Expert Opinion ~ Take a pledge on World Sleep Day… Let’s sleep to a better health!

By Ishita B Saha: Who knew there will come a day when we would have to educate people to ‘sleep properly’ and raise awareness as to ‘how and why sleep is important’? And this subject particularly interests me as I have always been this ‘night person’ whose creative fangs came out only during the night. About a year back, I would be sleeping two to three hours every day, feel absolutely drained out during the day and again regain all my energy as it became night time and work through the night. This had become such a habit and it took a while to realise that my excessive weight gain and the other auto immune ailments that I was gradually developing, may have something to do with lack of sleep. I was definitely not an insomniac, but my brain seemed to process much better during the night time – at least that’s what I had made myself to believe. A few days back, as if by coincidence, a letter came from my twelve year old daughter who’s in middle school in Dubai English Speaking College (DESC). The DESC Student Advisors suggested that ‘students who discuss day-to-day problematic matters lead back to them not having enough sleep for their age and stage of development. Students often say themselves that they are tired and are either not having enough sleep or experiencing disturbed sleep. They explain that they find it difficult to focus in class, do things that they did not mean, lack motivation, or they are unable to plan and organise themselves effectively’ – much of which boil down to ‘the detrimental impact sleep deprivation can have on academic learning, behaviour and day to day functioning’.

Interestingly enough, an annual awareness day is held the Friday before Spring Vernal Equinox and has been officially declared as World Sleep Day by the World Sleep Day Committee of the World Association of Sleep Medicine (WASM). The first WSD was held on March 14, 2008, under the slogan “Sleep Well, Live Fully Awake.” This year the slogan is “Sleep Soundly, Nurture Life” and falls on March 17, 2017.  Our #BringBackBalance campaign collaborator, Bupa Global, has come forward with their ‘sleep’ research on the UAE and Sleep experts from Bupa Cromwell Hospital are using World Sleep Day to highlight the importance of good quality sleep. Today, I have benefitted immensely from training myself to follow a bedtime routine and aligning my work schedule accordingly. So on World Sleep Day, we would urge you all to take a pledge – let’s sleep – sleep soundly, sleep adequately and sleep towards a better health! 

[Infographcis: Bupa Global]

World Sleep Day: Sleep experts warn UAE residents of sleep deprivation risks, as Bupa Global research finds only 12% get recommended eight hours or more each night.

  • A quarter of UAE residents say work related stress is the main factor behind poor sleep, closely followed by financial stress (21%)
  • 30% of respondents said Saturday is the night when they have the worst sleep
  • 82% of respondents check work emails before going to bed, with 60% doing so on a regular basis

Sleep experts from Bupa Cromwell Hospital are using World Sleep Day to highlight the importance of good quality sleep and preventing sleep deprivation following staggering research results which revealed only 12% of the UAE residents are getting the recommended eight hours sleep or more each night. Dr Fiona McAndrew, General Practitioner, and Ana Noia, Senior Clinical Physiologist in Neurophysiology and Sleep at the London based hospital, are advising UAE residents to address sleep related issues to help prevent risks associated with lack of sleep in the future.

According to research commissioned by Bupa Global, 60% of UAE residents get 1-2 nights of poor sleep per week, with 13% of respondents reporting less than 5 hours of sleep each night. Research shows one quarter of UAE residents claim that poor quality sleep is a result of work related stress, with 30% stating Saturday – the night before starting work – is the night when they get the worst sleep of the week.

Dr McAndrew, who refers to lack of sleep as one of the most common conditions seen by GPs, highlights the importance for people to monitor their sleep and be aware of the impact of lack of sleep on their health. She said: Insomnia affects about a third of the global population at some point in their lifetime. Most adults need between seven to nine hours of sleep a night, but many people experience difficulty falling asleep, trouble staying asleep, frequent waking, early morning waking and difficulty getting back to sleep.” Ana added: “Sleep is just as important for your health as diet and exercise. Sleep is vital to maintaining normal levels of cognitive skills, motivation, physical and mental health. People who do not sleep well often have complaints of memory and attention problems as well as general fatigue and lack of energy. Lack of sleep can also lead to immune deficiency and increased risk of cardiovascular problems.”

