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commentary Singapore

Commentary: Sleepless in Singapore? Let’s address our bedroom epidemic

Insomnia, snoring and sleep apnea are just symptoms of our unhealthy sleeping habits, says CEO of Philips (ASEAN and Pacific).

SINGAPORE: You close your eyes but can’t fall asleep until 2am. Or you find yourself jolted awake in the middle of the night by a work worry.

These scenarios will be all too familiar for many. Research reveals that globally 30 per cent of people experience difficulty in initiating and maintaining sleep.

This is felt in Singapore too, where recent research shows that people are falling far short of the recommended seven hours of sleep per night.

Philips’ latest global sleep survey found that insomnia (26 per cent) and snoring (21 per cent) are universal issues that impact sleep for over one in five adults.

And, according to a recent SingHealth study, four in ten Singaporeans get less than seven hours of shut eye on weekdays, which more than a quarter of us even miss out over the weekends.


The importance of sleep is in the spotlight as we celebrate World Sleep Day today, but for decades the business elite extolled the benefits of getting by on as little sleep as possible.

Barack Obama famously survived on less than six hours a night during his presidency. Indra Nooyi, one of the world’s most-prominent female executives since taking the top job at PepsiCo, averages a measly four hours a night.

With only 24 hours in the day, it was seen as a simple equation – the less you sleep, the more you can achieve. Until recently, corporate high-flyers were expected to burn the midnight oil and “pulling an all-nighter” was seen as part of the territory for many city jobs.

Thankfully, this attitude is starting to change as more research highlights the negative impact that lack of sleep can have on workplace productivity and health.

The work-life balance movement is gaining more ground as Generation Z – the cohort born in the mid-1990s onwards – enters the workforce, forcing employers to completely re-think their working cultures and policies on overtime to retain the best talent.

Former US President Barack Obama speaks during a Leadership Summit in Delhi, India on Dec 1, 2017. (Photo: REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton) FILE PHOTO - Former U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a Leadership Summit in Delhi, India, December 1, 2017. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton/File Photo

Arianna Huffington is at the vanguard of this nascent workplace revolution, leading the charge against what she refers to as the twenty-first century’s “sleep deprivation crisis”, and some businesses are starting to follow suit in recognising the boardroom benefits of a well-rested workforce.

She says she now sleeps eight hours a day.


Work pressures aside, technology addiction is another thing keeping so many of us up into the wee hours.

The blue-and-white light given off by phones and other devices prevents our brains from releasing melatonin, a hormone that tells our bodies it's night. Over-dosing on screen time, particularly just before bed, is wreaking havoc on our internal body clocks.

Another common, and growing, problem in Singapore is taking its toll on quality of sleep – which can be just as important as the number of hours clocked.

A recent study found that as many as one in three Singaporeans suffer from a little-known sleep disorder called Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), where their breathing stops and starts repeatedly during sleep, sometimes hundreds of times a night.

In addition to the cosmetic and productivity implications associated with sleep deprivation, if left untreated sleep apnea can result in a variety of long-term health problems too, including high blood pressure, stroke and diabetes.

Although snoring is an audible side effect of this condition, and home testing kits make diagnosis relatively easy, it is still undiagnosed in the majority of cases in Singapore.

A man uses a smartphone. (File photo: Reuters/Mike Segar) FILE PHOTO: A man uses a smartphone in New York City, in this picture taken November 6, 2013. REUTERS/Mike Segar


Employers and governments certainly have a role to play in prioritising and promoting better sleeping habits. But are we doing enough to help ourselves?

Unfortunately the answer seems to be “no”, and many still find it a struggle to address sleep in the same way they would exercise or nutrition.

Philips’ global sleep survey found that although adults recognise the significant impact sleep has on their overall health and wellbeing, even surpassing exercise, financial security and diet, less than half maintain a regular bedtime schedule and less than one in three feel guilty about not maintaining good sleep habits.

Interestingly, the study also found that there is much more rigour paid to schedules for meals and wake-up time and more guilt around exercise and eating habits than there is towards quantity and quality of sleep.

This has to change.

From being stricter about a “digital detox” in the bedroom, to seeing the doctor to diagnose whether snoring could be something more serious, it’s time for us all to make sleep a priority, and stop putting up with any less than seven hours a night.

So, if you’re reading this in bed and it’s late, switch off now.

Caroline Clarke is CEO of Philips ASEAN Pacific.

Source: CNA/sl


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