Death of popular Chinese BBS commentator sparks discourse on the health risks associated with staying up too late

By Zhang Xinyuan Source:Global Times Published: 2016/7/5 20:18:00

Staying up late does not cause sudden death directly, but it is a trigger for individuals already suffering from certain diseases, experts say. Photo: Li Hao/GT

It was already 1:30 in the morning and Yan Qing, 30, a programmer at an app company in Beijing, still had two more projects to finish. He zoned in on his keyboard and began typing intently. There was no time to notice anything else. The cans of red bull and black coffee cups strewn across his desk stand as a testament to his courageous efforts to keep his energy up and sleep at bay.

The imminent deadline and all the stimulating drinks he took made his heart pound. Yan started to feel short of breath, dizzy and nauseous, but he is used to it. He has felt like that every night for the past three years.

Yan is not alone among the white-collar workers in the city who jeopardize their health staying up late to finish tasks.

On June 29, the deputy chief editor of the popular domestic Tianya forum, 34-year-old Jin Bo, suddenly collapsed on the platform of Subway Line 6 in Beijing. He later died in the hospital from cerebral hemorrhage, reported the Beijing Youth Daily.

After the incident, Jin's colleague speculated that his death was a result of his staying up late and working overtime a lot over the past few years, the Beijing Youth Daily report said.

Following the tragic incident, a lot of local media have published reports directly linking sudden death with the habit of staying up late, again sparking intense public discussion on the causal relationship between staying up late and sudden death.

There has been much confusion over the issue.

According to Wu Xuesi, a cardiologist at the Beijing Anzhen Hospital, staying up late a lot cannot directly cause sudden death, but it can be one of the inducements for sudden death. "Staying up late for a long time can  lead to cardiovascular or cerebrovascular disease, which could then trigger sudden death," Wu said.

More young Chinese are developing cardiovascular disease as a result of leading unhealthy lifestyles. Photo: Li Hao/GT

No need to freak out

This is not the first time that the public has directly connected sudden death with staying up late. In recent years, there have been several incidents where the news reported people of different occupations and ages as dying after repeatedly staying up too late at night. 

Every time the media portrays a well-known personality as dying due to staying up too late, it creates a frenzy on social media and in pockets of society.

In December 2015, a woman from Shenzhen, Guangdong Province, went to the local labor law bureau, holding a sign demanding that the government list staying up late to work overtime as work injury after a man from the IT industry suddenly died, and the media reported that the man often stayed up late to work, reported the Beijing Times.

Yan said working till the wee hours of the morning is very common in the IT industry and noted that his health has declined since he took the job.

"Working late till 2 am is so regular in my company that some of my colleagues even have a folding bed and don't even bother to go home at all," he said.

Yan said he freaks out a little every time he hears news of someone dying suddenly because of staying up late regularly, but he has no idea how to change his situation. 

Wu said people need not overreact to news about "sudden death." In most cases, the people who died were already suffering from cardiovascular or cerebrovascular disease, said Wu.

"For this type patient (those that have cardiovascular or cerebrovascular disease), staying up late could cause high blood pressure, which could rupture their veins, and cause sudden death."

One reason people might be quick to link sudden deaths to staying up too late could be that cardiovascular or cerebrovascular diseases are not visible to the naked eye.

Wu said a lot of people are not familiar with such illnesses. "Some patients don't even notice that they have such problems or have the potential to develop such diseases. Staying up late triggers these problems and leads to sudden death."

For those whose profession requires them to stay up late on a daily basis, Wu said once they get enough rest after they complete their shift, they should be okay.

"Some people have to work from midnight to early in the morning on a regular basis, but they can get enough rest during the day. They have their own biological clock, and they appear to be fine," Wu said.

"Some people cannot get used to their biological clock, or perhaps the work they do at night is too nerve stimulating, resulting in their staying up too late and harming their health."

The body's biological clock controls functions such as sleep and waking, and can be affected by light or darkness, which can make the body think it is time to sleep or wake up, according to WebMD, a website based in US that provides health information.

Health risks for night owls

Though there is no direct correlation between staying up late and sudden death, experts still recommend people to get regular rest and avoid burning the midnight oil. Statistics showed that more and more Chinese are suffering from heart disease, and it's not rootless to say that this is related to an unhealthy lifestyle, including staying up late.

According to a report published by the China News Agency in June, 544,000 people die from cardiovascular disease every year in China. Put another way, it means that heart disease claims at least one life per minute annually in the country, the highest rate around the world.

Cardiovascular disease is also no longer confined to the elderly. As more young people lead an unhealthy lifestyle, they too have become prone to heart disease, Wu said.

After the death of Jin Bo, Beijing TV launched an online survey, asking whether the respondents often stay up late.

A total of 4,056 people participated in the survey. About 52.89 percent of the respondents said that they stayed up late a lot while 40.46 percent said that they stayed up late occasionally. At total of 50.04 percent of them said that they were physically and psychologically exhausted.

Other health risks also emerge due to lack of sleep. Various domestic and foreign studies have shown that staying up late can increase people's chances of getting breast cancer, and falling into depression. It also affects one's immune system, not to mention one's skin, eyesight, and girth.

"I gained 15 kilograms over the past few years, most of the fat is in my belly. I even have trouble breathing when climbing stairs. I lost almost half of my hair because of neurasthenia (chronic fatigue), and my stomach hurts a lot because of the stimulating drinks. I can't help but eat a lot after I get off work after midnight, and my face is covered with acne because of an endocrine disorder caused by staying up late and high pressure," Yan complained.

For individuals like Yan, Wu cautions against drinking stimulating drinks, such as strong coffee and tea, which would further stress their heart.

She also recommends doing simple exercises every half an hour when staying up late to increase blood circulation and eating light food to replenish spent energy.

"Sudden death usually has warning signs," she said.

"If one experiences shoulder and neck pain, feels sick when they don't have stomach problems, wakes up suddenly at night with a racing pulse or sweating and shortness of breath, they should go to the hospital immediately."

Newspaper headline: Burning the midnight oil

Posted in: Metro Beijing

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