Olympics: Sports fans left bleary-eyed in Asia

SYDNEY - It's the early hours of the morning and people would normally be in bed ahead of their workday, but not at the giant Steyne pub in Sydney or in living rooms across Asia.

The Olympics are on and billions of people worldwide are glued to televisions and cheering on their local stars, or following the action on social media with athletes being encouraged to blog or tweet.

But with London nine hours behind Australia's eastern states and six or seven hours behind most Asian nations, many events are being held overnight, meaning a potentially tired and dysfunctional workforce for the next two weeks.

Paul Harwood, a 24-year-old plumber, was transfixed by a big screen in the Steyne Hotel just before midnight in the Sydney beachside suburb of Manly.

"Yes, I need to go to work in the morning but it's the Olympics," he said as he watched men's boxing.

"I'm not going to be doing it night after night, but definitely for some of the main athletics events, like the 100 metres. It only happens every four years."

According to a recent nationwide poll in sports-mad Australia, 86 per cent of those questioned planned to watch the Games on television, while others would monitor the gold medal hunt on websites, Youtube, Twitter or Facebook.

Australia's Olympic television marathon, with the free-to-air Nine Network screening 14.5 hours of live action each day and pay-tv broadcaster Foxtel showing 24/7 coverage on eight dedicated channels, is mirrored across Asia.

China's late-night armchair fans have access to a plethora of online tips on surviving the Olympics - from face masks to avoid looking like they have been up all night, to Chinese medicine ingredients that help relieve backache.

Some private hospitals posted online "midnight soup" recipes containing herbal ingredients designed to enable viewers to stay alert late into the night.

For others, it is not a question of staying up late, but rather getting up early.

Emma Smythe, a 50-year-old Sydney public servant, said she planned to be up for the swimming finals at 4.30am each day they are on.

"I know they'll be long days, but I plan to get up early quite a lot during the Games. Watching replays isn't the same as live action," she said.

As bleary-eyed sports fans roll up for work, the Australian Medical Association warned of the dangers of not getting enough sleep, with president Steve Hambleton cautioning people not to go "berserk".

"If you spend five nights in a row without having proper sleep you'll pay for it," he said.

"Your concentration levels, in fact the health benefits (generally) of adequate amounts of sleep and work-life balance, are really, really important.

"We don't want people to have car accidents because they're fatigued and fall asleep on the way home from work."

Late nights, or early starts, also bring other health risks, with nutritionists warning that junk food intake will rise as people turn to sugary, salty and fatty treats to stay awake.

In Japan, convenience stores have boosted their inventories of light meals such as instant noodles to meet an expected boost in demand for late-night snacks.

It is a similar scenario in South Korea where fast-food delivery outlets are experiencing up to three times their normal business, Yonhap news agency said.

Hambleton recommended replacing junk food with healthier snacks, and urged people to mimic the athletes and be active while watching the Games, rather than stay prone on a couch or a barstool.

"It's important to move around," he said. "Screen time ultimately is a predictor of obesity."

While millions will yawn their way through the next fortnight, not everyone is prepared to lose sleep, or suffer the health risks that could come with it.

"I cannot (stay up), knowing I have to go to work on the next day," said Hidefusa Miyama, 65, from Tokyo.

And while the appetite for live viewing is strong in Australia and other nations, some fans in Malaysia were content to watch replays at a more civilised hour.

Hafiz Noor Shams, a 30-year-economist in Kuala Lumpur, said: "I can watch it when I want and where I want. Hail to the Olympics on Youtube."

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