Sleepless in Beijing

By Lin Kan Hsuan Source:Global Times Published: 2013-12-17 17:53:01


Excessive worry about fitful sleep can create a vicious cycle. Photo: IC

Nearly two in five Chinese adults suffer from insomnia, according to statistics released early this year by the China Sleep Research Society. Of all the cities in China, Beijing ranked number one for sleeplessness, followed by Hong Kong, Guangzhou in Guangdong Province, Shanghai and Changsha in Hunan Province.

It may not be breaking news that urban-dwellers feel stressed out, but it's clear that quite a few of them don't know how to cope with these pressures. The burgeoning number of outpatient and private insomnia treatment clinics in Beijing reflect the increasing numbers of people who are tossing and turning at night.

With her dark-ringed eyes, Xue Ying, 31, a saleswoman in a camera company, used to be one of the sleep-deprived. After failing to solve the problem on her own, Xue began to rely on over-the-counter tranquilizers from pharmacies. "I took sleeping pills every evening to fall asleep. The condition got even worse whenever I thought about my pathetic dependence on the drugs."

"Some patients start to worry about their slumber hours before bedtime," said Han Haiying, a physician who owns a psychology clinic in Haidian district. "The increased fixation on sleep often causes insomnia to worsen. If patients aren't aware of this potential vicious cycle and seek a quick fix, the prognosis is not optimistic."

Distressed by her inability to get adequate rest, Xue tried keeping a daily sleep journal. "I learned this self-aid method when I lived in New York. The therapist there taught me that it was an objective way to understand my sleep cycle. That's also where I learned how to do muscle relaxation," she added.

According to Han, keeping a sleep journal can backfire. "Patients may get more anxious when they notice that they've had intermittent sleep for four days that week," she explained. "Emphasizing sleep hygiene is much better for patients. The most popular solution for treating insomnia is cognitive behavioral therapy, which has some similarities to bio-feedback."

With every new patient, Han starts by evaluating the seriousness of their problem. If the symptoms are recurrent, she will recommend medication. "Never buy any kind of pills or traditional Chinese medicine on your own because the insomnia could be either chronic or acute," she said.

Under Han's guidance, Xue eventually eased off her addiction to sleeping pills. "I am very grateful to Dr Han, but I still consider the sleep journal to be quite useful, because it helps me to calm down and face my problems objectively," said Xue.

Ding Li, a consultant at Linzi Counseling Center in Chaoyang district, describes insomnia as a symptom of larger conditions such as anxiety or depression. Believing that therapies such as sleep journals and muscle relaxation may not be all that effective for Chinese people, she tends to pursue a talking cure.

"Unlike other consultants who schedule regular appointments with help-seekers, I prefer talking with them to figure out the essential problem causing their insomnia. Once they find the source of the problem, they can sleep tight every night." Ding said. "Some patients only consult me once, which is fine with me. Everybody has to face and solve their problems on their own. Consultants are merely catalysts."

According to Xi Yingjun, a psychologist at Anding Hospital, "Insomnia is a quite common condition, especially for people living in big cities. Beijing's ranking may represent nothing meaningful." Since it's impossible for Beijingers to alter their urban surroundings, Xi encourages patients to actively deal with their stress.

Posted in: Metro Beijing

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