Sleep in Singapore
“Sleep is the best meditation - The Dalai Lama”
We now have adequate information that a lack of sleep is a disease of the modern world. In fact, getting a good night’s sleep is now a struggle for many people. Many factors such as stress, anxiety, work, psychological issues and medical conditions can all interrupt the sleeping cycle that we all need. In Singapore, a recent study by Philips in 2019 in conjunction with World Sleep Day, indicated that Singaporeans only sleep on average 6.3 hours on weekdays and 6.7 hours on weekends, which is well below the global average of 5.7 hours and 7.8 respectively. In fact, Singapore is ranked one of the lowest in terms of its people getting enough sleep. Further, the statistics showed that 70% Singaporeans classified their sleep as “somewhat well” or “not well at all”, and 39% of Singaporeans indicated that their sleep has worsened in the last five years. What is keeping Singaporeans awake and negatively affecting their sleep patterns? Stress was cited as the main reason with 61% of them attributing their inability to sleep adequately to worry or stress, which again is higher than the global average of 54%. The other factors include sleeping environment (35%), entertainment media such as TV and media (30%), partner’s snoring (14%) and personal sleep schedule (10%). The good news in that 81% of Singaporean respondents indicated that they want to improve on their quality of sleep.
Decades of research on brain activity and physiological patterns of sleeping have revealed a substantial amount of important information on what sleep is and what it is not.
Sleep accounts for one-quarter to one-third of the human lifespan, and owing to advancement in research, we now know that a lot goes on during sleep, and our brain and body is just as active when we sleep as when we are fully awake.
- Sleep helps to repair and recharge your body
During sleep, your body works hard to repair your muscles and tissues, organs and other cells. Your body also produces chemicals that strengthen your immune system so you can better fight infection and stay healthy. Conversely, a lack of sleep can affect your immune system.
- Sleep helps to keep your heart healthy
Sleep is essential for a healthy heart. Your cardiovascular system is constantly under pressure and stress, and sleep helps to decrease the levels of stress and inflammation in your body. Sleeps helps to keep blood pressure and cholesterol levels in check which in turn benefits your system. In fact, people who do not sleep enough are at higher risk for cardiovascular disease and coronary heart disease—regardless of age, weight, smoking and exercise habits. Further, it also puts you at risk for other conditions such as hypertension and diabetics.
- Sleep helps to consolidate and integrate learned information and improve many of your cognitive abilities such as attention and memory. Neuroscience has now shown that different parts of the brain responsible for various cognitive functions are more activated when people have adequate sleep, when they engage in cognitive tasks. On the other hand, the lack of sleep leads to reduced activation of attentional networks in the frontal and parietal lobes across a variety of cognitive tasks; the lack of sleep also results in significantly less activity in the hippocampus responsible for the forming of new memories. Consequently, you will find it difficult to concentrate and this often leads to memory problems with facts, faces, lessons, or even conversations. Moreover, researchers have also found that sleep may promote the removal of waste products from brain cells—something that seems to occur less efficiently when the brain is awake. Researchers have found that losing just one night of sleep led to an immediate increase in beta-amyloid, a protein formed in the brain associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
- Sleep helps to improve your mood and reduce the occurrence of mood disorders.
Sleep helps to calm us down and stabilise our moods. A good night’s sleep encourages a state of relaxation and can help lower blood pressure and elevated levels of stress hormones resulting from today’s fast paced and stressful environment. Conversely, with insufficient sleep, we are more likely to become agitated, frustrated, inpatient and moody, whether we realise it or not. Just like how sleep significantly impacts on brain functioning and cognitive abilities, sleep also significantly impacts on brain functioning and your emotional wellbeing. When we suffer from such even mild mood swings, we face undesirable consequences such as making poorer judgement and decisions and engaging in poorer interaction with other people.
The National Sleep Foundation’s recommends the following sleep requirements, based on age categories, which account for physiological changes that occur as people age.
Sleep Requirements by Age
|Newborns (0-3 months old)||14-17 hours|
|Infants (4-11 months old)||12-15 Hours|
|Toddlers (1-2 years old)l||11-14 Hours|
|Pre-schoolers (3-5 years old)||10-13 Hours|
|School-aged Children (6-13 years old)||9-11 Hours|
|Teens (14-17 years old)||8-10 Hours|
|Young Adults (18-25)||7-9 Hours|
|Adults (26-64)||7-9 Hours|
|Older Adults (65+)||7-8 Hours|
Let us now look at how we can develop a good sleep hygiene so we can get a better night sleep. It is important that we first recognise why sleep matters and allocate the required number of hours for it. If we fail to do that, it is unlikely that any tip or strategy would be impactful.
- Regular sleeping time
Habits are easy to form once you repeat them in a regularly and routinely. Try go to go to bed and wake up at around the same time on a daily basis, even on weekends and days off.
- Sleep rituals
It is important that we prepare ourselves to go to sleep by doing things that remind our body that it is time to go to sleep. For example, start winding down activities such as doing work that stimulate the mind, at least half an hour before bed. Some people find it useful to listen to relaxing music, dim the lights, read a relaxing book and do simple stretches.
