UAE: Doctors stress ensuring enough sleep to prevent health issues

UAE: Doctors stress ensuring enough sleep to prevent health issues

People from countries across the world are suffering from sleep issues. Speaking with the media, Dubai-based advocate Anjana Bhatia, 51, said she used to sleep for four hours a day.

“The nature of my job is that my brain is working overtime. I spend a lot of time understanding my case and preparing. I stay up late doing research, read and see how I can do my best for my client,” she said.


Inherited or acquired?

While the lack of sleep has not negatively impacted her health, she had consulted doctors who recommended sleeping tablets.

According to her, the sleep issues have been handed down to her by her parents.

"My siblings too are all working students. Our lives are hard and busy. We are multi-tasking and so sleep does not get a priority," she added.

For better sleep, she has started walking in the mornings. However, it has also not helped her in sleeping better.

"I believe that my body only requires four hours of sleep. It is something I am getting used to now," she said.

Dubai-based expatriate Darwin Perez, 44, is another professional who gets three hours of sleep a day.

"I used to work for a fast-food company. I was also studying for my undergraduate studies. So I would not get sleep for long hours," Perez added.

As a make-up artist now, his sleeping pattern has not improved.

“I have shoots in the wee hours. I need to be punctual for my clients. So sleep is not a priority for me.”

Significantly, his lack of sleep has not impacted his health negatively.

“I get tired only when there is an outdoor shoot and it goes on for long hours. It is rare that I feel the need to sleep for longer than four hours," he noted.


What is sleep?

Sleep works as a resting period for the body when the brain remains active. According to Mark Wu, sleep expert and neurologist at Johns Hopkins, sleep is a period during which the brain is engaged in a number of activities necessary to life, which are closely linked to the quality of life.


Why do we sleep?

Among the most popular theories, one suggests that sleep allows the body to repair and rejuvenate itself. According to the findings of a report from the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, major restorative functions like muscle growth, tissue repair, protein synthesis and growth hormone release occur mostly during sleep.


How does sleep occur?

Internal body clocks, called circadian clocks, are present in the brain and other organs that are triggered by daylight and darkness. They allow the body to remain alert during the day and sleepy at night with the help of neurotransmitters and hormones released by the brain, according to a report by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Hormones like melatonin and cortisol control circadian clocks or rhythms, making the body sleepy. Most of these hormones are released at night and suppressed during the day.


What happens during sleep? What are the different phases of sleep?

When we are asleep, the brain repeatedly goes through two types of sleep: REM (rapid-eye movement) sleep and non-REM sleep.

The first part, Non-REM sleep, contains four stages:

Stage 1 just before falling asleep.

Stage 2 Light sleep when breathing, heart rate, muscle movements and brain activity slow down along with lowering of body temperature.

Stage 3-4 Deep sleep when the heart rate and breathing are the slowest. According to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, people awakened at this time are not able to adjust immediately and require several minutes to sleep again.


REM tends to occur later at night and early morning when the brain activity increases, breathing becomes faster and heart rate rises. The Harvard report added that dreams are most common in this phase. Furthermore, memory is processed and stored during REM sleep.


Connection between sleep and circadian rhythms

Circadian rhythms are 24-hour cycles controlling the sleep-wake pattern of the human body. These get influenced by light, dark and other factors of sleep, using hormones like melatonin and cortisol to align sleep and wakefulness. Any disruption in circadian rhythms can result in sleep issues.


Foods that help induce sleep

· Almonds and several other nuts are important sources of melatonin, helping in the regulation of the body's internal sleep clock

· Banana contains tryptophan and magnesium that help in a good night’s sleep.

· Rice and oatmeal are also rich sources of melatonin.

· Turkey contains the amino acid tryptophan which helps in the production of melatonin.

· Dairy products like milk, cottage cheese, and plain yoghurt are known sources of tryptophan.

· Chamomile tea has apigenin that combines with certain receptors in the brain to induce sleep.

· Kiwis are known to be a good source of serotonin.

· Tart cherry juice also helps in promoting sleep.

· Fatty fish has omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D to improve sleep.

· Walnuts with their fatty acid also improve sleep.


Age and sleep

Sleep is significantly impacted by light, disturbing sleep cycles, circadian rhythm and melatonin production. According to sleep disorder specialists, light exposure could badly impact the circadian rhythm, depending on the timing of the exposure.

Melatonin hormone is naturally made by the body and its production is also closely dependent on light. When exposed to darkness, the pineal gland in the brain initiates the production of melatonin, but light exposure can slow down the production.

Melatonin is also known as “sleep hormone”, playing a crucial role in the natural sleep-wake cycle. At night, melatonin in the blood increased to its highest natural levels.

Melatonin also helps the body's response to light and darkness, with more hormones produced during the dark for better sleep. Less melatonin is produced as the sun rises with the eyes opening up to the light.

Melatonin is produced in the pineal gland, along with the gut and most parts of the body’s cells. But the melatonin made in the pineal gland regulates the circadian rhythm and sleep-wake cycle.


What are melatonin supplements?

Melatonin supplements can help in quick sleeping if taken in the correct dosage at the right time. They have become a popular alternative to prescription sleep aids.

However, there are certain side effects — daytime sleepiness, irritability, and mild headaches.


How to improve melatonin levels?

It is recommended to boost melatonin levels in a natural way with proper diet and sleep hygiene. People can consult doctors before taking a new supplement or making changes to their medication or supplement routine.


5 foods to avoid before bed for better sleep

• Spicy food

• Chocolate

• Tomatoes

• Pizza

• Citrus fruits


What happens to your brain when you’re constantly sleep-deprived?

