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Getting a good night’s sleep

Sleep deprivation should not be taken lightly as it can affect everything from your memory to your immune system, heart and metabolism, warns Dr Hassan Al Hariri, Head of Sleep Medicine at Rashid Hospital.

“Sleep hygiene is a term used to include just about anything related to your sleep habits,” says Dr Hassan Al Hariri, Head of Sleep Medicine at Rashid Hospital. “It includes practices and habits that influence good sleep quality at night and full daytime alertness.”

Light is the most powerful influencer of the body’s circadian clock, he says. “Bright lights in the evening hours can confuse your brain into thinking it is still daytime. Artificial blue light [the type that laptops, tablets and mobile phones emit] is the worst culprit, so get rid of these devices at least two hours before bedtime.”

He adds: “Consistency is also key for sound and regular sleep. Try sleeping and waking up at the same time on most days including weekends if possible.”

Experts estimate almost 30 per cent of the UAE population experiences insomnia for a certain period in their life. While in most cases, insomnia fades away on its own once the person’s stress levels reduce, there are cases where medical intervention is needed.

The trouble with prolonged sleeping problems is that it is a risk factor for chronic health problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and stroke.

Sleep deprivation should not be taken lightly as it can affect everything from your memory to your immune system, heart and metabolism, says Dr Al Hariri.

“Sleep deprivation due to medical conditions such as obesity and arthritic pain needs immediate medical intervention,” adds Dr Al Hariri. “The patient should visit a primary healthcare physician who may recommend specialised treatment.

“If the person is unable to sleep for three weeks in a row and continues, it becomes chronic insomnia and treatment can be very challenging.”

A study by the University of Surrey in England revealed that the quality of sleep can even have an impact on a genetic level. It found that getting less than six hours a night affected the activity of more than 700 genes associated with controlling responses to stress, immunity and inflammation.

At Rashid Hospital’s sleep clinic, doctors see more than 500 new patients a year.

Given the high obesity rates in the country, about 70 per cent of the patients are affected by obstructive sleep apnea due to obesity. About 20 per cent are cases of sleep deprivation due to stress and other medical-related issues and the remaining 10 per cent are due to insomnia.

“These figures do not reflect overall emirate-wide statistics,” says Dr Al Hariri. “At Rashid Hospital, we pay particular emphasis to obesity-related sleep problems and work with doctors from other departments to ensure obese patients receive early and comprehensive intervention to prevent further complications.

“Snoring is one of the first signs of sleep apnea and should not be taken lightly. The problem is usually first noticed by the patient’s spouse who is disturbed by the patient’s loud snoring.”

He said that sleep apnea is a disorder in which one’s airway becomes obstructed while asleep, causing loud snoring to a complete cessation of breathing, cardiac arrhythmias and low blood oxygen levels at its worst. “The airway of the obese individual becomes obstructed by large tonsils, enlarged tongue and increased fat in the neck, all pressing on the airway when the throat muscles are relaxed during sleep. Sleep apnea is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. It can be dangerous for the person and those around him as patients with sleep apnea can fall asleep anywhere, even while driving.”

Earlier people didn’t seek medical intervention for sleep problems, but with greater awareness they are slowing realising the importance of early intervention.

“It is important to discuss your sleep patterns with your primary healthcare physician as sleep is one of the fundamental pillars of good health,” says Dr Al Hariri.

“Early intervention is always advisable.”

In today’s world, where we try to squeeze time for everything, maybe we need to wake up to the importance of sleep.

Ways to get a restful sleep
How much sleep do you need? This could vary depending on your age and is also impacted by your lifestyle and health. In general, some of the good sleep hygiene practices to incorporate in your daily life include:

Establish a regular routine: Maintain a regular sleep and wake-up schedule, and try to stick to it even during weekends.

Create a sleep-inducing environment: Light is the most powerful influencer of the body’s circadian clock and it will negatively affect your body’s ability to sleep. So, keep the bedroom dark, opt for heavy or blackout curtains and wear an eye mask if needed.

Keep digital devices away: Do not bring papers or a laptop to bed, keep your phones away and avoid watching TV. Screen time disrupts your sleep routine.

Avoid stimulants: Avoid smoking close to bedtime because nicotine is a stimulant and can keep you awake.

Restrict heavy food at dinnertime:  Steer clear of heavy, fatty or fried dishes at night as these can cause indigestion and affect your sleep quality. 

Avoid excessive sleep: Although obtaining healthy sleep is important for both physical and mental health, it is best to avoid sleeping more than 8 hours a day.

Limit daytime naps: It is best to do away with afternoon naps. If you need a nap, it should be early afternoon and not more than 30 minutes.

Restrict consumption of caffeine: Avoid caffeine-containing beverages and foods such as teas, sodas and chocolate six to eight hours before bedtime.

Source: Rashid Hospital Sleep Clinic

Restful sleep for kids:

  • Children need much more sleep than adults; number of hours of sleep depends on the age of the child.
  • Keep external stimulants such as TV and all tech devices at bay two hours prior to bed time
  • Avoid installing a TV in your children’s bedroom
  • If your child has regular trouble sleeping, keep a sleep chart and jot down your observations, present the details to a doctor if the problem is persistent
  • Do not let weekends mess up your child’s biological clock. Try to keep the bedtime and wake-up time as close to the weekdays as possible for consistency.
  • During holidays, ensure that children go back to their regular sleep schedule at least one week prior to the school commencing date.
  • Exercise, particularly in the day helps induce sleep
  • Provide the right nutrition support: No sugar four to six hours before bedtime is ideal
  • A warm bath before bedtime relaxes the muscles and helps provide a restful sleep
  • Do not give chocolate/sugars to children who have restless leg syndrome, especially few hours prior to bedtime
  • If your child sleepwalks, put your child back in his/her bed.
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