- Sleep when sleepy
Try to sleep only when you actually feel tired or sleepy, rather than spending too much time awake in bed as you are likely to end up thinking or ruminating which then keeps you awake further. As such, it is so important to wind down stimulating activities and prepare yourself to go to sleep, or you may continue to stay awake and forget that you have to go to sleep resulting in a loss of sleeping time. Over time, this can become an unhealthy cycle and habit of sleeping less and less.
- Bed is for sleeping only.
Your bed is for sleeping only and your body will come to associate what you do on your bed with sleeping. Try not to use your bed for anything other than sleeping and sex. If you use your bed as a place to work, eat, pay bills or other things, your body will not learn that you need to sleep on your bed but instead, associate it with work.
- Sleep on good mattress and pillow
When you spend one third of your life sleeping, it makes sense to invest in a good mattress and pillow so you get the best sleep. Like time, once quality sleep is lost, it is lost. Moreover, try not to use them after their use by date as they tend to sink and have allergens like dust mites which you may not realise is affecting the quality of your sleep.
- Try again later
If you have not been able to get to sleep after around 20 minutes or so, get up and do something calming or boring until you feel sleepy. Again, lying in bed awake will make you think and ruminate. For example, some people find it useful to read a boring book and sit on the couch in the dark with light music. Avoid anything that is stimulating or interesting.
- Avoid looking at the time
Some people who find it difficult to fall asleep tend to check or look at the time frequently, which actually keeps them awake. It is also likely to reinforce negative rumination such as “This is late and I still cannot sleep” and “I only slept for four hours”.
- Shower time
Having a warm or hot shower one to two hours before going to sleep can be helpful, as this will raise your body temperature, causing you to feel sleepy as your body temperature drops again. Sleepiness is associated with a drop in body temperature.
Physical activity increases time spent in deep sleep, which we learnt is the most physically restorative sleep phase. Exercising also enables you to expend energy and helps to make you feel more tired and ready to rest when it is time to go to bed. However, try not to exercise at least four hours before going to bed as this can stimulate your body and mind which makes it harder for you to fall sleep.
- Eat well
A healthy and balanced diet will help you to sleep well. However, the timing is important. A large and heavy meal before bedtime can affect your sleep. On the other hand, feeling very hungry can also be distracting. Whole fresh foods such as grains, nuts, fruits and vegetables are way better in terms of nutrition than junk and processed foods which contain additives and preservatives that are harmful to your body. In addition, melatonin is a hormone naturally produced in your body to regulate sleep. However, as we age, your body produces less of it which might affect you getting a good night’s sleep. It would be helpful to increase your body’s melatonin levels naturally by incorporating foods such in melatonin into your diet. These foods can include eggs, salmon, pistachio, walnuts, tomatoes, peppers, grapes, strawberries and cherries.
- Avoid alcohol, caffeine and nicotine.
Many people think that alcohol is relaxing and helps them to get to sleep. While this may be true in that it may help you to sleep faster, it would also interrupt the quality of sleep such as waking up often during the night. It is therefore best to avoid alcohol four to six hours before going to sleep or avoid it altogether. Similarly, substances like caffeine and nicotine act as stimulants and therefore also interfere with the ability to fall asleep. It is best to avoid them four to six hours before bedtime or avoid them altogether.
- Avoid naps
While power napping may be beneficial as it may help you power through the day, it can be problematic for those who have difficulty sleeping at night. Thus, you may want to avoid taking naps during the day, to make sure that you are tired at bedtime. If you can’t make it through the day without a nap, make sure it is for less than an hour and before 3pm.
- The right space
A conducive environment is important to get a good night’s sleep and many people often underestimate how little things can affect the quality of sleep. For example, your bedroom should be cool, free from any noise and any light, if possible. In tropical areas such as Singapore however, keeping the bedroom cool can be difficult unless there is air-conditioning. If not, a silent fan can be useful. Studies have shown that blue light which emits from electronic devices such as smartphones and tablets can trick your body into thinking that it is daytime and suppresses melatonin production. Thus, try to use a lamp that does not emit blue light and switch on the blue light filter in your smartphone in the evening.
- The right smell
The power of scent is an increasingly popular and important area of research as researchers investigate how scents can connect a person with various memories from childhood, and how particular smells can evoke a range of emotional and physical responses. Some of these scents can be found in essential oils. It may be helpful to explore these scents and see for yourself how they can work for you to get a better night sleep.
Why are some people able to claim that they only need four hours of sleep yet hold such important positions? While this may be true, it is important to know that cognitive and memory decline or any other health problem usually takes many years to show. More importantly, imagine how much more the person can achieve if the person has good and adequate sleep such as living an even longer and more productively life well beyond what is expected. The message is clear: sleep is important and needs to be taken seriously. Rest assured that in today’s world, it is unlikely that we sleep too much! If we do, it may point to an underlying issue such as depression. In such cases, it is important to seek help with a professional.
“A good laugh and a long sleep are the two best cures for anything”
– Irish Proverb