"A good night's sleep" is considered the ultimate cure for a host of ills and
But for an estimated 400 million Chinese with sleep-related disorders, a good
night's sleep is only a dream.
More and more people, particularly those living in cities, are experiencing
problems sleeping at night; and experts in China hope today's World Day of Sleep
will draw attention to the issue.
Zhang Yan, a 26-year-old English teacher at a university in Nanjing, capital
of East China's Jiangsu Province, took leave last month to return to her
hometown, a rural village in East China's Anhui Province, for the sole purpose
"It's really a sleepy hollow there. I easily fall into sound sleep at night,"
Zhang said. "But on my return to Nanjing, I found myself in the fast lane of
Zhang is not alone in her predicament.
A 2003 survey conducted in major Chinese cities by the China Medical
Association showed that 38.2 per cent of urban dwellers suffer from sleep
disorders such as insomnia, abruptly waking up, night sweats, rapid heartbeats
during sleep and snoring.
But public awareness of the disorders, and of related medical services and
intervention measures, is low, said Wang Guangliang, secretary general of the
Chinese Sleep Research Society.
Wang said the most important thing for experts at the moment is to let people
know of the help available.
For example, many regard snoring as a sign of sound sleep. It may, however,
be a symptom of a potentially serious breathing condition sleep apnea that can
lead to heart disease and strokes.
This year, his society will hold at least 1,000 lectures and forums in
communities to teach residents how to improve their quality of sleep.
Sleep disorders may be caused by mental pressure or physical illness, and
must be treated under the guidance of doctors, Wang said.
However, the majority of Chinese hospitals have no special departments to
treat sleep problems.
Doctors who can treat disorders often work in separate departments, and there
are no general practitioners to help people, Wang added.
It can leave patients feeling confused about which department they should go
to, so, instead, they end up selecting remedies such as sleeping pills by
In the past several years, Wang's society has established sleep centres in
six hospitals in Wenzhou, East China's Zhejiang Province, Luoyang, Central
China's Henan Province, and other regions.
More hospitals need to establish such centres to be able to treat patients
with sleep problems effectively, Wang said.
Meanwhile, his society is organizing experts to draft a national level
guideline of treatments and interventions for sleep problems to provide
authoritative reference for doctors and residents.
A recent survey revealed about 60 per cent of adult Beijingers have suffered
sleep disorders in the past 12 months.
Beijingers seem to suffer more sleeping problems than others, probably as a
result of living in a high-pressured and fast-paced society, according to the
survey, which was also conducted in Shanghai, Guangzhou, Nanjing, Chengdu and
Hangzhou, Xinhua News Agency reported.
While some people have difficulties in getting off to sleep altogether,
others complain their sleeping sessions are too short and that they often have
trouble getting back to sleep.
In fact, insomnia is found in 75 per cent of depression patients, according
to a separate survey among doctors in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.
It was conducted by Fan Dongsheng, who works at the No 3 Hospital affiliated
to Beijing University's Medical School.
Both surveys found at least 70 per cent of the insomniacs chose
self-medication instead of seeing a doctor for their problems.
Most of the insomniacs said they have sleep disorders because they are
stressed at work or in life.
According to Lu Gan, an expert with the Chinese Sleep Research Society, sleep
deprivation is due to both external and internal causes.
Noise pollution of the community one lives in and the bright night scene in
cities are among the external factors that can disrupt sleep.
And for the internal reasons, the rapid pace of life, irregular lifestyles,
huge competition in the job market, and modern distractions such as late-night
TV programmes are reasons for some people struggling to drop off at night, said
For Chinese children and students, the heavy burden of studying and passing
examinations for higher schools are also important causes of the problem,
Although there is no fixed standard on how many hours a person needs to
sleep, experts tend to suggest that most adults should get between seven and
eight hours of sleep in order to keep fresh and energetic during the day.
But the fact is that fewer and fewer urban residents in big cities now can
get to meet the requirement.
A survey of 20,000 workers conducted by the Shanghai Workers?Health Club in
2004 shows that more than 70 per cent of office workers in the city had
difficulty falling asleep, and nearly a quarter depended on sleeping pills.
The majority of the people with the problems were found working in
professions that require intense brainwork, including media workers and business
Women, who sometimes have to juggle both household and professional duties,
are also more susceptible to insomnia than men, said the survey.
More than half of primary and middle school students, overwhelmed by long
school hours, piles of homework, and various after-school activities, said that
"a good sleep is the dearest thing?they want during a survey conducted by the
China Youth and Children Research Centre.
The survey, covering 5,846 students in 10 major cities including Beijing,
Shanghai and Chongqing during 2003 and 2004, showed that 10.4 per cent aged
under 12 slept less than eight hours a day. Among children aged between 13 and
15, one-third slept less than eight hours per day, which is much lower than
experts?opinions that children and teenagers should get at least nine hours of
"It is a well-known fact that getting enough sleep makes it more efficient
for kids to learn, but simply no parents or related bureaux have the methods to
improve the situation,?said a teacher from No 1 Middle School in Nanjing.
As well as young people who face a range of pressures that disrupt their
sleep patterns, senior citizens face their own sleeping problems too.
A major reason is loneliness, experts said. According to a survey conducted
by the People Liberation Army 305 Hospital based in Beijing among 40,500
middle-aged and senior citizens in five communities, 28.8 per cent of people
aged over 60 had a poor quality of sleep.
Another reason is that their physical conditions are deteriorating, which
makes it hard for them to sleep deeply, Beijing-based Legal Evening News
Sleep deprivation in itself is a nuisance. But it can also lead to potential
illnesses such as depression, anxiety or even heart-related problems, experts
Research shows that the suicide rate for those who suffer sleep deprivation
is twice that of those with normal sleep.
What is more, sleep disorders contribute to an enormous loss in social and
economic sectors because of accidents and injuries caused by sleepy workers.
In China, although no specific statistics are available, many traffic
accidents are believed to be caused by tired drivers.
But according to Lu, only about 20 per cent of people suffering from sleep
disorders in China turn to health professionals for help, while most of the
others choose to take sleeping pills or just leave he problem unsolved.
Of those dependent on drugs, more than 95 per cent would suffer insomnia if
they stopped their medication.
Since the country stepped in line with the World Sleep Research Society in
2001, more attention has been paid to the matter of sleep quality. But the
amount of money invested in related studies in China is still far from enough,
(China Daily 03/21/2006 page1)