Lack of sleep taking a toll on Vietnamese

By Quynh Nguyen   June 8, 2022 | 12:41 am PT
Lack of sleep taking a toll on Vietnamese
Construction workers are at their night shift in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo by VnExpress/Thanh Nguyen
"It's urgent! The customer wants it shipped by tomorrow morning." The boss's message forced Hoang An to stay at the company until midnight to complete the task.

The 29-year-old delivery company employee in HCMC's Binh Thanh District is often forced to work until late at night and during weekend business trips, leaving her without time to sleep enough.

She only sleeps six hours a day on average. Chronic sleep deprivation means she is usually frustrated, tired, irritable, and unable to concentrate.

"In exchange, I earn twice as much as others," she says.

She contracted Covid-19 in October 2021 and could not sleep on many days. She was diagnosed with insomnia and experienced fatigue due to long Covid.

The constant work pressure ended up changing her circadian rhythms.

Lam Minh Hieu of the clinical psychology department at the University Medical Center HCMC says the number of patients visiting his clinic has increased after the months of isolation.

If previously around five came in a day, now there are up to 10 and some have to be rescheduled for the next day. Most are between the ages of 25 and 50.

Dr Le Van Thanh, former head of the department of neurology at the Pham Ngoc Thach Medical University in HCMC, says the number of young people suffering from sleep disorders has been on the rise in recent years, and not just because of Covid.

"Vietnamese frequently lack sleep due to social problems such as work pressure, poor lifestyle and excessive computer use."

Quynh Trang, 28, of Hanoi's Hoang Mai District is a prime example.

She has been working for four years in the communications industry and often pulls an all-nighter to complete tasks.

"This is the nature of my job and I must accept it," she says.

On non-busy days she works from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. She has only been sleeping four to five hours a night on average in the last few years.

Trang admits to having FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) in addition to being "addicted" to work. When she wakes up in the morning, the first thing she does is check text messages and emails. She takes her laptop along whenever she heads out.

"The amount of work doubles during holidays. I can't recall the last time I felt rested and at ease."

A study in eight countries by market research firm Wakefield Research in 2019 found that 37 percent of Vietnamese adults were getting less sleep than they needed and many took days off just to catch up on sleep.

Some 79 percent said they did not have time to rest, and the average office worker spent 10 days a year compensating for it.

In 2017 the neurology department at Hanoi’s Bach Mai Hospital received 13,000 patients with insomnia, a quarter of them aged 17 to 30.

A 2019 survey in Ho Chi Minh City of sleeping disorders found 33 percent of the population suffering from one of the many symptoms of insomnia and 30 percent of insomnia cases were linked to mental illness later.

Doctors at the University Medical Center HCMC said 15 percent of patients come to get their insomnia treated. Another 35-40 percent of patients are diagnosed with insomnia after visiting for other reasons.

Sleep disorders affect not only office workers but also freelancers and housewives.

Huyen Nga, 32, of Hanoi's Hoang Mai District began experiencing insomnia after giving birth in 2020.

She gets up at 6 a.m. every day to make food for the family. While her husband is at work, Nga looks after their son, cooks meals and does chores. She spends two hours every night reading newspapers and surfing social media before going to bed at 11 p.m.

Researchers dub Nga's condition as ‘Revenge Bedtime Procrastination,’ referring to the decision to delay sleep in response to stress or a lack of free time earlier in the day.

This condition is becoming more and more common as a result of increased stress and altered lifestyles and habits.

Many children too suffer from sleep deprivation.

At a health conference in 2016 pediatrician Johnathan Halevy estimated that 40 percent of Vietnamese children sleep less than they should. The primary reason is the amount of time spent on studying and preparing for exams. Their sleep is also affected by stress due to school.

Another survey done in early 2018 by a group of high school students in HCMC found sleep deprivation among high school students to be at an alarming level.

More than half of the 7,300 students polled said they slept late, usually after 11 p.m., with 20 percent sleeping after midnight. They woke up at 5:30-6:00 a.m. to go to school in time.

More than 80 percent often slept less than seven hours a day, with 10 percent sleeping less than five.

"Sleep deprivation and insomnia not only harm one's health, but also have an impact on labor productivity and job quality," Nguyen Duc Loc, director of the Social Life Research Institute in HCMC, says.

Studies done by the institute show that many employees want to work overtime to increase their income and businesses want to improve work efficiency, and while this has obvious immediate benefits, it is not sustainable, he says.

"In fact, we are eroding national human resources inadvertently."

Even people’s lives are endangered by sleep deprivation.

National Traffic Safety Committee statistics in 2019 showed sleep-related traffic accidents accounted for 30 percent of total cases in a year, claiming the lives of 6,400 people and causing losses worth US$109 billion (excluding property damage).

In many countries insomnia has become common, promoting the ‘sleeponomics’ market.

Sleep aid products have seen rapid growth in Vietnam in recent years. According to a mattress startup, even during the peak period of Covid-19 revenues increased by 250-290 percent since more and more people were paying attention to their health and sleep quality.

The market for tonics and sleep aid supplements too grew, albeit slightly. According to Euromonitor, over-the-counter sleep aid sales slowed in 2019 due to concerns about the risk of drug dependence, but traditional and herbal sleep products thrived.

Meditation and yoga classes are also rapidly becoming popular as a healthy way to improve sleep.

A person who has been running meditation classes for three years in Hanoi's Hai Ba Trung District says there is an increase in the number of students, with many being young adults. Most range in age from 22 to 40 and suffer from stress, fatigue and insomnia, he says.

Dr Nguyen Cao Minh, a lecturer at the VNU University of Education in Hanoi who is trained in the use of mindfulness and meditation, believes many go to meditation classes for two reasons: to develop themselves and to deal with stress.

An signed up for a meditation class at the cost of VND2 million ($86.24) a month on her friends’ recommendation to try and relieve stress and sleep well. She also began to refuse working after office hours.

"If the situation does not improve, I will resign. I don't want to sell my services only to suffer mental and physical harm as I have been in the last two years."

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