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Singapore's sleep-deprived millennials snooze longer on weekends; habit a worrying sign

SINGAPORE — More than eight in 10 Singaporeans spend their weekends sleeping in, to repay the sleep debt they have accumulated over the week, a survey by market research firm Wakefield Research found.

SINGAPORE — More than eight in 10 Singaporeans spend their weekends sleeping in to repay the sleep debt they have accumulated over the week, a survey by market research firm Wakefield Research found.

Millennials, defined as those aged between 22 and 37, are the biggest group confessing to this habit. This is closely followed by those aged 38 to 53 (Generation X), where about eight in 10 do the same.

Among the older set, six in 10 baby-boomers (aged 54 to 72) snooze longer over the weekends to catch up on sleep lost during the week.

The online poll was done in June and July this year across 12 countries, with 1,000 Singaporeans aged 18 and above taking part in the survey.

Findings also showed that Singaporeans are the second-most sleep-deprived people, with 62 per cent stating that they are not getting enough sleep. First on the list are the British, at 63 per cent.

Comparatively, the Japanese and Malaysians looked to be taking better care of themselves, with only 49 per cent of Japanese and 47 per cent of Malaysians reporting that they are getting less sleep than they need.

The survey results were released during an interview on Thursday (Aug 2) with American sleep expert Michael Breus, who is in Singapore to promote a bed he designed for cruise company Princess Cruises.

Dr Breus said that the survey findings are a worrying sign and if such sleep habits continue, rates of depression and anxiety may surge.

"When we see people who don't sleep well, over long periods of time, specifically due to them working too much and stress, we see their immune functions lowered. They have a greater likelihood of becoming sick, greater likelihood of mental health issues," he told TODAY.

The clinical psychologist, who is famous for having advised a number of American artistes such as Christina Applegate and Rosie O'Donnell on their sleeping patterns, added: "Unfortunately, I don't think (the stress level) is going to change, and so we all have to be very thoughtful in making sure we are getting enough sleep and that we are sleeping well throughout the night."

In terms of not getting enough sleep, 65 per cent of Gen X-ers in Singapore said that they get less sleep than they need, compared with 64 per cent of millennials and 54 per cent of baby-boomers.

American sleep expert Michael Breus. Photo: sleepdoctor.com

'SOCIAL JET LAG'

Commenting on another finding that Singapore emerged as the country with the most number of self-professed "night owls" — with more than one-third of working adults here admitting that they go to sleep only after midnight — Dr Breus said that "there is nothing wrong with being a nation of night owls".

There is nothing to treat there because it is a "genetic" tendency, he added.

Instead, what should change is the predisposition of the majority of the population here where people go on overdrive during the week and crash over the weekends. This is because it leads to "social jet lag", a condition associated with a lack of mental clarity and an increased reliance on caffeinated drinks, alcoholic drinks and cigarettes.

Explaining how social jet lag comes about, Dr Breus said: "When you try to catch up on sleep over the weekend, your whole biological clock wants to shift. If you go to bed at midnight on Friday and sleep until 11am on Saturday, go to bed at 1am on Saturday and sleep until 12pm on Sunday, guess what your body wants to do on Monday?

"It wants to go to bed late on Sunday night and sleep in on Monday morning."

This sleep debt, he said, is only payable on a day-to-day basis, best approached by keeping consistent the time one goes to bed and wakes up, with a "power-down hour" thrown in because "sleep does not come by like an on-off switch, but by slowly putting down the foot on the gas".

Many Singaporeans probably do not adhere to this routine since the survey found that nearly nine in 10 of them do not set aside time to "power down" or relax.

"Believe it or not, the more consistent you are, the less sleep your body needs, and you will be better for it," the doctor said. "Step one is to have consistency all week long."

'HOLIDAY NEGLECT'

If the week has left one exhausted, it is better to avoid sleeping in on both Saturday and Sunday. "Do so on Saturday, but not on Sunday," Dr Breus said.

Taking a holiday would also help, he said, as he noted that only a little over half of the working adults polled here take all their paid days off last year despite their sleep-deprived state.

The top reasons given include not finding a good time to take a day off, having too much work that needs doing, and facing a lack of support at work for them to take time away from the office.

These are signs that Singaporeans are dealing with "holiday neglect", Dr Breus said.

On the other hand, the British — who are the most sleep-deprived lot — came up tops as the group who best utilise their days off, with 76 per cent of them stating that they take all the holidays available to them.

Although Singapore's situation is not as bad as Japan's or South Korea's, where only 28 per cent and 35 per cent of their citizens take a holiday respectively, the "skewed priorities" of poor sleepers need to be addressed or this nation of night owls will slowly turn into a place where people get "burnt out, tired of work, grumpy and unsatisfied", he cautioned.

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