Counting Sheep? Flicking Channels?
By Bae Keun-min
Yoo Jin-sun, 34, often secretly snatches a 15- to 20-minute power nap in the afternoon at a restroom in his office, avoiding the gaze of his supervisor, to make up for a lack of good night sleep.
Yoo works late into the night and comes to the office early in the morning. Even after office hours he has to meet with clients for dinner or often for drinking, resulting in irregular sleeping hours and a slackening in his otherwise tight performance.
Yoo's lifestyle has prevented him from getting a full night's sleep at home during weekdays. His is a lifestyle not much different from those of most Korean men and women, prompting a case of a national epidemic of sleep disorders.
``I get stressed a lot from work in and out of the office. I feel so tired all day. Lately, I am even having a hard time in falling deep asleep as I am so worried about getting to the office on time in the morning,'' Yoo said. ``I think I need to get some help.''
Changes in Sleep Habits
People's sleeping schedule used to abide by the laws of nature: get up when the sun rises and go to bed when the sun goes down. The Industrial Revolution, however, has rendered sleeping into a social instead of a physical phenomenon. But modern society is finally seeing the effect of distorted sleeping patterns.
According to the U.S. National Sleep Foundation, the average person's sleeping hours plunged from nine hours a night in 1910 to 6.9 hours a night in 2002, leading to fatigue, exhaustion and other symptoms. The foundation noted shift workers suffer more than others as they sleep an average of only five hours a night.
The average sleeping hours of Koreans aged over 20 was estimated at seven hours 35 minutes during weekdays but eight hours 34 minutes on Sundays, according to Korea's National Statistical Office.
Those hours seem sufficient, but look deeply into everyday lives of contemporary people and we can find unstable sleeping routines, including sleep deprivation. Many Koreans have started to acknowledge they need professional help.
``When the gross national income per capita approaches $20,000, it is natural that people show more interest in good sleep and well-being,'' Hong Il-hee, medical doctor and co-director of Seoul Sleep Center in Nonhyeon-dong, told The Korea Times.
``People suffering from sleep deprivation used to refuse to take a PSG (polysomnography) test as it was pricey. But these days, when recommended, some 90 percent agree to take one,'' he said. Some 2,000 people took the test at his center just over the past 18 months.
The overnight test, a diagnostic session during which a number of physiologic variables are measured and recorded during sleep, usually costs from 500,000 won to 1 million won. Hong's center is the nation's first local clinic that has adopted the scheme and also has the largest number of beds, 12, for the test.
In Korea, the number of sleep clinics is on the rise. A total of 60 sleep clinics are in operation across the nation with some 120 test-beds available.
However, Korea is in need of more, compared to over 10,000 sleep clinics in the United States and 60-70 clinics just in Tokyo, Japan, Hong said.
``It has not been long since Korean doctors began looking at sleeping disorders with a more broad and comprehensive point of view, combining physical and psychological symptoms of patients to examine social and personal consequences of sleep disorders,'' Hong said.
In addition, the Korean Sleep Society was founded in 2002 to study influences of sleep from varied aspects and help the public understand the significance of sleep. In contrast, the National Sleep Foundation in the United States, an independent nonprofit organization, has been doing such work since 1990.
There are roughly six types of symptoms of possible sleep disorder _ insomnia, excessive snoring, sleep apnea (respiratory problems during sleep), parasomnia (such as sleepwalking, sleep sex, teeth grinding, restless leg syndrome and night terrors), circadian rhythm disorder and narcolepsy.
Among them, however, insomnia, snoring, sleep apnea and circadian rhythm disorder are more closely related to contemporary lifestyles linked with inappropriate diet, frequent overseas travel and stress.
But how can we know whether our sleeping habits are serious enough to seek help?
``It is natural for people to have a hard time falling asleep or maintaining sleep from time to time due to various reasons such as important tests and job interviews,'' Hong said.
He said sleep disorders associated with certain lifestyles have to be corrected when they last more than three months.
Sleep deprivation can be deadly, therefore it should not be neglected when those symptoms arise, Hong said.
``Insufficient rest not only causes fatigue and loss of concentration, which affects emotional moods, but also causes cardiovascular disease and related complications such as palsy and hypertension,'' Hong said.
Difference in business and scholastic performance between those with disorders and those without can be as large as three times, Hong said. ``Studies found some 80 percent of hypertension where drugs failed to control the blood pressure was closely related with sleeping disorders.''
Kwon Sun-il, 46, didn't realize the seriousness of his excessive snoring prior to causing a traffic accident while dozing off at the wheel last December.
``After the accident, I visited a clinic in February and found that I had had problems with excessive snoring and sleep apnea, which resulted in my dozing off at work all the time,'' Kwon said. ``After I got proper treatment, my headaches stopped and my head feels so clear.'' Kwon has been using a bi-level positive airway pressure machine, which controls pressure for the influx and outflow of air into the respiratory organs during sleep.
Fortunately, most of these disorders can be treated successfully, Hong said.
How much sleep do we need then? There is no magic number.
``Although many say a person needs to sleep for eight hours a night, there are no absolute sleep hours recommended. But the fact is the quality of sleep is more important than the quantity,'' Hong said.
``When you are very tired, take a quick nap for less than 20 minutes. But do not snatch a nap after 2 p.m., as it will hinder you from falling asleep at night.''