CHINA / National

Nightmare: Lack of a good night's sleep
(China Daily)
Updated: 2006-03-21 06:22

"A good night's sleep" is considered the ultimate cure for a host of ills and woes.

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 of rest.

"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 life again."

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 themselves.

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.

Fast-paced society

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 Lu.

For Chinese children and students, the heavy burden of studying and passing examinations for higher schools are also important causes of the problem, experts said.

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 leaders.

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 sleep.

"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 reported.

Traffic accidents

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 warned.

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, said Lu.

(China Daily 03/21/2006 page1)