The dangers of sleep disorders | Inquirer Opinion

The dangers of sleep disorders

/ 12:03 AM May 13, 2023

It might seem, on the surface, a trivial problem health-wise for Filipinos who face a slew of ailments, diseases, and potential plagues, not to mention hunger and deprivation that already keep them up at night. But sleep disorders pose a serious health challenge, and can lead to other life-threatening conditions such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and poor mental health.

About 50 to 70 million adults in the United States have sleep disorders, according to the National Institutes of Health. There are no available data on sleep disorders in the Philippines but thousands of Filipinos have most likely developed them and the number is expected to increase as the distractions of modern life and the disruptions caused by globalization increasingly leave many vulnerable. Most Filipinos, per Sen. Mark Villar, author of Senate Bill No. 2063 or the proposed Sleep Disorder Awareness and Education Act, may not even be aware that sleep disorders exist despite their serious and deleterious effects on one’s health.

SB 2063 wants the Department of Health (DOH) to craft programs that will improve the identification of patients who have sleep disorders, increase awareness, and provide training to teachers, nurses, social workers, counselors, etc., to assist and prevent such disorders. More importantly, the measure directs the DOH to provide free medical assistance and therapy to those who are suffering from them. Among the sleep disorders mentioned in the bill are insomnia, restless leg syndrome, narcolepsy, and sleep apnea. But while most of these conditions can be treated or prevented, “less than one-third of people suffering from the disorder seek professional help,” Villar said.

Those suffering from sleep disorders can include call center agents, estimated at 1.3 million with the Philippines dubbed as the call center capital of the world, who are forced to work during the hours they normally sleep due to the time difference with clients in other countries, or health care and other workers on night shifts. Then there are seniors whose normal “circadian rhythms,” which govern wakefulness and sleepiness, are disrupted by age. Some individuals also fall victim to such conditions as sleep apnea, which makes it difficult to maintain normal breathing patterns and even induces some to stop breathing temporarily, heavy snoring, restless leg syndrome that disrupts sleep, and general anxiety and sleep interruption including nightmares and sleepwalking.


Sleep disorders disrupt a person’s daytime routine or hamper the person’s ability to function optimally when needed—a person deprived of sleep can be unproductive at work and may even get into accidents on the road. Their overall health is also affected and could lead to heart disease, circulatory difficulties, and depression. Authorities said sleep disturbances can seriously impair functioning and health. Adults need seven to eight hours of sleep a day, said a medicine website, and if one doesn’t get enough sleep, memory, focus, mood, strength, and even the immune system may suffer.

Dr. Oragun Rojanapairat, a sleep medicine expert at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center said that “If you’re going to bed at a reasonable time for your schedule and still waking up exhausted most days, don’t assume your sleep issue will disappear without finding and addressing the cause. Most patients wait until long after they start struggling to seek help.”

Free medical assistance from the government for people suffering from sleep disorders will be a huge help at a time when more and more Filipinos, due to the demands of the job market, high stress levels of modern life, or even the availability of devices that interrupt sleep, are finding it harder to fall asleep, remain asleep through the night, or wake up refreshed and renewed.

Certainly, Villar’s proposal to get a more accurate and comprehensive count of the number of Filipinos afflicted by sleep disorders is a move in the right direction. So is a full accounting of medical experts on the treatment of sleep disorders. The medical community should educate patients on the causes, symptoms, and cures for sleep disorders. It is also time for policymakers, including employers and employee representatives, to study the issue closely and come up with solutions that address both the need for sleep and the demands of nontraditional work arrangements.

But first, those suffering from sleep disorders should be made aware of their condition, the toll it takes on their health and on others (such as passengers and pedestrians at the hands of sleep-deprived drivers), and the long-term effects on their health, mental condition, and relationships.

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TAGS: column, Mental Health, sleep

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