• Adequate sleep is crucial for clinicians
  • Sleep deprivation of less than seven hours associates with higher blood pressure
  • Compensating for sleep over weekends is not a good strategy

While sleep deprivation is a global problem, Asian societies are particularly vulnerable as having little sleep in pursuit of success is considered to be a “badge of honour”.

At the third ASEAN Sleep Congress, Professor Wing Yun Kwok from the Department of Psychiatry at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, discussed the importance of sleep for better cognitive performance, with an emphasis on sleep studies conducted on children and adolescents.   
According to Prof Wing, Asian countries have significantly later bedtimes and shorter nighttime sleep than Caucasian countries. These results indicate significant cross-cultural differences in sleep patterns and sleeping arrangements.
This difference can be attributed to the entrenched cultural notion of sleep deprivation as a sign of diligence, especially in Asian cultures where there is pressure to attain merits at work or school.
He further added that this phenomenon is also reflected in the medical community. “Residents or interns who have enough rest are perceived to be lazy. Clinicians need to change their mindset because adequate sleep is important,” said Prof Wing.
The adverse effects of sleep deprivation are numerous, ranging from impaired cognitive abilities (such as poor attention span and memory) to an impaired immune system.
This is exemplified by a study investigating the acute and chronic effects of sleep duration on blood pressure among adolescents. Sleep duration of less than seven hours was associated with higher blood pressure in normal weight adolescents.
Although a night of compensatory sleep may partially mitigate the risk of high blood pressure, it may not completely reverse the effect of long-term sleep insufficiency.
“If you sleep less during the weekday and try to compensate it during the weekend, this will result in an accumulate of sleep debt. It’s not enough to compensate sleep, and compensating sleep is definitely not a good strategy,” explained Prof Wing.
“It’s time to talk about changing our culture,” he stressed.
Other than factors such as socioeconomic status, sleep deprivation can also stem from individual factors. Prof Wing believes that while the medical community is still far from achieving personalised sleep medicine treatment, it will be the way forward as an ideal sleep intervention.

Professor Wing Yun Kwok delivered the plenary lecture, "Sleep health among schoolers - what can we do?", the 3rd Asian Sleep Congress 2015.

More information on the congress