Nearly 6 in 10 Singaporeans aren’t sleeping well because of COVID-19, study confirms
This World Sleep Day (Mar 19), find out how we ranked in a global study during COVID-19 times – and what we desperately Googled to try and catch some zzzs.
By now, you would have heard that Singaporeans are some of the most sleep-deprived people in the world.
Here’s a recap: We are the third most sleep-starved population, after Tokyo and Seoul, in a 2014 survey of 43 cities. And in a more recent online poll conducted in 2018 across 12 countries, Singapore took the second spot after Britain.
So, how did Singapore rank during the uncertainties of COVID-19? Surely, losing sleep most nights, worrying about our health, family, finances, managing work from home arrangements, and now, convincing the elderly at home to go for their vaccinations would have catapulted us to the top spot?
On the contrary, we’ve slipped down the leaderboard to the fourth place after Japan, the US and the UK in the 2021 global sleep survey by Philips. The findings on 13,000 adults in 13 countries, of which 1,000 are from Singapore, were released to coincide with World Sleep Day on Mar 19.
But here’s the catch: It doesn’t mean we’re sleeping better. In fact, close to 60 per cent of Singaporeans’ ability to sleep well has been directly impacted by the pandemic. And more than a third experience negative impact on their stress levels, ability to sleep well, mental/emotional health, sleep and work routines.
MORE HURDLES TO A GOOD NIGHT’S SLEEP
Close to three in 10 Singaporeans say that they now sleep less each night. More specifically, Singaporeans average 6.8 hours of sleep per night, down from seven hours during the previous survey released in 2020. According to the National Sleep Foundation, those aged 18 to 64 need seven to nine hours of sleep.
We’re still sleeping less on weekdays – and even less so during the pandemic, averaging 6.6 hours on weekdays (versus 6.7 hours in 2020) and 7.3 hours on the weekend (versus 7.5 hours in 2020).
It is no wonder that only less than half of the respondents in Singapore feel that they get enough sleep at night, and only 21 per cent feel well-rested most of the time when waking up in the morning.
If you're trying to get in more sleep by going to bed early, here's a tip: Don't have a window of time but fix specific times for sleeping and waking, said Dr Han Hong Juan, consultant ear, nose and throat (ENT) surgeon and medical director of The ENT, Voice & Snoring Clinic at Mount Elizabeth Hospital.
"As a start, gradually plan your sleep schedule progressively earlier, for instance, 11.45pm, then 11.30pm, until you hit your target bedtime," he said.
Sleep duration aside, Singaporeans’ sleep quality is also a nightmare. According to the same Philips survey, which was conducted from Nov 17 to Dec 7, 2020, 40 per cent reported waking up during the night.
Where they previously had no issues, 35 per cent now have difficulties falling asleep; meanwhile, 21 per cent began having problems sleeping through the night.
What can you do if you often wake up in the middle of the night? "If you still fail to fall asleep after 20 to 30 minutes, get out of bed and do something calming (for example, listen to relaxing music) until you feel drowsy to sleep again," suggested Dr Han.
While more than one in 10 Singaporeans are still being kept awake by their mobile phones and tablets, and their sleep environment (16 per cent), stress is now the biggest sleep disruptor for more than one third of the respondents.
And stress comes in the form of work responsibilities for nearly six in 10 people, financial challenges for more than half, family issues for a third, and their own/family’s health for three out of 10 Singaporeans.
To help you fall asleep better, Dr Han recommended penning your worries and troubles in a journal to avoid ruminating about them in bed. Also, try leaving at least a couple of hours between eating and going to bed, he added.
DO YOU HAVE INSOMNIA?
You might have hazarded a guess that insomnia rose during these unprecedented times and indeed it did. Twenty-seven per cent of Singapore adults – which went up from the 25 per cent in last year’s survey – currently experience insomnia as a medical condition that impacts their sleep.
Of these insomniacs, the largest group – about a third – came from those between the ages of 35 and 49.
Interestingly, nearly half of insomniacs also have obstructive sleep apnoea, a sleep disorder where your air flow is momentarily cut off by collapsed throat muscles.
"If you experience a persistent inability to fall asleep and consistently have a good night’s rest, you should definitely see a doctor," said Dr Han.
"This is particularly so if you experience daytime fatigue, and have difficulty staying awake or doing routine tasks. It could be an underlying sign of a sleep condition like insomnia or obstructive sleep apnea, which needs to be treated."
STEPS TO BETTER SLEEP
Singaporeans aren’t taking the sleeplessness lying down. The survey found that when it comes to improving sleep, more than a quarter of the respondents have a bedtime/wake-up schedule.
Meanwhile, 22 per cent cut down on caffeine consumption, 19 per cent turned to reading or soothing music, and one in 10 used sleep trackers or monitored their sleep. And while we’re not sure watching TV helps with sleep, nearly a quarter did that.
"Watching TV is not recommended as the glare and blue light from the television is counteractive to falling asleep," said Dr Han. "In fact, it can make you more awake and alert, particularly if you’re watching action or fast-paced shows."
Another move that many Singaporeans have made is to turn to telehealth for solutions to their sleep problems. Over half had their first telehealth appointment during the pandemic. Four in 10 were willing to give telehealth a go for sleep-related concerns in the future from a sleep specialist.
The need to tackle underlying sleep issues is also making Singaporeans more open to seeing a sleep specialist (41 per cent), and primary care physician (39 per cent) in person.
With all that time on our hands during the circuit breaker period, it’s no wonder that many Singaporeans turned to the Internet for the answers. In fact, search engines such as Google were the most-used resource by more than a quarter to learn about sleep and/or sleep treatments.
So what did we Google? The study showed that seven out of 10 Googled sleep and/or treatments for the first time during the pandemic, 60 per cent visited online health websites such as WebMD, while nearly half used online quizzes.
Family members and online forums/social media platforms are the second- and third-most used resources respectively. The survey found that 17 per cent of Singapore adults relied on their families, and 14 per cent used online forums/social media to learn more about their sleep issues.