Singaporean Sleep Culture: Why are Singaporeans Not Sleeping Enough?

June 21, 2024

Singapore's status as one of Asia’s first smart cities has undoubtedly propelled it to global prominence, offering its residents an enviable array of conveniences and efficiencies. However, this relentless march of progress has a hidden cost too—increased stress, reduced downtime, and significant encroachments on the quantity and quality of sleep. As a city that pulses with ceaseless activity and technological advancement, Singapore has cultivated a 24/7 culture where the night is as alive as the day, and rest often becomes a casualty in the race towards greater productivity and continuous connectivity. Studies indicate that many Singaporeans sleep less than the 7-9 hours per night prescribed by health experts, and it reflects the intense pace of life in Singapore that leaves little room for essential rest.  

This narrative aims to highlight the current state of sleep deprivation in the country and understand its underpinnings through various lenses—be it the high-pressure work environment, the omnipresence of blue light technology, or the urban layout that both dazzles and disrupts. We aim to illuminate some of the critical and overlooked aspects of sleep in Singapore by weaving together insights from health studies, urban planning critiques, and societal reflections. We also urge a re-evaluation of how Singapore as a smart city defines and prioritises rest amidst its glowing achievements.

The Roots of Sleep Deprivation in Singapore:  An Examination of Contributing Factors

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There are many factors that strain the collective psyche and erode the nightly reprieve of sleep of Singaporeans. Let’s look at some of the escalating factors.

Work Culture Demands

The cornerstone of sleep deprivation issues in Singapore is its intensive work culture. It is a city that never stops striving, and the expectation to exceed in the workplace is leading to significantly extended working hours. Singapore fosters a culture where in leaving the office late has become a norm reflecting dedication and commitment.  Employees often face pressure to stay late and sacrifice sleep for career advancement. This cultural norm is affecting the physical health of citizens and setting a precedent where overworking is seen as a symbol of loyalty and hard work. This relentless pursuit of professional excellence is resulting in sacrificing sleep for job performance, which alone is placing significant stress on mental and physical health.

Shift Work Prevalence

Singapore's economy operates on a global schedule with many industries like healthcare, security, and IT requiring shift work. SingHealth has noted that irregular working hours associated with shift work disrupt the natural circadian rhythms, leading to shift work sleep disorder (SWSD). This condition is prevalent in Singapore and leads to significantly reduced and fragmented sleep.

Intensive Urban Heat Island Effect
Singapore’s dense urban environment exacerbates the urban heat island effect, and it leads to higher nighttime temperatures. Studies from the National University of Singapore have linked increased urban temperatures to disrupted sleep patterns, particularly in areas with dense high-rise buildings. The discomfort from heat can delay sleep onset and decrease sleep quality, especially during the warmer months.

High Societal Expectations and Mental Health

The societal pressure to excel in academic and professional fields in Singapore is immense. This pressure can lead to anxiety and stress, and these issues are directly linked to insomnia and other sleep disorders. Mental health studies within Singapore have shown a correlation between high levels of stress among students related to performance expectations and poor sleep health — this highlights the need for mental wellness education and resources.

The Omnipresence of Light

Singapore’s status as a tech hub means that residents are constantly engaged with digital devices. Screens emit blue light that disrupts the body’s ability to produce melatonin — the hormone responsible for regulating sleep cycles. This kind of exposure to blue light, especially during evening hours, can shift the body’s natural clock. This can lead to difficulties in falling asleep and overall poorer sleep quality.  

Urban planning critiques suggest that while Singapore’s well-lit streets and buildings enhance safety and aesthetics, they also contribute to poor sleep among residents due to overexposure to light at night.  

Noise Pollution in Residential Areas

Despite stringent regulations, noise pollution remains an issue in many residential areas partly due to ongoing construction and traffic. The continuous background noise can prevent deep sleep phases which are crucial for cognitive function and memory consolidation. Urban studies recommend more effective soundproofing in building codes and further restrictions on construction hours to mitigate this issue.

Lifestyle and Use of Stimulants

Singaporeans commonly use stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine during long work hours and social engagements. Research indicates that the timing and quantity of stimulant intake reduces the quality of sleep — this suggests the need for public health interventions to address lifestyle habits impacting sleep.

Cultural Perceptions and Misconceptions

All those who have once lived or still live in Singapore know about the prevailing cultural attitude in the nation that undervalues sleep. Common misconceptions hold that successful individuals sleep less — such beliefs are perpetuated by popular media and societal narratives as well. This cultural backdrop makes it challenging to prioritise sleep when it is seen as a hurdle to personal and professional success.

