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Sleep deprivation: How not sleeping enough is running you down

If you’re looking for a way to improve your health, getting enough sleep would be an obvious place to start. Actually getting enough sleep, however, is something many people struggle with around the world, and the non-stop city of Hong Kong can be just as bad! We all know that sleep deprivation can lead us to be groggy, slow, and leave us feeling poorly, but did you know that it can seriously affect both your productivity and life expectancy?

In this article, Pacific Prime Hong Kong explains what science has to say about getting a healthier sleep, what the challenges are for busy people in the S.A.R, and how to change a few things so that we’re getting a bit more shut-eye than we have been before.

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The science of a good night’s sleep

When we think of sleep, we generally consider that our body and our mind are tired and need to be “shut down” in order to recover. However, science actually tells us that our body does the opposite. Instead of turning off as we sleep, our brains are said to use this time to process and store the memories and experiences we had during the day, moving them from our tentative, short term memory to the stronger, long term sections of our brain.

A quality sleep also helps the health of our bodies, as well as our minds. During what’s sometimes referred to as a “restorative stage” of sleep, our blood pressure drops, breathing slows down, blood flow moves to the muscles, and our body’s tissues start to repair themselves. Hormones, such as the human growth hormone, are also secreted – helping to regulate muscle and bone growth, sugar and fat metabolism, and potentially heart functions.

So while we actually think we’re “switching off” during our sleep, our body remains highly active in processing information, repairing itself and re-energizing for the next day. Scientists refer to a lack of sleep as “sleep deprivation”, and may sometimes discuss the amount of sleep lost as “sleep debt”. According to medical evidence, every adult should be getting between 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night, but we’re rarely getting that these days.

Hong Kong: The city that never sleeps

It’s a common saying that we’re often quite proud of: “Hong Kong is a city that never sleeps”. However, we’re doing so at the cost of our own health. What used to be a description of a bustling, humming city that pulses with life at all hours of the day, has now become a self-fulfilling prophecy, as an estimated 2.2 million people could be classed as having insomnia.

In 2003, a Hong Kong University study found that 92% of local working-age people in Hong Kong were sleep deprived, with nearly 50% of survey respondents indicating these bad sleeping habits were long term. A high percentage of people in Hong Kong (39%) were found to be going to bed between 11pm-12am, with a lot more (41%) waking up between 6-7am.

More than ten years later, the picture is no different. A recent study showed that Hong Kong had the worst rank in Asia for having a sleep deprived nation and one of the biggest factors keeping us awake: the internet. People were said to be spending on average 3.7 hours online outside of work purposes, something survey company Intuit Research explains is often at the cost of time for sleep and exercise.

The other costs of sleep deprivation

Failing to get enough sleep harms more than just our health, as it often affects our communities and our productivity at work and school. Sleep deprivation was identified by the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration as being a factor in 100,000 vehicle crashes, and 1,550 crash-related deaths. In Hong Kong, a taxi driver was suspected of falling asleep at the wheel in an incident that killed two maintenance workers earlier this year.

Similarly, those suffering from sleep issues such as insomnia and sleep apnea are more likely to be a drag on productivity in the workplace. Not-for-profit researcher Rand Europe found that a lack of sleep in the US is costing the economy up to US $411 billion a year, which is 2.28% of its GDP. Hong Kong doesn’t quite register as a leader in economic loss due to lack of sleep, the top five include the US, Japan (US $138 billion), Germany (US $60 billion), the UK (US $50 billion), and Canada (US $21.4 billion).

Closer to home, the Caritas Youth and Community Service released a study on Children’s Day that found about one in three Hong Kong pupils lack adequate sleep. Developmental-behavioral pediatric doctor Fanny Lam Wai-fan said that children aged five to 12 need 10 to 11 hours sleep every day, yet 34.8% of young people slept for an average of six hours.

The concern to education and health experts alike is that poor sleeping habits leave youngsters with a much lower ability to be creative in school, something that many have commented needs more prominence in Hong Kong. Children who lack confidence in their own creative ability are also thought to be less happy and content with their school and home lives.

Getting better sleep

If you’ve been struggling to get healthier sleep, or you’re just feeling a bit sluggish or worn out, then following some or all of these tips can help:

  • Sticking to a schedule: Setting a time for when you’re supposed to go to sleep and sticking to it can help a lot. Your body becomes familiar with your consistent routine for sleep and should help you fall asleep easier.
  • Making a bedtime ritual: Creating a pattern of activities you do when you’re about to go to bed can also help. Having a nice hot bath or shower, reading a book or listening to some relaxing music can help your body and mind wind down from the day before you fall asleep.
  • Turn off the devices: Whether it’s your smartphone, tablet, or even a handheld game machine, make sure it’s off and put away out of reach before you go to bed. Don’t be tempted to check back in on the internet before you shut your eyes!
  • Be active early: Aside from being a great health option in itself, exercising can help your body spend its energy – but don’t exercise too late! Activity can stimulate the stress hormone cortisol, which activates the alert mechanism in the brain. Try to finish all exercise at least three hours before bed.
  • Have a healthy diet: Again, eating well is a no-brainer for its health benefits but eating lighter dinner meals, and healthier foods, helps your body sleep better. Try not to eat too close to bedtime and, if you do wake up hungry, try drinking water or eating foods that don’t cause indigestion (e.g. dairy products).

Those of you who might still be finding it difficult to sleep may be suffering from a sleeping disorder and should seek specialist assistance.

Most sleep-related studies and tests will be considered an outpatient procedure, meaning you’ll likely need outpatient coverage in order to make a claim for any such tests. Not all insurers will include sleep disorders in their outpatient care so if you’re unsure your best bet is to either check your policy, or contact your insurance provider to find out more.

Those of you who do not have health insurance and would like to discuss care options related to sleep disorders, don’t hesitate to contact a broker like Pacific Prime Hong Kong. Our experts have been assisting expats around Asia and the world with their health insurance needs for over 15 years. To find out more about insurance coverage for sleep disorders, or for a free quote, contact Pacific Prime Hong Kong today!

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