The perils of sleep deprivation and tips for getting some good shut-eye during Ramadan
It is called beauty sleep for a reason. A good night’s sleep is vital for our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being and there is sufficient proof that disturbed sleep can have short-term and long-term effects on our health.
The short-term effects vary from poor memory and concentration to an inability to function properly at work and being in a bad mood. In the long term, poor sleep disrupts our 24-hour cycle and causes fatigue.
But it doesn’t end there. Dr Irshaad Ebrahim, medical director and sleep physician at The London Sleep Centre in Dubai, explains that lack of sleep can also have psychological and physical implications. Sleep deprivation can lead to depression, anxiety, irritability and temper problems. On a physical level, our immune system weakens, leaving us susceptible to colds, coughs and flu. Insufficient sleep can also lead to weight gain, as many people consume high-energy carbohydrates, such as chocolate, in an effort to stay awake.
“We exist in three states,” says Ebrahim. “The first stage is being awake, the second is the non-rapid eye movement stage [also known as slow-wave sleep], and the third is the rapid eye movement [REM] sleep.
“At any time in the 24-hour period, we are either awake or in slow-wave sleep or REM, but we need the right proportions of each to function at our optimum.”
The London Sleep Centre suggests that insomnia affects 30 per cent of the population in any one year. Hypersomnia, or excessive daytime sleepiness, affects 5 to 10 per cent of the population. It is estimated that parasomnia, or unwanted behaviour during sleep, affects about 15 per cent of children and 1 to 2 per cent of adults.
Even for those without chronic sleep problems, Ramadan tends to call for a sudden change to our sleep patterns, diet and routine. Often during the holy month, eating, drinking and social activities are left for the night, causing a reduction in the hours and quality of sleep. Those changes weigh on daytime functioning by reducing alertness and increasing mood disturbances and hence exposure to injury.
Statistics from Dubai Police show that the three hours before iftar are the most dangerous on the roads in the UAE, as lack of food and sleep causes people to drive erratically and without concentration. Hunger and sleep depravation can also cause irritability and anger in social situations.
The London Sleep Centre in Dubai offers the following tips to help people adjust during Ramadan.
Avoid sugary and rich foods
Loading your plate with calories at iftar will significantly disrupt the quality of your sleep. Don’t east a heavy meal because your body will be trying to digest it when it needs to be sleeping and resting. Try to stick to a healthy balance of protein, fruit and vegetables, avoiding processed sugar and carbohydrates (pasta, white bread, biscuits, cake) as much as possible, or have it in small amounts.
“The purpose of Ramadan is to be healthy, not to eat in excess and to follow the principles of what Ramadan is about. It is important not to oversleep and to get exercise,” says Ebrahim.
Get the same amount of sleep
Try to get the same amount of sleep over each 24-hour period. Most people sleep during the night for seven to eight hours in one block, but during Ramadan this is not always possible. Instead, try to make up for lost sleep. Make a plan that you can stick to during the holy month. This may involve going to bed earlier than normal. For example, try to go to bed by 11pm and have four hours of sleep following iftar, then wake up at 3.30am for suhoor and fajr, go back to sleep at about 5am and try to get two hours of shut-eye. If you are working reduced hours, this sleep can be a little longer. If not, then a nap after work, before iftar, can make up for the remaining hour or two of lost sleep.
Take power naps
If your energy levels are low during the workday, a power nap can be helpful. Find a quiet place away from the work station such as your car, and take a 20-minute nap. Set an alarm to ensure you don’t oversleep. Try not to sleep for longer than 20 minutes as your body will go into deep sleep and you will wake from this feeling tired and groggy.