Dr Khaldoun Mozahem of the American Center of Psychiatry and Neurology offers some valuable advice on how to counter insomnia.
Better habits are key to getting a good night's rest
If you're regularly not catching enough shut-eye, it not only affects your professional and social life, but also has long-term detrimental health consequences. Dr Khaldoun Mozahem, a Syrian neurologist who works at the American Center of Psychiatry and Neurology, is a specialist in sleep disorders. He explains the issues surrounding lack of sleep.
Insomnia is not a disease or condition in itself; it's a symptom of something else. It can either be difficulty in getting to sleep or after you fall asleep, you keep waking up during the night.
A lot of people in the UAE do have inappropriate sleeping times. They stay up all night socialising with friends and then they sleep during the day. This is against nature. We were created to sleep at night and stay up and be active in the day. Humans are not nocturnal animals. Also, people tend to stimulate their brains too much in the evening. The glare from the monitor or the TV are all stimulants to the brain. Your body needs ritual to go to bed. You cannot go from watching an action movie to going straight to sleep. You have to relax, you have to prepare yourself. I find reading a boring book can really help. Your bedroom should have nothing in it really, except the bed. TVs, computers and fridges need to be kept in another room. If you live in a studio apartment, you should put up a screen or curtain to separate where you sleep from where you live.
Even if you feel really tired, you should avoid napping during the day, unless you really can't help it. Then, it should only be for an hour at most and not after 3pm.
Most of us need about eight hours of good sleep a night for our body to recover. If we don't sleep properly it affects the immune system and the secretion of hormones. Sleep is also important for what we call consolidation of experiences. During the day, we are creating a lot of information via our senses. All this goes into the brain and then, during sleep, you tend to overview this information and get rid of what's unnecessary. So, you need plenty of sleep to prevent psychological issues.
Sleep apnoea is a very common reason why some people don't sleep properly. Around four per cent of men and two per cent of women suffer from it. What causes it is a tendency in the upper airway for the muscles to relax more than usual. This means the airflow stops and the oxygen in the blood will go down. The brain thinks you are choking and because of this you will keep fluctuating in the night between deep sleep, light sleep and waking up. It is caused by many things, such as obesity, or anatomical problems, like a large tongue. Most of the time it's just that the muscles are prone to relax more. This is treated with a device that blows a constant stream of air into the airways.
The second most common thing we encounter is restless leg syndrome. People with this have funny feelings, itching or discomfort in their legs which require them to move the limb, both when awake and asleep. This is caused by an abnormality in the spinal cord or brain, but it can be treated with medicine.
Insomnia can be a symptom for something like depression or anxiety. For people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, one of the features will be bad dreams, waking up in the night with memories of their bad experience. If it is suspected that this is the cause of insomnia, the patient is referred to a psychiatrist.
The American Center for Psychiatry and Neurology, located on the corner of 11th and 26th Street, Abu Dhabi, offers sleep consultation studies, which cost Dh4,000. Call 02 666 4866 for more information
More tips for a good night's sleep:
• Nicotine is a stimulant, so don't light up close to bedtime or during the night
• A late night espresso is a bad idea. Caffeine should be avoided at least six hours before sleeping
• Strenuous exercise close to your bedtime will keep you awake, although yoga or stretching can help relax you
• A light snack can help sleep, but large meals need to be digested, meaning you'll probably lay awake
• Minimise light, noise and extremes in temperature in your bedroom. Maybe it's time to buy some earplugs
• Listen to your body and go to sleep if you're drowsy at night - that next episode of Mad Men can wait
• If you can't sleep, get up and go and read in another room, only returning when you feel sleepy
• Maintain a regular sleep routine. Go to bed and wake up at similar times, even on weekends