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The Philippines isn’t sleeping well. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, we’re spending hours in bed, doomscrolling on Twitter, reading endless news articles about virus mutations and vaccine delays.
The anxiety-inducing pandemic has done no favors to a country that has a robust business process outsourcing industry that operates in a different time zone. “We have a lot of shift workers that usually go against their internal clock,” said Dr. Jimmy V. Chang, head of the Comprehensive Sleep Disorders Center of St. Luke’s Medical Center, Quezon City, and chair of the Philippine Academy of Sleep Surgery.
In this B-Side episode, Dr. Chang speaks with BusinessWorld reporter Patricia B. Mirasol about “coronasomnia” and how to sleep better at night.
Sleep is not a luxury. It is a necessity.
Sleep is one of the requirements for survival, and is just as important as food and water. According to a May 2018 Mayo Clinic article, sleep deprivation increases can negatively affect one’s mood, temperament, and ability to focus.
“A person cannot survive without sleep because it helps cope with the stress of being awake,” said Dr. Chang. “If you’re trying to fix your sleep and all else fails, please seek professional help.” Some patients, he said, attempt to fix their sleep-related issues but end up making things worse, because they don’t know the underlying reason behind them.
The past year has brought about coronasomnia and pandemic dreams.
The incidence of insomnia in the Philippines is not as high as other Asian countries, Dr. Chang said. The Center has seen an increasing trend in sleep difficulties this pandemic, however.
Three factors contribute to insomnia, Dr. Chang said: predisposing factors (like personalities prone to developing insomnia); precipitating factors (like the fear of getting sick); and perpetuating factors (like disrupted routines).
“We have a lot of time to spend in bed now. Doing things in bed apart from sleeping, such as watching TV, can disrupt your sleep,” he added. “We do see an increasing trend in sleep difficulties this pandemic.”
This COVID-induced phenomenon is not unique to the Philippines. In the US, a survey conducted between March 11 to 15 by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) revealed almost 60% of Americans are experiencing insomnia related to COVID-19.
Moreover, Elizaveta Solomonova and Rebecca Robillard, of McGill University and the Royal’s Institute of Mental Health Research in Ottawa, respectively, conducted a survey of 968 people in North America and determined that 37% of individuals experienced “pandemic dreams” with clear connections to life during COVID-19. Many of these dreams, according to the survey, were marked by themes of not completing tasks (such as losing control of a vehicle) and being threatened by others.
Lack of sleep affects the immune system, increasing the risks for illnesses.
Proper duration and quality of sleep strengthens the immune system, Dr. Chang said. It helps us battle diseases like COVID infections and other viral infections. “It also enhances our response to vaccines, because it enhances the way our bodies generate responses to the vaccine that was given,” he added.
Adults require between 7–9 hours of sleep daily, said Dr. Chang, with some being able to function with only 6 hours of sleep. Sleeping less than seven hours a night, added the same Mayo Clinic article, is associated with weight gain, diabetes, high blood pressure, and depression, among other health risks. Lack of sleep may furthermore lead to increased body aches and pains and impaired performance at work.
Asians, he added, have a predilection for snoring and other sleeping disorders.
“Asians have a more petite structural frame, as compared to Western populations, who have bigger jaws,” Dr. Chang said. “Most Asians have small chins, which makes our airways narrow as compared to other races… [This means] Filipinos are prone to having obstructive sleep apnea as well.”
Don’t force yourself to sleep when you’re not sleepy.
If you’re tossing and turning in bed because of pandemic-induced anxiety, said Dr. Chang, the worst thing you can do is to force yourself to sleep when you’re not sleepy. Among the tips he shared for getting a great night’s sleep, pandemic or no pandemic, is to set a fixed bedtime schedule, get sunlight exposure in the morning, and limit naps during the daytime.
Additionally, getting a mattress or pillow that helps snoring patients fall asleep on their side allows for better breathing and deeper sleep.
If nothing works, see a doctor.
“If you’re trying to fix your sleep and all else fails, please seek professional help,” said Dr. Chang.
St. Luke’s Comprehensive Sleep Disorders Center offers individualized treatments for more than 80 types of sleep disorders, including insomnia (a condition characterized by difficulty in sleeping), sleep apnea (a condition when breathing repeatedly stops and starts during sleep), and restless legs syndrome (a condition that causes an uncontrollable urge to move one’s legs, especially at night).
The Center is composed of several specialists, including pulmonologists, ENTs, pediatric specialists, and psychologists who offer cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia.
“We’re here to help you,” said Dr. Chang. “Some patients try to fix their sleep by themselves not knowing that what they’re doing is actually making it worse.”
Recorded remotely on June 14. Produced by Paolo L. Lopez and Sam L. Marcelo.
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