Singapore Has A Sleep Deprivation Problem, And It’s Killing Us

The government’s high profile “War on Diabetes” has materialized in the form of public awareness campaigns and proposed policy amendments in an effort to reduce the sugar intake of Singaporeans. However, comparatively little attention has been paid to another health crisis endemic to Singapore – our chronic lack of sleep.

Singaporeans are amongst the most sleep deprived nation worldwide.

In fact, Singapore is the 3rd most sleep-deprived of the 43 cities profiled in a report published recently. Only in Tokyo and Seoul the people sleep lesser.

According to a survey by market research company YouGov, an alarming 44 per cent of Singaporean adults get less than seven hours of sleep a night (the minimum optimal hours of sleep to function well). To break that figure down, while 41 per cent of respondents sleep for four to six hours, 3 per cent sleep for less than four hours a day.

Sleep deprivation is not okay. Chronic sleep deprivation, whatever the reason, will significantly affect your health, work performance, safety, and general sense of well-being. On a macro-scale, sleep deprivation leads to lower economic productivity, greater stress, higher healthcare costs, and increased risk of disease and illness.

What’s behind the sleep deprivation?

Most researchers link Singaporeans’ lack of sleep to the well-established culture of working long hours. Here too, Singapore leads the rest of the world. Singaporeans worked for about 44.9 paid hours a week in 2018, according to Ministry of Manpower (MOM) statistics. By comparison, the average US worker and EU worker clock in 35 hours and 42 hours per week respectively.

Daily stressors may also intrude upon our ability to sleep well or perhaps, we trade sleep for more work or play.

Consequences of sleep deprivation

1. Road and work accidents

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Sleep deprivation constitutes a major public safety hazard every day on the road. Drowsiness can slow reaction time as much as driving drunk. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that fatigue is a cause in 100,000 automobile crashes and 1,550 crash-related deaths a year in the U.S.

In another study, workers who complained about excessive daytime sleepiness had significantly more work accidents, in particular, repeated work accidents.

2. Impaired productivity

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Sleep plays a critical role in thinking and learning. Lack of sleep impairs important cognitive processes in many ways.

First, it impairs attention, alertness, concentration, reasoning, and problem solving. This makes it more difficult to learn efficiently.

Second, during the night, various sleep cycles play a role in “consolidating” memories in the mind. If you do not get enough sleep, you will not be able to remember what you learned and experienced during the day. It is easy to understand why sleep deprivation can adversely affect work performance and school performance.

3. Health problems

Sleep deprivation can also put you at risk for:

  • Heart disease
  • Heart attack
  • Heart failure
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Hypertension
  • Stroke
  • Diabetes

More action needed

While significant resources and attention have been afforded to the problem of Diabetes in Singapore, more needs to be done to tackle our chronic sleep deprivation. At its root, there remains a “workaholic culture” which is further compounded by expectations from work supervisors and the myth that longer hours is a reflection of productivity and hard work.

At a time when our fertility rate is on the decline and more young Singaporeans are putting marriage on the hold, it is worth looking whether the workaholic culture can be broken and a more holistic work-life balance strived for.

This would entail policy changes such as a reduction in MOM’s weekly working hours from 44 to 40 hours, more days of annual leave, tax breaks for corporations and businesses that allow for flexi-work arrangements, and a reduction in the cap on overtime hours.

An informational approach would suggest the need for targeted campaigns to raise awareness of the adverse health effects of sleep deprivation, as well as technological solutions like mobile apps that track the number of hours of sleep per night.

No single approach can fully solve the problem of sleep deprivation. But as research has clearly shown, there are significant benefits to optimal sleep, both to the individual and to the country as a whole.

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