For all ages, from children to adolescents and adults, sleeping is not optional. But experts say now, more than ever, they are not having enough of it. With increasing workloads and social expectations, the current phenomenon is believed to get even worse.
Sleep deprivation is often defined as having less than seven hours of sleep per night. Ho Chi Minh City’s commonly dubbed as “the city that never sleeps,” but it seems like the whole country’s taking it to a new level. According to a global survey, around 37% of the Vietnamese population is sleep-deprived, and the country is among those who sleep the least in the world.
With distractions in actual scenes and on digital, it’s not surprising that sleep deprivation is prevalent in the younger demographics in Vietnam.
“Hustle culture” and a burnout generation
The way societies portray how we practically suspend consciousness explains pretty much why we have insufficient of it. How many times have you heard that waking up early is the key to success or that rich people don’t sleep? How many times have you come across an Instagram quote telling you to “don’t stop until you reach your dreams,” or posts from friends and acquaintances discussing their many projects and business ventures?
If you did, you are not alone, because we are living in a so-called “hustle culture” where sleep deprivation is normalized for the sake of earning success. Broadly speaking, “hustle culture” is a social pressure that encourages people to exert their 110% capacity, constantly working harder, faster, and stronger in every area of our lives.
As a result, we witness more university students taking on part-time or full-time jobs to earn extra allowance. Nhu Quynh, a full-time student of Ton Duc Thang University and a part-time all-rounder at a local coffee shop, shared that it was impossible to get enough sleep while being a student and an employee simultaneously.
“Pre-COVID, my evening shift usually starts at 3 PM and ends at 11 PM. There were so many times when I had an evening shift and then had class at 8 AM the next morning,” said Quynh. “After I get home from work, I also have to stay up until 1 or 2 AM skimming through class materials or do my assignment for the upcoming classes.”
“My job involved taking customers’ orders, making and serving drinks to them,” she says. “I enjoy what I do, but I have to admit that it was very tiring. When there was no customer, I had to do cake restocking, expiry date checking, and inventory checking. After the shop was closed, I also had to clean the tables, collect trash and sweep the floor."
Quynh is very aware of the risk posed by working evening shifts. “Whenever I finish my evening shifts, I always have to drive home in a cautious state,” she says. “I have been hearing a lot of stories where people got robbed and encountered sexual predators and perverts at night.”
“I think that because I had to stay tense while driving that it made me completely exhausted once I got home,” Quynh explained.
Quynh’s story illustrates just the tip of a hidden iceberg. It has become more and more common for students to fill up their days with more work schedules. Even when students have free time, they would choose to study overnight instead of sleep to make up for the time lost while working. Sacrificing sleep to be busy is praised as a means of productivity, and the digital and campus culture that glorifies sleep deprivation validates this notion.
“It’s like students are competing with each other to see who got the least amount of sleep as almost a point of pride or to show they’re working harder,” said Mandy Colbert, a health promotion coordinator for University Health Services and the Counseling and Mental Health Center.
So why does hustle culture exist?
Despite much research showing that working for too long lowers productivity and kills creativity, this hustle culture still breeds around an idealized mentality that it will pay off if one is trying hard enough. An undergraduate at Viet Duc University gives insights on why she would stay overnight to study for her upcoming exams: “The stress that comes with staying up a bit more makes me feel that I’m one step closer to achieving good grades, which is why I always push myself to the limit.”
In this culture, people tend to feel guilty if they spend too much time on anything non-work-related. “Although I was really tired, I felt like I would be missing out if I didn't stay awake and study, which is why I ended up doing so,” said Quynh. “I know it deteriorated my health because I couldn’t concentrate on the next day and there were times when I just passed out right in the middle of the class.”
With young people who choose to work or study excessively, sleep becomes an afterthought. Sleep time comes later, but wake time does not. A result is an increasing number of sleep-deprived students.
Hustle culture is ruining our well-being
Prolonged sleep deprivation and irregular sleep habits cause major disruption to the circadian rhythm, which in turn affects one’s appearances, physical and mental health.
Sleep deprivation also has linkages with obesity. Sleeplessness contributes to an increase in ghrelin hormone, which leads to the desire for high-calorie foods. It also results in growing risks of type 2 diabetes, heart attack, and infections. The list goes on, but there’s another critical issue that requires our attention: mental health.
Sleep deprivation induces significant reductions in productivity. Reducing your nighttime sleep by as little as 1.5 hours for just one night could result in a reduction of daytime alertness by as much as 32%. What this means is that you might find it harder to focus, think and process information and have a higher chance of making mistakes. It also impairs judgment, self-control ability, which is the most critical reason for car accidents.
“Lack of sleep can be fatal,” Dr. Judith A. Owens, professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School, says in an interview. “The level of impairment associated with sleep-deprived driving is equivalent to driving drunk. Would you let a kid drive who just consumed three or four beers? Well, guess what, kids do that every day.”
Furthermore, the constant state of stress that comes with internal and external pressures, such as deadlines and work demands makes people more prone to anger, anxiety, and even depression.
With all of these being said, not everyone realizes that they are a part of such a toxic culture. However, working hard or studying hard is not a bad thing. It is obvious that we can’t just sit around expecting success to come without putting in the work and effort. But doing so should not cost people the value of having good health. Ultimately, as cliché as it sounds, the solution that we can teach ourselves is to do things smarter, not harder. That means students should acknowledge their mental and physical limits, set boundaries, and put their well-being as a priority.