Sleep deprivation can result in exhaustion and the ability to focus. According to a report by Cleveland Clinic, chronic sleep deprivation can also impact your overall appearance with premature wrinkling and dark circles under the eyes.

In 2017, a landmark study reported that chronic sleep deprivation can trigger the brain to “eat itself”. Conducted by Michele Bellesi of the Marche Polytechnic University in Italy and published in the Journal of Neuroscience, the report concluded that missing sleep can cause long-term harm.

Researchers claim that there is a risk of dementia in the long term. In the study, titled “Sleep loss promotes astrocytic phagocytosis and microglial activation in mice”, Michele Bellesi of Italy’s Marche Polytechnic University and colleagues reported that a chronic lack of sleep can put the people at risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other neurological disorders.

It is due to the brain cells destroying or digesting the worn-out cells, following which the debris go into overdrive.


What happens when these worn-out brain cells go on overdrive?

The overdrive mode helps in cleaning harmful debris and rebuilding worn circuitry in the short term. While it can protect healthy brain connections in short term, it can potentially be harmful in the long term.


What is the role of glial cells in the brain?

Researchers work on two brain glial cells - astrocyte cells and microglial cells.

Glial cells, also known as neuroglia, are contained in the housekeeping system of the brain. They surround the neurones of the central nervous system embedded between them to provide both structural and physiological support.

Bellesi’s team used high-density EEG recordings to study glial cells. One glial cell type, known as “astrocyte”, curbs unnecessary synapses in the brain to carry out a rewriting of the synapses. Another glial cell type, called a microglial cell, prowls the brain for damaged cells and debris.


Significance of the study?

Bellesi's study demonstrates a key scientific fact- sleep loss can trigger astrocytes in the brain to break down more of the brain's connections and their debris.

“We show for the first time that portions of synapses are literally eaten by astrocytes because of sleep loss,” the New Scientist quoted Bellesi.

The team also found that microglial cells were more active due to deprivation of chronic sleep.

Furthermore, an overdrive in microglial activity can result in a range of brain disorders.

“We already know that sustained microglial activation has been observed in Alzheimer’s and other forms of neurodegeneration,” Bellesi added.


How much sleep do we need?

Studies say most adults need 7-9 hours of sleep daily. However, some are okay with 6 hours while others may require 10 hours. Older adults require lesser amounts of sleep ranging between 7-8 hours.


Treatments for sleep disorders

Sleep disorders are treated in accordance with their types and intensity.



In insomnia, people are not able to sleep properly, affecting the quality of sleep. Insomnia can be treated with sleep-inducing medication, cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia (CBT-i) or a combination of both.

CBT-i is a first-line treatment for insomnia, provided by a licensed psychologist. It may involve several factors such as:

• Sleep education and hygiene

• Stimulus control

• Sleep restriction and compression

• Relaxation techniques


Sleep apnea

Sleep apnea takes place when a person is not able to breathe properly during sleep. Treatments include counselling, medications and supplements. Experts also advise practising sleep hygiene and ensuring regular exercise. Some medicines can also be subscribed by medical experts depending on the severity of the symptoms.


Restless legs syndrome

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) also known as Willis Ekbom disease causes uncomfortable feelings in the legs, including crawling, itching, prickling, and pulling. Practising sleep hygiene, exercising and pneumatic pressure therapy can help in reducing the impact of the syndrome.

Furthermore, RLS is also treated with certain medications prescribed by a doctor.



Narcolepsy includes severe and persistent daytime sleepiness that can impact everyday activities of the affected person.

While there is no cure for narcolepsy, some of the symptoms can be treated with medicines and healthy changes in lifestyle. Excessive daytime sleepiness and cataplexy (loss of muscle tone) can be controlled with stimulants or wake-promoting medications.


How sleep affects body weight?

Researchers have suggested a link between lack of sleep and changes in metabolism. Sleeping fewer hours can result in increased hunger and trigger a cortisol spike.

Sleep duration greatly impacts ghrelin and leptin hormones which regulate hunger.

Made of fat cells, Leptin decreases appetite and Ghrelin increases appetite. They have a role in body weight by impacting food intake and fat storage. Short sleep duration can result in an increased risk of obesity as the physical activity of the body decreases.


Sleep is also linked to heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancers


Heart diseases

Sleep deprivation increased the risk of heart attacks. A study by says people sleeping less than six hours per night are 20 percent more at risk of a heart attack. During the NREM sleep stage, the heart slows down and recovers. On the other hand, REM sleep involves increased stress and activity. Insufficient sleep can result in imbalance and increased heart attack risk.



A stroke takes place when blood flow to the brain is cut off, resulting in the death of brain cells due to lack of oxygen. Sleep deprivation increases blood pressure, and high blood pressure can lead to a stroke. Insufficient sleep also leads to plaque buildup in the arteries, increasing the chances of blockages and strokes.



Studies have linked lack of sleep with diabetes due to an increase in glucose metabolism in the body. Diabetic patients with troubled or insufficient sleep may find it difficult to control their blood sugar. Impaired sleep could also endanger lives by deteriorating the hardening of arteries in people with type 2 diabetes.



While there is no established link between sleep and cancer, studies have indicated that disruptions in the body’s biological clock may increase the chances of cancers of the breast, colon, ovaries and prostate.


Doctors advise prioritising sleep as one of the important aspects to rejuvenate your body. Furthermore, they stress the need for consulting a medical professional before consuming any medicine or supplements.

SOURCE: Gulf News


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