With football’s European Championship underway in France, millions of sports fans around the region are sacrificing sleep to catch the action in the wee small hours of the morning. Following hot on the heels of the tournament will be the Rio Olympics, which will put further pressure on Asian sport fans’ sleeping habits as they stay up overnight to follow the action.
And that could present health problems, with experts warning that a combination of a lack of sleep and eating at night to sustain energy levels could be harmful.
Dr Chong Yaw Khian, a Senior Consultant with Tan Tock Seng Hospital’s Sleep Disorder Clinic, said the effect of watching sporting events late at night could result in short-term sleep deprivation, which is different from people who are chronic insomniacs for example. But sports fans will still develop a “sleep-debt”, which the body will try and repay by dozing off throughout the day.
Cognitive abilities can also be affected. “This refers to the functioning capabilities of the brain-rationalising, making judgment calls, decision-making processes, calculation and awareness”, Dr Chong said. “All these processes are impacted. People may struggle to attend meetings, they may struggle with some short-term memory recollection. And they might also seem irritable and ‘short-fused’.”
SLEEP DEPRIVATION AND FATIGUE
In Singapore, fans have been catching the Euro 2016 group stage matches at 9pm, midnight and 3am. One of those intent on watching at least one match a night is personal trainer and executive director of sports events management company, Rasvinder Bhullar.
Mr Bhullar said he only catches the earlier matches, having quickly realised the negative effect of a lack of sleep on his body. The 32-year-old said he has only watched one 3am match so far, when his favourite team Italy was playing. “I tend to start the day off with a session at the gym and so the most immediate effect is that I am less energetic and less able to exercise to my fullest. In the later part of the day, I tend to be a little sleepy also,” he said.
STAYING UP LATE HAS MANY HEALTH RAMIFICATIONS
Dr Chong said fatigue is a common trait among the sleep-deprived. He said, “For a person who usually goes to the gym to workout for one hour, now with sleep deprivation, within half an hour, he would start to feel the same effects. It does compromise stamina and endurance.”
Fatigue aside, short-term sleep deprivation could also bring about health issues that would otherwise remain dormant. “If a person has borderline hypertension, acute sleep deprivation may actually surface the hypertension. It makes it just a little bit worse. It does not cause hypertension in the short-term, but it can bring about something that is dormant,” said Dr Chong.
Dr Chong said people who deal with machinery, and those whose occupations require precision, repetitive processes and good timing, should also be aware of what they are putting their bodies through when staying up way past their bedtimes. They include bus drivers and pilots for example.
“Studies have been done getting groups of people to do fine motor skill tests and they constantly find that sleep deprived patients score much worse although the patients themselves may not notice it.” Dr Chong added that it is well documented that sleep deprivation, even on a short-term basis, can result in higher road traffic and work accidents.
LATE NIGHT SNACKING AND WEIGHT GAIN
Asian sports fans following Euro 2016 and the Olympics are also at risk of an increased waistline, according to Dr Jaideepraj Rao, a Senior Consultant and Head of Upper Gastrointestinal and Minimal Surgery at Tan Tock Seng Hospital. Dr Rao said that the body’s internal body clock reduces one’s metabolic rate at night. This process is important in regulating insulin levels, which are also reduced at night. Snacking and alcohol consumption results in an increase in blood glucose, which the body cannot metabolise due to reduced insulin.
Dr Rao said that this can lead to weight gain and diabetes. He said fatigue associated with sleep deprivation can also slow down one’s metabolic rate. “Several studies have shown this can lead to weight gain. The excitement of watching TV at night is also a form of fatigue and stress,” he said.
REVERSING THE ILL EFFECTS
For those who want to mitigate the impact of watching overnight sports events, there are a number of measures that can be taken. Dr Chong said common sense should prevail for hardcore sports fans. “I would ask them to take time off from work, sleep the seven hours and then go to work if they can do that. It is very difficult to tell people not to watch football because it’s once in four years, but they need to realise their sleep debt and that we do need our seven hours of sleep for maximum functioning. So if they stay up late, then it’s also correct to give yourself seven hours of sleep after”.
He said it takes most people about two weeks for their body to get back to the normal sleep pattern, without any long-term consequences.
Dr Rao said sports fans catching their late night matches can also ensure they do not binge-eat, by being mindful of their alcohol and food intake. He added it’s also important to keep hydrated, and not skip meals during the day.
Back at home, Mr Bhullar has been sticking to these rules, ending his night with a tall glass of water. As a personal trainer, he said he is aware of the ramifications of overindulging. “As it progresses, the timing would be later, so there might be more matches at 12am or 3am. If it is my favourite team, I will watch them play. I will forego everything else, or maybe sleep early,” he said. And with the Rio Olympics just weeks after Euro 2016 ends, and Asian fans again at a disadvantage because of the time difference, Mr Bhullar said there is only a small window to recuperate, in time to catch his favourite events of track and field and hockey.