Policy and Workplace Culture

Finally, while some companies in Singapore have begun to adopt flexible working hours and wellness programs, there is still a broad cultural norm of presenteeism — being present at the job for long hours. This often comes at the expense of sleep. Policy recommendations include enforcing stricter limits on overtime and promoting sleep education in the workplace.

Additional Factors that Affect the Sleep of Singaporeans and How We Can Tackle It

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The reasons why Singaporeans fail to get quality sleep go beyond just the peripheral concerns. Here are a few key aspects we should be aware of to tackle this issue at large.

Educational Demands on Youth

The educational pressure on students in Singapore often leads to late-night study sessions and early school start time, and this contributes to sleep deprivation from a young age. Educational policy reforms that consider the start times of schools and the amount of homework could help address this issue.

Economic Insecurity

Economic pressures, especially during global financial uncertainties, can increase stress levels and lead to insomnia. Social safety nets and financial education programs might alleviate some of this stress — they can potentially improve sleep among economically vulnerable populations.

Social and Recreational Habits

Singapore has plentiful festivals and social events. While these events are culturally enriching, they can also contribute to a cumulative sleep deficit. The vibrant nightlife and 24/7 availability of entertainment and dining options can also lead to irregular sleep patterns, especially among younger adults. Public education on balancing social activities with healthy sleep habits could mitigate these effects.

Global Connectivity

As a global financial hub, many Singaporeans work in jobs that require them to interact across different time zones. This leads to odd working hours and disrupted sleep schedules. Corporations could implement more flexible schedules that allow for time zone adjustments.

Housing and Living Conditions

The design of living spaces in high-density environments like Singapore can also affect sleep quality. For instance, smaller living spaces may not provide a quiet and designated area for sleep, particularly in multi-generational homes. Urban design improvements that focus on creating private and quiet areas within homes could improve sleep.

Public Health and Air Quality

Urban air quality can affect respiratory health and, in turn, impact sleep quality. Policies aimed at improving air quality could lead to better sleep health. Monitoring and reducing pollutants benefit respiratory health and enhances sleep quality by reducing airborne irritants.

Commuting Stress

Commuting can be time-consuming and stressful in Singapore, especially during peak hours. This daily stress can lead to increased cortisol levels, which makes it difficult to wind down and get restful sleep. Implementing more efficient public transport solutions or encouraging flexible commuting hours could help alleviate this issue.


While the high level of connectivity in Singapore is beneficial, it can also lead to technostress—stress or fatigue from constant digital connectivity. Encouraging digital detox initiatives and promoting boundaries between work and personal life can help manage this stress and improve sleep.

Ageing Population

Singapore’s ageing population may face sleep disturbances due to health issues or age-related changes in sleep architecture. Tailoring health services to address sleep disorders in elderly populations and providing environments conducive to their sleep needs can improve their sleep quality.

Diet and Nutrition

The local diet rich in spicy and heavy foods along with the intake of caffeine late at night can also impair sleep. Public health messages that educate on the impact of diet on sleep that promote lighter and earlier dinners could help improve sleep health.

The Impact of Sleep on Health and Productivity

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The consequences that insufficient sleep has on physical health, mental well-being, and professional performance are profound. It is necessary that we should be aware of this and act on it as early as possible, so let’s look at them.  

Physical Health Consequences

Chronic sleep deprivation is strongly linked with numerous health problems. According to studies from local health authorities, the prevalence of cardiovascular diseases, obesity, and diabetes has been corelated with sleep deprivation in Singapore. Also, the suppression of immune function due to lack of sleep can increase susceptibility to infections — this is particularly concerning in a densely populated city-state like Singapore.

Mental Health and Emotional Well-being

The psychological impacts of sleep loss are significant. Continuous sleep deprivation can lead to mood disorders, anxiety, and depression, which are increasingly common in Singapore’s high-stress society. Mental health professionals in the region highlight that improving sleep quality could mitigate these effects and enhance overall well-being.

Cognitive Impairment and Workplace Performance

Sleep is crucial for cognitive processes including memory, learning, and problem-solving. Insufficient sleep affects these areas and leads to decreased productivity and increased errors at work. This affects individual performance and impacts Singapore's economic productivity at a macro level. The economic implications are observed in increased healthcare costs and reduced workplace efficiency.

Safety Issues

Lack of adequate sleep increases the risk of accidents and injuries. In sectors where precision and alertness are paramount such as transportation and manufacturing, sleep deprivation can lead to serious safety hazards. This highlights the need for stringent regulations on work hours and shift patterns.

Long-term Economic Impact

The long-term economic consequences of widespread sleep deprivation in Singapore include higher healthcare expenditure and lower productivity rates. Addressing sleep issues could, therefore, be seen as an investment in the economic health of the nation. It suggests a strategic pivot towards national policies that prioritise sleep health.

