22 October 2018
Singapore is a sleep-deprived nation; there’s no doubt about that. What many don’t know is the reason behind this lack of sleep, especially in the case of millennials – people who never really had to wake up at the crack of dawn to tend to farms or feed livestock, or walk for miles to post a letter. The older generations might say that technology has made life much more convenient for millennials, so what gives?
Photo: Active Health
How sleep-deprived are millennials, really?
Very, as studies have shown. A 2018 poll ranked Singapore the second most sleep-deprived nation, after Britain, and the millennials (those born between 1980 and 2000) are the biggest demographic group contributing to this result. We get slightly more than seven hours of sleep a day on average, which is distinctly below the recommended eight to nine hours by experts. This is exacerbated by other environmental factors that place our systems on hold and delay the onset of rest.
What’s keeping millennials awake at night?
Millennials tend to go to bed much later than others – many are often still up and running even past midnight. This unconventional arrangement is largely due to sleep being structured around work and commitments, rather than the other way around. Even when the time comes to hit the sack, sleep doesn’t always come easy. Late-night thoughts are regular visitors that overstay their welcome, even when there's fatigue at play. These nightly struggles are common in the lives of most millennials due to a number of unresolved issues:
• Work, work, and more work
Around one third of Singaporeans admit to sacrificing sleep to finish up on work, and millennials make up some 20% of the workforce. That’s not all. Work doesn't only eat into our rest and sleep time; the stress over unfinished work and anxiety over upcoming work and deadlines keeps our minds racing even when we’re lying on our beds at night.
• Stress and anxiety
Numerous studies all over the world are calling millennials the most stressed generation ever, with symptoms of anxiety and depression surging high in many millennials. This is due to both increasing workplace demands in the modern world, and an unprecedentedly competitive environment.
• Competitive environments
Increasing emphasis on education, success and individualism have cultivated a competitive environment that perpetuates across a millennial’s life, from education to work. A Psychological Bulletin study confirmed that millennials suffer from inflated rates of perfectionism, which might explain why millennials tend to be so stressed out all the time.
• Our crazy dependence on technological devices
Millennials are the first generation in history to be ubiquitously connected to the Internet via our handy mobile devices that function almost as a physical extension of our body. We don’t realise it but having an active digital life all the time has serious implications on our sleep patterns because the constant stream of information keeps our minds active and alert all the time. This prevents us from properly “logging off’ from our digital habits, allowing stress and worry to eat into our bedtime. Blue light from our devices also prevents a proper “shut down” of our systems, because our body confuses this light for daylight and stops producing melatonin, a natural sleep-inducer in our body.
Photo: Active Health
Is sleep deprivation really a cause for concern?
Stubborn millennials would insist that they can live with the lack of sleep. After all, work is more important than rest, right? Statistics show that a whopping 82% of Singaporeans work overtime! However, just because your body can handle the lack of sleep without collapsing doesn’t mean you shouldn’t seriously reconsider your sleeping habits altogether.
The short-term consequences of not sleeping well may be manageable, but what about the long-term consequences? There are serious physical and mental health implications caused by sleep deprivation that you may not be aware of:
• Increased risk of cancer
Terrifying, but quite possibly true. Lack of sleep causes up to a 70% reduction in our cancer-killing cells. John Hopkins Medicine reported that working overnight reduces our melatonin levels which encourages the growth of cancer cells. In fact, chronic sleep deprivation commonly is related to colon, prostate and breast cancers.
• Increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease
Another body of research has shown that insufficient sleep leads to an increase in beta-amyloid, a protein in the brain that is associated with Alzheimer’s disease and other brain-related diseases.
• Weakening of the immune system
Constant battling of flu symptoms is a sure sign that you aren’t getting enough sleep. When your body isn’t getting enough rest, it will be less able to protect itself against bacterial infections.
• Higher likelihood of obesity
The lack of sleep decreases our body’s metabolism, making us much more susceptible to weight-gain. When we’re low on energy, we tend to reach for sugary foods for a quick energy boost. These tend to be short-term remedies but can be bad for our health in the long run.
• Mental health issues
Anxiety and stress can easily keep most of us awake at night. Not getting enough sleep can be harmful for our psyche as well. It makes us more irritable and impatient, increases our anxiety and worry and reduces our self-esteem. Deeper mental health issues like mood disorders can also develop in the long run.
