For Singaporeans, getting some serious nighttime shut-eye is more vital than ever before. Results of the latest health survey by health service company Cigna show that Singaporeans are not only alarmingly sleep-deprived, they are also among the most stressed at work globally.
Singapore has been impressively topping many global indexes on nurturing entrepreneurial talent, in the wealth per adult category, on human capital, and on global competitiveness, to name but a few. While those achievements are certainly commendable, Singapore has also been leading the way in global indexes of another kind.
A 2018 survey by Wakefield Research placed Singapore in the number two spot globally when it came to who was getting the least number of hours of sleep. On Tuesday, March 26, Cigna released the results of the 2019 Cigna 360 Well-Being Survey – “Well and Beyond”, which reflects how consumers feel about their personal health and well-being.
According to the index, which comprises physical, financial, workplace, social and family wellness pillars, nearly 92 per cent of Singaporeans surveyed were stressed from work, which was significantly higher than the global average of 84 per cent. Of that group, 13 per cent said that the stress they felt on a daily basis was no longer manageable.
These disquieting results reflect the urgency for a change of lifestyle, with a heavy emphasis on the need for sleep. A medical article on sleep-deprivation by Dr. Chong Yaw Khian of Tan Tock Seng Hospital warns that not getting adequate rest (at least seven hours a night) can lead to serious health issues such as heart failure, diabetes, stroke and clinical depression, while also affecting weight, motor skills, concentration abilities, judgment and other brain functions.
While fitting in more rest can seem next to impossible in our busy and stressful lives, there are techniques that can aid in creating a conducive environment for sleep.
1. Stay away from sleep-stealing digital screens
Our brains have a harder time powering down for bed with so many distractions around, especially ones of the digital kind. Research shows that staring at the blue and white light which digital screens emit impact your circadian rhythm, tricking your brain into thinking it is still daytime. This process reduces hormones like melatonin, which aid in going into deep sleep.
So instead of scrolling endlessly through Instagram or watching Netflix before you hit the sack, put your phone away and try an actual book, or maybe simply lie in bed and let your mind meander off into sleep.
2. Be wary of sleep-disrupting caffeine and alcohol
While caffeine and alcohol can moonlight as trusty, reliable friends who make the days more bearable and the nights more pleasurable, they are formidable foes when it comes to inhibiting and disrupting a healthy sleep cycle. Studies have shown that consuming caffeine up to six hours before bedtime significantly worsens sleep quality, while alcohol is known to cause or increase the symptoms of sleep apnea, snoring and disrupted sleep patterns.
Enjoy your coffee during the day, but put a break in your caffeine habit before the suggested time of 5p.m. And while that ice-cold beer or smooth glass of whisky might claim to have your name on it, you might literally lose sleep over it.
3. Turn your bedroom into a den for dreaming
Optimising your bedroom environment for rest and relaxation is critical to getting good sleep. Factors such as temperature, noise, external lights and even where your bed is located in relation to your window can all influence your quality of sleep. Numerous studies point out that external noise and lights, such as from traffic and bright sunlight, can cause poor, disrupted sleep. Experts suggest keeping work out of the bedroom so it’s all about relaxation (and fun).
Turn your bedroom into the perfect haven for hibernation by minimising external noise and light. Try blackout curtains or window shades to block most of the outside light and take into consideration where the sun rises and sets and arrange your bed accordingly. As gorgeous as the sunrise is, you don’t want the sun’s full power in your face while you try to get your seven hours. What you do want is an ultra-comfortable bed in a cool, dark space that’s optimised for sleep.
4. Say good night to before-bedtime snacking
Research suggests that eating within an hour before going to bed can negatively affect both the quality and quantity of your sleep. Eating meals high in sugar and fat before bed seems to decrease the time people spend in deep REM sleep, which is when the brain and body recuperate and re-energise. As enjoyably naughty as midnight snacking is, it can disrupt sleep quality and the natural release of melatonin.
Eat a well-rounded, hearty meal at least four hours before you go to bed and digest the night away, which paves the way for a deeper, less-interrupted sleep. If you really must have your midnight snack, indulge in the right bedtime snacks. Certain foods contain tryptophan, an amino acid that helps the body make serotonin, a chemical in the brain that aids in the sleep process. Think complex carbs like whole wheat bread, some protein like scrambled eggs, and a bit of calcium, like low-fat milk or cheese.
5. Exercise regularly but not too late in the day
Exercise is one of those things that truly brings positive effects to daily life, health and sleep. It can enhance all aspects of sleep and has been used to reduce symptoms of insomnia by shortening falling-asleep time, reducing night wakefulness and anxiety, and increasing total sleep time. While regular exercise is extremely beneficial to mental and physical health and paves the way for a good night’s rest, attempting it too late in the day may cause sleep problems. Exercise acts like a stimulant, increasing alertness and hormones like epinephrine and adrenaline that can prevent sleep.
There’s nothing wrong with hitting the gym, going to a boxing class or setting off on that run – it’s good for you. It’s all about the timing. Make a habit out of exercising regularly and earlier in the day and see what it does to your nights. Well, you won’t actually see anything, as you’ll (hopefully!) be fast asleep. /TISG
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