Insomnia In Singapore

Pandas are cute, but I’m not sure about panda eyes. Dark eye circles have been a permanent fixture on my face for as long as I can remember. The truth is, I am tired and so are many Singaporeans.

Sleep hygiene

Since I was 14, I’ve struggled with insomnia and have been chasing sleep like the holy grail. I miss the bliss of closing your eyes and waking up refreshed, like a fully-charged battery.

I don’t use my phone before bed, keep consistent sleep timings, and avoid exercise after 8.00 pm. Sleep hygiene practices helped to a certain extent but it wasn’t enough.

I blamed light pollution, sound from the expressway and stressful Singaporean work life for my insomnia. So I moved to Hokkaido, Japan for a year to chase quality sleep.

The quiet environment helped me sleep longer hours; nestled in my electric blanket during the drawn out winter. But it didn’t stop me from waking through the night.

It made me realise my psyche and health had a bigger effect on sleep than my environment.

How Millennials cope with sleep deprivation

Zavier, 24, who struggled with insomnia since primary school saw his insomnia fade away after he started drinking 15 cups of water a day. What began as advice to improve his complexion ended sleeplessness as well.

He employs a strict regimen: in bed by midnight and awake by 6.45am daily.

This includes weekends where he “goes and chiong” till 3.00am. “It is important to wake up at the same time everyday. You can go to bed later, but you MUST wake up,” he advises.

Walking around the room on a sleepless night is helpful. “If you lie down too long, your body will think it is okay to be awake lying down,” he explains. Getting up even for a short while breaks the sleepless state and can help the body to fall asleep subsequently.

He also introduced me to 8-D music as a sleeping aid. This track definitely calms me down at work.

Michelle, 31 also utilises soundtracks of her favourite TV shows like How I Met Your Mother to soothe her to sleep. Melatonin tablets helped her but she is weary of a growing dependence on them.

Rachel, 24, introduced me to Neal’s Yard Beauty Sleep Body Butter. She was skeptical of it at first but after applying some before bed, her sleep quality improved.

Renae, 23, struggled with controlling her phone usage before bed. Aromatherapy did nothing for her but things took a turn for the better when she began a regular 9 to 6 job.

“I now get sleepy every night around 11.00pm. If I’m tempted to spend another 30 mins on Youtube, I know the more I enjoy, the more I’ll regret the next day.”

The power of the mind

Recently, I still faced sleepless nights. I took Zavier’s advice of getting up early and found it helpful. In the past, even if I awoke at 6.30am, I would coop myself in bed until the very last minute before dragging myself to work.

The past week, I allowed myself no more than 15 minutes languishing in bed after my eyes opened. I spent the extra time spritzing cologne, picking clothes out and buying coffee at the nearby market. While fatigue persisted as a headache, feeling fabulous improved my mood by a tinge.

The most important lesson I learnt battling insomnia was: worrying about not having enough sleep prevented me from sleeping.

“Oh no, I don’t have enough sleep and I am going to be cranky tomorrow and piss everyone off!” Was the nagging thought that haunted me as I rolled about in bed trying to sleep.

Now, I speak to myself compassionately, “my body is resting even though I’m not sleeping, I’ll still be a fabulous zombie at work the next day. Afterall, insomnia never stopped me from passing major exams.”

If I struggled to stop worrying, I focus on my breath instead. It made me aware I take short gasps rather than long inhales which are associated with relaxation.

I light a H&M candle before bed as a ritual. The woody mahogany scent cues my body to prepare for rest. Optional amethyst crystals provide positive vibes.

Caveman sleeping theory

Of all the sleep theories I investigated, one about how humans used to sleep in two shifts was most helpful.

The theory states that before the use of electric lighting, humans would sleep in two shifts of roughly four hours. The one to two hour waking period between would be used for activities like sex or pondering about their dreams; sounds ideal.

We can blame Thomas Edison for ruining our beautiful sleep and love-making hours.

This theory helped me to accept my 3am waking up as natural; it no longer worried me about how my sleep was ruined. I am inclined to believe this theory because I find that the few rare nights I manage to sleep well, it was in pockets of four hours.

Coping With Insomnia In Singapore

From my investigations, having a fixed sleeping time seemed to be the most important step to cure sleeplessness.

Now, I try to balance a social life by encouraging my friends to start early with our drinking, right after dinner at about 7.00pm. We can save money by taking the MRT home and be in bed by 11.30pm.

Shame researcher Brené Brown’s words from her book Daring Greatly also helped me change my mindset.

“For me, and for many of us, our first waking thought of the day is ‘I didn’t get enough sleep.’ The next one is ‘I don’t have enough time.’ Whether true or not, that thought of not enough occurs to us automatically before we even think to question or examine it.

We spend most of the hours and the days of our lives hearing, explaining, complaining, or worrying about what we don’t have enough of. …Before we even sit up in bed, before our feet touch the floor, we’re already inadequate, already behind, already losing, already lacking something. And by the time we go to bed at night, our minds are racing with a litany of what we didn’t get, or didn’t get done, that day.

We go to sleep burdened by those thoughts and wake up to that reverie of lack. …This internal condition of scarcity, this mindset of scarcity, lives at the very heart of our jealousies, our greed, our prejudice, and our arguments with life.”

These days, I am learning to be at peace with my sleeplessness and maybe I can truly sleep when I am dead.

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Cover image: Source 
Illustrations by Asher Mak