Some may lack sleep due to the fast pace and stress of living here, while others have insomnia or sleep apnoea

Can't sleep well? You are in good company - Singaporeans are among the most sleep-deprived people on the planet.

An online poll across 12 countries by American market research firm Wakefield Research last year found that Singaporeans were the second most sleep-deprived people behind the Britons.

Of the 1,000 Singaporeans aged 18 and older who took part in the survey, 62 per cent said they are not getting enough sleep.

According to a 2016 study of 350 people by SingHealth Polyclinics, 44 per cent lack sleep on weekdays (fewer than seven hours of rest a night), while 26 per cent failed to clock enough sleep on weekends. The rate of 44 per cent is higher than that in countries such as the United States.

Across all age groups, Singaporeans sleep one hour less than their overseas counterparts, Dr Leow Leong Chai, director of the Sleep Disorders Unit at Singapore General Hospital, tells The Straits Times.

Adults are recommended to have seven to eight hours of sleep, while children and teenagers need more sleep, he adds.

According to a 2016 Washington Post article, children aged six to 12 should sleep nine to 12 hours and teenagers aged 13 to 18 should sleep eight to 10 hours per 24 hours on a regular basis for optimal health.

Experts say Singaporeans' lack of sleep is largely due to the fast pace and stress of living here, but sleep disorders, which often go untreated, can also cause poor sleep.

Dr Leow, who is also a consultant for the Department of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine at SGH, says obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) is the most common sleep disorder here, with about one in three Singaporeans having the condition. Other common conditions include insomnia, characterised by difficulty in falling asleep.

Only about 10 per cent of those suffering from OSA - defined by the stoppage of breathing for at least 10 seconds during sleep - are diagnosed. Often associated with one of its main symptoms - snoring - the disorder may be more than just a nuisance.

"OSA can lead to excessive daytime sleepiness, an inability to focus and also a two to three times higher risk of heart attack and stroke," says Dr Leow, who will speak at an SGH public forum on sleep tomorrow.

In some extreme cases, OSA can even lead to death.

Dr Kenny Pang, a ear, nose and throat consultant at the Asia Sleep Centre in Paragon Medical who treats sleep disorders, points out that those with the disorder are six times more likely to die in their sleep.

He says the condition is more common among Asians, who tend to have smaller jaws, which can mean narrow airways. Obesity and sinus allergies can heighten the risk of and aggravate OSA, which is also six times more common in men.

But if you snore, do not worry. It may not be all that serious.

"Just because you snore doesn't mean you have OSA. And for some very severe cases of OSA, the patients actually don't snore because their airways close up entirely. It boils down to whether your breathing stops during sleep," says Dr Pang.

Dr Leow says those who observe in themselves symptoms of OSA should seek medical advice.

The most common non-surgical treatment is continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), which involves wearing a nasal mask that increases the air pressure in one's throat during bedtime.

Dr Toh Song Tar, head of the SingHealth Duke-NUS Sleep Centre, says surgical options include "reconstructing the upper airway to increase the airway size, stabilise it and reduce excessive tissue that is obstructing the airway".

Patients with nasal blockage which affects the efficacy of CPAP can also go through nasal surgery to facilitate CPAP use, says Dr Toh.

Still, some patients find it hard to wear a nasal mask at night.

Dr Pang, who developed the surgical method of expansion pharyngoplasty in 2006 with American doctor Tucker Woodson, says this treatment can help.

It does not just remove tissue that may be blocking the airways, but operates on muscles inside the mouth, rotating them upwards and outwards to widen the throat opening.

University student Steven Ong, 26, is someone who had found it hard to enjoy a good night's sleep.

When his nasal allergies flared up last year, he was unable to breathe smoothly and slept only three to four hours daily.

He sought help for his condition, going for nasal surgery last year and expansion pharyngoplasty in December when the earlier procedure did not solve his problem.

He says:"I can sleep very deeply now with no issues for seven to eight hours. I also have more energy every day and don't feel so sleepy in the daytime."

Ultimately, while resolving sleep disorders can lead to great leaps in sleep quality, viewing sleep as an essential part of good health is still key.

As Dr Leow puts it: "All too often, people sacrifice sleep when they're busy. But we should prioritise sleep and time spent in bed as it is a critical body function."