• Poorer work performance
The lack of sleep decreases our productivity at work by reducing our brain’s operational capacity, decreasing the strength of our working memory and reducing our attention span. This means we’ll end up spending more time trying to finish the same tasks, leading to less sleep – it’s a vicious cycle and one we need to break out of ASAP.
• Increased risk of making bad decisions
When we don’t get enough our sleep, our inhibitions are lowered, and this makes us more susceptible to negative influences. A weaker willpower means we are more likely to indulge in self-destructive behaviour like drinking and smoking. Needless to say, this further exacerbates our sleep habits and can also have an adverse effect on our relationships.
• Decreasing work-life balance
We already spend less time at home because of work. When we’re tired all the time, we’re tend to become unable to distinguish between the boundaries of our work and home lives, causing us to bring our worries and stress over. This reduces the quality of what little time we have with our loved ones; psychologists have found that a lack of sleep increases the frequency of conflicts within couples.
Photo: Active Health
How to get more sleep?
Convinced that you need more sleep now? While it’s almost impossible to work less or sacrifice family/friend time (no one wants to!), you can make some lifestyle changes that can go a long way towards improving your long-term sleep habits.
Dr. Richard Swinbourne, PhD, a senior sport dietitian and sleep scientist, Singapore Sport Institute, recommends controlling temperature and light before bed in order to improve sleep quality. “Have a warm shower (it makes you relaxed and drowsy) and turn the bedroom temperature down to 20 degrees, sleeping warm in cool air (think of a hibernating bear). Turn off the overhead lights, turn on a lamp and activate your digital devices' night modes (if you must use them) with the brightness turned down.”
Here are some other methods you can try if sleep continues to elude you:
• Engage in exercise
It is a well-known that fact that exercise encourages the production of dopamine – the body's “feel good” hormone. Partaking in a regular regimen of physical activity like running not only keeps your body active, but also gives it the opportunity to relax post-exercise. This relaxation can give way to feelings of sleepiness as the amount of natural light recedes (i.e. later in the evening). However, if you choose to exercise close to your bedtime, try to avoid training at high intensities as it might end up having the opposite effect instead!
• Keep the stress at bay
It helps when one writes down what’s getting their brains in a tizzy. Upon putting them down in clear words, one can begin to acknowledge the source of the stress and come up with a concrete plan for addressing these issues. Nothing is ever as bad as it seems after all, and keeping the thoughts in our head confounds what might in reality be just a simple problem.
• Meditate for relaxation
Meditation doesn't have to be confined to the yoga studio! Learning to quiet one's mind is a good way to let go of our worries and anxieties over upcoming deadlines and anything else that we haven’t exactly done well over the past few days. Doing so also helps us to release any other negative thoughts or emotions that may be following.
• Watch what you consume
Stay away from caffeine (sources include certain types of tea, coffee, soda, energy drinks and dark chocolate) at least four hours before you sleep. Caffeine is considered a stimulant and can keep you awake and lead to restlessness. Also, avoid taking alcohol as a nightcap before bedtime regularly. The production of cortisol is a natural by-product of the process of alcohol metabolism. This inevitably results in disrupted sleep patterns (i.e. late-night wakings).
• Log off from your devices
Turn off all your technological devices one hour before you go to sleep. By doing so, you protect your body from exposure to sleep-hindering blue light. Secondly, you’re also “forcing” your mind to relax and gradually unwind for some quality rest.
• Don’t sleep in excessively on the weekends
Most of us are guilty of sleeping in on the weekends to “earn” back whatever sleep we lost out on over the work week – a recent survey by Wakefield Research showed just as much. This may seem really harmless, but it’s in fact detrimental to our sleep cycles, because our body's circadian rhythm will yo-yo between our weekend sleep patterns and what we subject it to over the weekdays. In the long run, social jet lag results in bad moods throughout the week and an increase in fatigue. Worse still, another study found that social jet lag leads to an 11% increase in susceptibility to heart disease.
Photo: Active Health
While it’s hard to change the nature of modern workplaces and the competitive environment we live in, the habits that we engage in are completely within our control. We already see the negative impact of an over-reliance on technology in countless satires and news features presented by the media. If you're concerned about how your sleep habits have affected your health, the Active Health Experts in our Active Health Labs are more than qualified to provide you with advice and assistance in overcoming this obstacle. It's never too late if you start today!