With growing numbers of Chinese suffering from sleep disorders, can medicine or the markets offer the best cures?

While most people spend around a third of their lives—around eight hours a day—fast asleep, there are plenty of others who feel they spend just as long trying to nod off.

Ji Jun, a 31-year-old employee in a Shanghai trade company, is among many who’ve struggled with insomnia. Her problem began about five years ago, when she began spending entire nights tossing and turning. There was no obvious reason. “Many times I just thought, ‘I won’t be able to [sleep] again tonight,’ and then I really couldn’t,” recalls Ji. “It was a vicious cycle. The worse I felt before going to sleep, the harder it was for me to sleep. Then the next day, I would be very drowsy at work.”

Ji is one of millions of insomniacs in China. It’s by no means a new issue—a proverb from the Warring States Period described a king as being “unable to sleep soundly in bed” (寝不安席) due to anxiety over matters of state—but nowadays, modern problems such as pressures of work, noise pollution, and the constant use of digital devices are more often blamed for sleeplessness.

“Sleep pods” were closed down for security reasons not long after appearing in first-tier cities

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Sleepless in China is a story from our issue, “Tuning Up.” To read the entire issue, become a subscriber and receive the full magazine. Alternatively, you can purchase the digital version from the App Store.


author Sun Jiahui (孙佳慧)

Sun Jiahui is a freelance writer and former editor at The World of Chinese. She writes about Chinese language, society and culture, and is especially passionate about sharing stories of China's ancient past with a wider audience. She has been writing for TWOC for over six years, and pens the Choice Chengyu column.

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