In Asia, it seems that working overtime or even working late into the night from home at the expense of sleep deems one as being hardworking or even diligent.
But experts at Asean Sleep Congress that took place in Singapore, emphasised how sufficient sleep plays an important part in one’s overall wellbeing and helps to improve focus and memory.
“In Asia, it’s a badge of honour to work hard. But if you value achievement above everything else, you’re not going to assign sleep the importance that it should have,” said sleep expert Michael Chee,director of the Centre for Cognitive Neuroscience at Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School.
Professor Wing Yun Kwok of the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s psychiatry department, who observed that children there are increasingly sleeping fewer hours, gave an insight on what’s happening in another progressive city.
He painted a picture of Hong Kong that will be familiar to Singaporeans – students who wake up early for school, spend the night doing homework and squeeze in an hour or two of leisure before going to bed late. “Children tend to sleep fewer hours on weekdays and try to compensate on weekends,” he said. “It helps a little bit, but it doesn’t compensate fully.”
Such children, he added, often suffer from problems such as higher blood pressure or cholesterol levels than their peers.
Prof Chee said that in an as-yet unpublished study of teenage students that he carried out, those who slept for five hours a night during weekdays suffered more lapses in memory and alertness than those who slept nine hours. Even after two nights of nine-hour rest during the weekends, they were not able to fully recover.
“Children don’t know better because their parents set the example from birth. Habits are the hardest things to overcome,” he said. Although he did not encourage people to slack off, Prof Chee believes that sacrificing shut-eye can result in more harm than good.
Text: Singapore Press Holdings/Straits Times/Linette Lai Additional Reporting: Atika Lim