Sleeplessness plagues Vietnam's youth

By Thuy Quynh, Ngoc Huyen   June 25, 2023 | 05:17 am PT
It was 2 a.m. when Ngan got out of bed, lit a scented candle for the third time, sprayed fragrance on her pillow, and took two sleeping pills.

The 29-year-old real estate sales executive in Ha Dong District, Hanoi, has been suffering from insomnia for the past eight months.

She can’t send herself to sleep unless she takes pills because she’s under pressure at work and can’t stop thinking at night. The company she works for is going through hard times and she could be laid off any day.

Ngan initially sought help from herbal tea and lotus seeds, which are believed to help calm the mind, but nothing improved. An acquaintance of hers then introduced her to scented candles. She soon became reliant on them and then could not sleep without them. But after a while, they didn’t work for her anymore either.

Ngan then bought a massage bed, which was advertised as a sleep aid, for more than VND20 million ($850). She also registered for a meditation course, and paid VND300,000 per month for a sound therapy mobile app that promises to help users relax and sleep more easily.

All of these remedies only worked for a short period of time and eventually Ngan’s insomnia situation got even worse. She struggled getting deep sleep and often stayed up all night. Her health began to deteriorate.

Desperate, she bought sedative pills from a drugstore. However, after taking the pills for a few days, she experienced panic attacks and had to be hospitalized.

Vietnamese young people are increasingly suffering from insomnia. Photo illustration by Pexels

Vietnamese young people are increasingly suffering from insomnia. Photo illustration by Pexels

Hoang An, 24, is also experiencing insomnia caused by work-related stress. She has spent tens of millions of dong on meditation and yoga courses, as well as massage pillows, but none have been effective.

After around a year of suffering, her physical and mental health got so bad she had to quit her job.

"I try to think positively to send me to sleep every night, but I can’t," she said. "I stay up all night and cry out of hopelessness in the morning."

After an examination at Bach Mai Hospital, An was diagnosed with moderate depression and sleep disorder. They are partly post-Covid effects, and partly caused by work-related stress.

She began taking pills and supplements prescribed by her doctor, but they cost around VND2 million a month a d the side effect include shaking hands, lower blood pressure and shortness of breath.

A study done by Wakefield Research pointed out that around 37% of Vietnamese youth are suffering from symptoms of insomnia, and around 73% of this group admitted that they were stressed because of their lack of sleep.

According to a survey by VnExpress, the number of young people visiting Hanoi-based hospitals – including Bach Mai, Central Psychiatric, and Hanoi Medical University Hospital – because of sleep problems has increased recently. Around 20-30 people visit Mai Huong Daytime Psychiatric Hospital for sleep problems per day, twice the number before the pandemic.

A similar trend has been observed in Ho Chi Minh City, where a survey on insomnia revealed that around 33% of the population were suffering from at least one symptom of insomnia.

Doctors at the Ho Chi Minh City University of Medicine and Pharmacy Hospital have estimated that around 15% of the patients visiting the hospital were seeking treatment for insomnia. Among the patients visiting to check-up on other health matters, around 35-40% were diagnosed with insomnia.

An lost 5 kilograms in two months because of insomnia. Photo courtesy of An

An lost 5 kilograms in two months because of insomnia. Photo courtesy of An

Tran Thi Hong Thu, vice president of the Mai Huong Daytime Psychiatric Hospital, said the causes of insomnia could be divided into physical, mental, and environmental reasons.

The most common reasons for young people are normally bad academic performance, failing to get into a university, going through a break up, becoming unemployed, or bearing the pressure of making money or aging. Certain habits including staying up late to scroll on mobile phones or watching films could also contribute to the problem.

Insomnia might affect many aspects of the patients’ lives and develop into mental disorders. Research has shown that insomnia increases the risk of death by 13%.

Thu said that most of the insomnia patients of Mai Huong Daytime Psychiatric Hospital reported that they had registered for mediation and yoga courses as well as buying Eastern medicines and supplements to increase sleep. But rarely did they see these methods prove to have long-term effects.

Some sedative pills bring temporary effects, as they help relieve stress and by doing so, send people to sleep more easily. However, overusing these pills could cause over-reliance and affect the patients’ ability to sleep after ceasing usage.

Not to mention that these pills do not solve the underlying actual reasons for insomnia.

Dr Ngo Quang Hai at the Vietnam Acupuncture Association suggests that people suffering from insomnia symptoms should visit doctors as soon as possible to be examined before their situations get worse.

"Unfortunately, many patients leave their insomnia situation untreated for years before seeking help from doctors," Hai said.

People can avoid getting insomnia by trying to follow a sleep pattern and keep their bedroom quiet. They should also practice things like reading books, listening to calm music, having a bath, exercising, and avoiding using digital devices for at least 30 minutes prior to their bedtime.

A healthy lifestyle, including avoiding eating too little or too much and cutting down on food and drinks that contain caffeine, should also be prioritized.

An's doctor encouraged her to exercise along with taking the medicines.

"I feel jealous of people around me who can sleep deeply every night," An said. "Now all I wish for is a normal sleep."

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