Karim Idilby, General Manager for Bupa Global in Africa, India and the Middle East, added: “Our research on sleep and wellness indicates that consumers recognise some of the drivers of poor sleep and are looking for solutions to improve their overall wellbeing. A vital element of good health is insurance that encourages wellness and allows users to gain expert advice to address any health concerns.”


How food habits may affect sleep, with a special focus on the Middle Eastern diet?

According to Ana Nois, the Senior Clinical Physiologist in Neurophysiology and Sleep at Bupa Cromwell: The concept that certain foods may induce restful sleep has been accepted for many years. However, there has been a long debate which combination of foods actually promotes a better quality sleep. Tryptophan is an amino acid that is found in foods rich in protein, for example, turkey, steak, chicken, pumpkin seeds, nuts and peanuts; eating proteins in conjunction with a carbohydrate, for example, rice has been shown to make us sleepy and sleep more soundly.

In the Middle East, there’s a high consumption of foods rich in sugar. Foods rich in sugar may hinder sleep as increases the level of alertness. Therefore, people may experience a rise of energy levels making it difficult to fall asleep afterwards. Coffee is also very popular in the Middle East and other drinks rich in caffeine such as tea, chocolate, and general energy drinks such as a coca-cola stimulates the central nervous system, therefore increasing alertness and decreasing sleepiness.”


Sleep and Rest

According to Jane Gammage, Wellness Practitioner and life coach at Journey to Wellness and one of our guest speakers of our first #BringBackBalance event: Getting enough sleep and rest is vital when managing stress. Get into a good sleep routine and stick to it, as they say, early to bed, early to rise, makes a men healthy, wealthy and wise… People’s sleep needs vary but we should all be aiming for a good six to eight hours sleep a night.

There are people who sleep soundly for approximately five hours and then wake up for up to two hours and then go back to sleep for another three to four hours. This is not as abnormal or unusual as it may seem and it is called Biphasic sleep; it can be managed quite well once you know it is happening. The trick is not to allow yourself to become anxious about waking up as this just adds stress to your life and that is what we want to avoid. Rather:

  • Stay in bed and remain relaxed
  • Try to stay in the dark when you wake up, if you must turn a light on wear yellow or amber tinted glasses to counter stimulating blue light
  • Listen to an audio book – have this set up ready to press play so that you do not have to fiddle around too much
  • Meditate

If you are a Biphasic sleeper you will need to adjust your bedtimes accordingly to ensure that you are well rested.

In order to ensure that we sleep well we should be cognisant of our circadian rhythms – the twenty-four hour cycles all living beings follow; the cycle of light and dark.

In order to ensure that these rhythms function properly it is important that we spend time in the light and sleep in the darkest space we can. Spending at least fifteen minutes per day outside in daylight is beneficial to our bodies, as is ensuring that we wind down at night by :

  • Using soft, yellow lights and not blue light as blue light stimulates the brain
  • Turning off TVs, computer screens and devices at least one hour before going to bed
  • Installing blackout curtains in your bedroom
  • Wearing a sleep mask if the room is not dark
  • Wearing yellow or amber tinted glasses in the evening to counter the stimulating blue lights of screens and light bulbs

In the morning, immediately upon waking, open curtains and take in the light of the day as this stimulates the body’s physiological processes into ‘daytime mode”.

These are the fundamental steps to ensuring a balanced body, and a balanced body is more able to cope with stress (to be resilient). There are however other ways to cope with stress and maintain a harmonious balance in our lives.