Impact on Relationships and Social Dynamics

Communal and family ties are significant in Singapore. Sleep deprivation can strain personal relationships and social interactions — impaired mood and decreased emotional responsiveness due to poor sleep can weaken these bonds. Addressing sleep health could improve personal interactions and enhance social cohesion.

Educational Performance in Youth

Insufficient sleep can severely impact the educational outcomes of Singaporean youth. Sleep is critical for brain development and learning. Schools reporting earlier start times and high homework loads may contribute to students’ chronic sleep shortages. This affects their academic performance and long-term educational prospects.

Impact on Life Expectancy

Chronic sleep deprivation has been linked to shorter life expectancy. The cumulative effect of health issues associated with poor sleep such as heart disease and diabetes can lead to premature mortality. This could reverse the gains made in public health over decades in a high-longevity society like Singapore.

Resilience to Stress and Adaptability

Lack of sleep can decrease an individual’s resilience to stress and reduce their adaptability in a rapidly changing environment. In a dynamic city like Singapore where adaptability is key to personal and professional success, enhancing sleep quality could provide everyone with a better capacity to manage and respond to daily stresses.

Initiatives and Recommendations for Improving Sleep for Singaporeans

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Small steps always lead to bigger goals—this is true in terms of optimising the sleep of Singaporeans as well. Let’s examine what can be done to improve the situation.

Workplace Reforms

Introducing flexible work hours and promoting a balance between life and work could help reduce the pressure to sacrifice sleep for job success. Companies could also implement policies that discourage after-hours communication and help employees disconnect from work and wind down more effectively.

Flexible Work Arrangements

Building on proposals for more flexible work hours can help individuals better manage their work-life balance and improved sleep quality. Such policies would allow employees to work during their peak hours of alertness and rest adequately.

Education and Public Awareness

Integrating sleep education into public health programs is vital. Educational campaigns to raise awareness about the importance of sleep and its benefits could shift public perception. These could include workshops, informational sessions, and resources distributed through community centres and workplaces.

Enhancing Sleep Environment

Maintaining a cool sleeping environment in Singapore's tropical climate is crucial. Utilising air conditioning can significantly improve sleep quality by mitigating heat discomfort. Regular air conditioner maintenance is also important to ensure they operate efficiently and quietly to aid in uninterrupted sleep.

Public Health Campaigns and Community Collaboration

Continued public health initiatives are essential. Campaigns that focus on reducing environmental sleep disruptors like light and noise pollution can create a more conducive atmosphere for rest. Collaboration between government bodies, healthcare providers, and the community will be key to these efforts.

Promotion of Mental and Physical Health

Encouraging regular physical activity and stress management techniques such as mindfulness and relaxation exercises can improve sleep indirectly by reducing stress and anxiety levels.

Tips to Improve Sleep and Restoration  

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Here are some enhancements to the existing tips for better sleep, tailored specifically to the lifestyle and environment in Singapore —

Routine Setting

In addition to a regular bedtime, include a pre-sleep routine that might involve reading or light stretching. These can be especially calming in a fast-paced city like Singapore.

Environment Optimisation

You can consider using humidifiers to manage the humidity levels in your bedroom beyond just air conditioning. This will make the air more comfortable for sleep.

Scheduled Downtime

Encourage a digital curfew within the home. Powering down all electronic devices at least one hour before bedtime can help signal to your body that it is time to wind down, further supported by the dimming of lights to ease the transition into sleep.

Mindfulness and Relaxation

Incorporate specific techniques known to be effective in high-stress environments like Singapore such as guided sleep meditations or progressive muscle relaxation, which can be practised in bed to transition smoothly into sleep.

Appropriate Bedding

Invest in breathable and moisture-wicking bedding materials suitable for the tropical climate to enhance comfort and reduce sleep disturbances due to overheating. Regular cleaning of mattresses is also important to ensure sleep hygiene. It is important to avail the service of professionals if you are too lazy to do it.  

Use of Light-Blocking Curtains

To combat urban light pollution, especially in densely populated areas like Singapore, installing blackout curtains can help mimic a darker and more natural nighttime environment conducive to sleep.

White Noise Machines

In urban areas where noise pollution can be a concern, consider the use of white noise machines or apps that can mask disruptive sounds with soothing sounds that will help promote uninterrupted sleep.

Towards a Well-Rested Singapore

As Singapore continues to advance as a smart city and continue its path of innovative growth, it is crucial to balance technological and economic progress with health and well-being. Singapore can ensure its residents are productive, healthy and well-rested by addressing the underlying causes of sleep deprivation and promoting a culture that values rest. A deeper understanding of sleep-related issues sets the stage for meaningful changes in both policy and public perception. This kind of collective approach can aim to enhance the quality of life in all bustling metropolis, not just in Singapore.

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