Sleep your way to good health

Sleep your way to good health

When we do not get enough restful sleep, our bodies' metabolic processes go in disarray, even causing cell damage.

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Asma Ali Zain

Published: Sat 23 Mar 2019, 9:02 PM

Last updated: Sat 23 Mar 2019, 11:10 PM

Sleep loss continues to be an increasing problem in modern society, and so do the health risks associated with it. While most discussions on sleep deficiency point to chronic health problems - heart disease, hypertension, diabetes and obesity - as among the most serious consequences, the cost of poor sleep is much more straightforward than many people think: It accelerates ageing.
Sleep is a time when the body rests and regenerates itself and, at this point, cell repair also takes place. When we do not get enough restful sleep, our bodies' metabolic processes go in disarray, even causing cell damage.
World Sleep Day was marked on March 15 and Sleep Expo Middle East joined the global call for greater awareness and education on the importance of quality sleep in healthy ageing.
Experts estimate that 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 level is reduced, there are cases where medical intervention is needed.
A study, released at the World Summit of Governments recently held in Dubai, showed that an individual in the UAE sleeps no more than five hours and 38 minutes and the sleep quality is low.
What keeps us awake at night and why is there so much noise in the last few years about sleeplessness?
"Technology and stress are two big factors. Smartphones, tablets and televisions - screen time at night is one of the main reasons for the rise in sleep problems," said Dr Hassan Al Hariri, head of sleep medicine at the Rashid Hospital.
"Light is the most powerful influencer of the body's circadian clock. 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. These devices should be avoided at least two hours before bedtime."
He said people with good sleep hygiene - a term used to include just about anything related to your sleep habits - are the least likely to suffer from insomnia and sleeplessness.
"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. When you are sleep-deprived, it is like being jet-lagged, the brain cannot function at its optimum capacity and you are more likely to overeat to compensate for the tiredness." he said.
At the 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 the Rashid Hospital, we pay particular emphasis on obesity-related sleep problems."
"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."
Earlier, people didn't seek medical intervention for sleep problems, but with greater awareness they are gradually realising the importance of early intervention.
The trouble with a prolonged sleeping problem, said Dr Al Hariri, is that it is a risk factor for chronic health problems, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and stroke.
"Sleep deprivation due to medical conditions, such as obesity and arthritic pain, needs immediate medical intervention," Dr Al Hariri added.
"The patient should visit a primary healthcare physician who may recommend a 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. Early intervention is always advisable. Sleep is a foundation of good health. A few good habits can go a long way in getting some sound shut-eye."
Dr Jassem Abdou, consultant in respiratory medicine at Healthpoint, said the average person needs about seven to eight hours' sleep each night to allow their bodies to recuperate.
"Waking up without being rested can affect a person's focus in all aspects of life, as well as their physical health," he said.
"While it is common for people to have trouble sleeping occasionally, feeling incapable of getting a good night's sleep could indicate that one suffers from a sleep disorder."
One of the most common such disorders is obstructive sleep apnea, which occurs when breathing is interrupted during sleep as a result of a temporary airway collapse. This causes the diaphragm and chest muscles to work harder to open it, placing stress on the body and interrupting the body's state of rest.
Left untreated, sleep apnea can cause high blood pressure and atrial fibrillation, two leading causes of stroke. In addition, sleep apnea can have a significant effect on the body's ability to control blood sugar, increasing the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. Proper diagnosis and treatment of sleep apnea can help mitigate the risk of diabetes and stroke.
Patients are diagnosed with sleep apnea during a sleep study, where a patient's breathing, movement and brain activity are monitored as they sleep to determine the cause of their sleep interruptions. Sleep studies can often be performed in a patient's own home.
Obesity has the strongest association with sleep apnea. In such cases, doctors recommend weight loss as a primary method of treatment. Other common sleep disorders include insomnia, restless legs syndrome and problems with sleep quality.

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