40% Chinese suffer sleep disorders

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More than 40 percent of Chinese people suffer from sleep disorders, but less than 1 percent have been diagnosed or treated, experts said.

Working people, particularly shift workers in cities who have fast-paced lifestyles, have the highest risk of sleep problems, said Han Fang, director of the sleep center under the Peking University People's Hospital and vice-president of the Chinese Sleep Research Society.

The problems, if not properly addressed, will affect their working efficiency and social productivity.

"As Chinese society is rapidly aging and people are getting fatter, sleep problems will surely rise," Han said on Tuesday at the 2012 World Sleep Forum held by the Ministry of Health and the Chinese Sleep Research Society to mark World Sleep Day, which falls on March 21 every year.

Sleep disorders are medical disorders of sleeping patterns, and some sleep disorders are serious enough to interfere with normal physical, mental and emotional functioning of the sufferers, according to Christian Guilleminault, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and neurology at Stanford University Medical School in the United States.

"Intervention helps with both people's health and the economy, given that errors, lapses and fatigue due to sleep disorders cost the US $150 billion each year," he said.

In China, more than 30 percent of people have suffered from insomnia - the most common form of sleep disorder - at least once, Han said.

About 2 to 4 percent suffered sleep disordered breathing, including snoring, sleep apnea and upper airway resistance syndrome, he said.

"Children also have the problem - more than 70 percent of them sleep too little," said Shen Xiaoming, a pediatrician with Shanghai Children's Medical Center affiliated to Shanghai Jiao Tong University's School of Medicine, citing his study conducted between 1998 and 2011.

Sampling more than 30,000 children in nine cities, including Shanghai, Guangzhou, Xi'an, Wuhan and Urumqi, Shen's study found that Chinese children in general need more sleep and those in western areas of the country get better sleep in terms of both quality and time than their counterparts in East China.

"Early school hours and heavy homework caused children to have less time to sleep," he said, adding that those with less sleep were more prone to poor memory and being overweight.

But those having sleep problems may not be aware of the problems.

"Most of the sufferers of sleep problems never go to see a sleep doctor, mainly because of low awareness," Han said.

He received a lot of patients who had already developed hearing impairment and mental depression caused by longtime insomnia.

He urged the public to raise its awareness of sleep health and health authorities to plan more sleep centers or clinics.

China has 1,500 sleep centers, mostly in large cities.

"Almost all of the centers in relatively large cities are now running at full capacity and patients even have to wait for months to see the doctor," he said.

So far, besides some drugs covered by the country's health insurance plans, most of the sleep therapy has to be paid by patients, he added.

By contrast, the US, with a population of more than 300 million, has more than 2,000 sleep centers. In Germany there are five to six sleep treatment beds for every 100,000 people.


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