With the pandemic serving as a catalyst, telemedicine and telehealth have seen significant adoption between patients and practitioners, and educators and medical students, respectively. However, the rise of remote consultations and extended exposure to screens on different telecommunication infrastructures is triggering sleep disorders among clinicians.
As Omnia Health observes World Sleep Day 2022 — themed 'Quality Sleep, Sound Mind, Happy World' — we speak to Dr Julio Gomez-Seco, Consultant Pulmonologist and Sleep Respiratory Disorders Specialist at Fakeeh University Hospital, to highlight the impact of blue light from electronic devices and ways to ensure restful sleep. Excerpts from the interview:
Based on your observation, what is the correlation between blue light and sleep disorders? What are the side effects caused by this?
The use of light-emitting electronic devices (also known as blue light) before bedtime may contribute to or exacerbate sleep problems. Exposure to blue-wavelength light from these devices may affect sleep by suppressing melatonin and causing neurophysiologic arousal.
Insomnia symptoms, including difficulty falling or staying asleep or frequently awakening, occur in as much as 33 per cent to 50 per cent of adults (Schutte-Rodin et al., 2008). Experts estimate almost 30 per cent of the UAE population experiences insomnia for a certain period in their life.
The circadian system enables a consolidated nocturnal sleep phase, which coincides with ambient darkness and increased circulating levels of the pineal hormone, melatonin.
Environmental light can also delay the production of melatonin and affect the circadian rhythm with consequent insomnia or poor sleep quality. Light exposure, including blue light, can also decrease sleepiness, prolong sleep onset latency, and decrease REM and slow-wave sleep (Chang et al., 2015).
Would you say this phenomenon may be disrupting sleep in professionals because of increased remote consultations and practices and leading to burnout or sleep disorders? Please elaborate.
In 2011, a survey found that 90 per cent of Americans report using an electronic device in their bedroom within an hour of trying to fall asleep (Gradisar et Al. J Clin Sleep Med. 2013). Common sources of blue light include fluorescent lights, LED lights, smartphones, televisions, computer screens, tablets, and e-readers.
The most effective way to reduce exposure to blue light in the evening is to simply turn off the sources after it gets dark outside. Some studies suggest wearing amber-tinted blue-light-blocking lenses before bedtime, which may improve sleep in individuals with insomnia related to blue-light emissions (Shechter et Al., J Psychiatr Res. 2018).
What are some of the common sleep concerns in the UAE?
The most common sleep disorders in the UAE are obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) and insomnia. Sleep apnoea is a serious condition in which a person's breathing is frequently interrupted during sleep. In the UAE, it has an estimated prevalence of approximately 23 per cent in males and 19.5 per cent in females. It can also affect a person’s ability to safely perform normal daily activities and poses long-term health problems.
Dr Julio Gomez-Seco has 17 years of experience in the field of pulmonology and specialises in treating a wide variety of respiratory conditions.
Tips to manage habits and prevent sleep disorders
Set a sleep schedule
Get your body accustomed to sleeping and waking at specific times and you will likely find falling asleep (and getting out of bed in the morning) a little easier. Most smartwatches and smartphones have specific settings that support such a schedule.
Reduce your screen time just before bed
All of us, to some extent, are guilty of looking at our phones in bed. Some of us for far too long and right before we shut our eyes to rest. It is recommended to stop using electronic devices for at least 60-90 minutes before bedtime. If your mind and body associate your bed with sleep, you will find it less difficult to drift off. On the other hand, if you spend your time in bed deliberately staying awake, you may pay for it later by being unable to sleep when you want to. Establish a regular pattern of relaxing behaviours, such as reading, for 10 minutes to an hour before bedtime.
Adopt an active lifestyle
Given the link to obesity, most sleep disorders can be avoided by simply having an active lifestyle. While everyone’s routine can vary, people who generally struggle to fall asleep should consider exercising three to four hours before bedtime. Adding exercise to your daily routine is also another way of ensuring you stick to a steady wind-down schedule, as your body falls into a rhythm.
Save tomorrow’s problems for tomorrow
While this may be the hardest to control, especially for a healthcare practitioner, it is crucial to resolve your worries or concerns before bedtime. Stress management is a big part of achieving quality sleep and many people turn to meditation to ease anxiety. Another strategy that could help is to jot down what is on your mind and then set it aside for tomorrow.