Sleep facts

  • What we do know is that sleep plays a vital role in:

    o ‘filing away’ memories in your brain
    o improving your ability to learn
    o regulating metabolism(the way your body breaks down food into energy)
    o reducing mental fatigue

  • Humans spend around a third of their time sleeping. If you live to 90, the chances are you will have spent approximately 30 years asleep.
  • An adult, on average, needs between seven to nine hours of sleep daily. However, this varies from person to person and decreases as we get older.
  • There are 4 stages of sleep: The first phase is called non-rapid eye movement (NREM). This is where you spend most of your sleeping time. This phase has three different stages: N1, corresponds to feeling sleepy, N2 is a light stage of sleep, where you can easily be woken up, N3 is a period of deep sleep. The second phase is rapid eye movement sleep (REM), during which you tend to dream.
  • Your sleeping habits can impact your appetite and weight negatively, and make you more susceptible to work accidents and longer reaction times when driving.

Tips for better sleep

  • Don’t exercise close to bed time: Exercise is a good way to exhausts your body and mind in a positive way. Just avoid doing any vigorous exercise three to four hours before bed as it elevates adrenaline levels and heart rate, which will make falling asleep harder.
  • Bye-bye technology: The blue light emitted by phones, tablets and TVs stops your body from producing the hormone melatonin3, which is essential for good sleep. If you do not switch off your phone before going to bed, putting it on silent and on “night shift” (mode in which the colours of your display are shifted to the warmer end of the colour spectrum) can help you get better sleep4.
  • Temperature: The environment of the bedroom you sleep in plays a role in your sleep. Your bedroom needs to be cool and dark, as light and warmth slow the production of melatonin, our ‘sleep hormone’.
  • Limited nap time: Limit your nap to 45 minutes or less, especially if you need to do something when you wake up. Otherwise you might drift into REM sleep. Waking up from that stage results in sleep inertia, that grogginess and disorientation that can last for 30 minutes to an hour or more.
  • Stop the caffeine: Avoid caffeine for up to 6 hours before bedtime. The effect of caffeine on sleep depends on the amount ingested throughout the day, not just at bedtime. Caffeine consumption can cause extended sleep latency, shorter total sleep time, worsening of the overall quality of sleep and shortening of deep sleep7.
  • 20 minute rule: If you are struggling to sleep, do not stay in bed tossing and turning. You will only get yourself frustrated and anxious, which will make it relaxing harder. If after 20 minutes you are still awake, get up and do something ‘boring’ or relaxing, such as reading of ironing, for 20 minutes then go back to bed.
  • Regular bed time: A stable bedtime routine helps the heart filter out stress hormones5, as well as hormones related to satiety and hunger.
  • Limited nap time: Limit your nap to 45 minutes or less, especially if you need to do something when you wake up. Otherwise you might drift into REM sleep. Waking up from that stage results in sleep inertia, that grogginess and disorientation that can last for 30 minutes to an hour or more.
  • Stop the caffeine: Avoid caffeine for up to 6 hours before bedtime. The effect of caffeine on sleep depends on the amount ingested throughout the day, not just at bedtime. Caffeine consumption can cause extended sleep latency, shorter total sleep time, worsening of the overall quality of sleep and shortening of deep sleep.


World Sleep Day is an annual event, intended to be a celebration of sleep and a call to action on important issues related to sleep, including medicine, education, social aspects and driving. It is organized by the World Sleep Day Committee of World Sleep Society (founded by WASM and WSF) and aims to lessen the burden of sleep problems on society through better prevention and management of sleep disorders. As of 2016, World Sleep Day had a total of 394 delegates in 72 countries around the globe.

[This article is created with the research conducted by YouGov omnibus survey with a sample size of 1001 during the period between February and March 2017 and information provided by worldsleepday.org. These articles are a part of #BringBackBalance, a FoodeMag campaign in collaboration with Oman Insurance Company (OIC) and Bupa Global. A series of bespoke events follow at various venues for the next few months, so do stay tuned to enter the next competition to join us for our second event. Feature image: Pixabay]

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