be easily addressed if the population is keen on making lifestyle changes. Before it’s too late, ask yourself, are you getting enough sleep?

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Copyright: Asian Scientist Magazine; Photo: Jellaluna/Flickr/CC.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

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