x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

The science behind getting a good night's sleep

The quality of sleep not only restores energy, but is crucial to muscle growth, brain activity and combating obesity.

It's not just your energy levels that could be suffering if you're not entering the sleep zone correctly. That's right, the sleep zone, the physical and mental comfort area your body and mind needs to enter to ensure you get the very best recovery. Failure to enter this zone and get the ideal sleep dosage could cost you your job, your marriage, even your life, claim researchers after new studies shed light on the growing issue of chronic sleeplessness in the UAE.

Increasingly, research suggests that sleep does much more than recharge our batteries. US studies have confirmed that poor sleep upsets our appetite hormones and can cause weight gain, while results from a sleep laboratory at the University of Surrey in England show that stress levels are spiked if we don't sleep soundly and that relationships may actually be saved by couples sleeping in separate beds.

A recent survey of 750 Emiratis, GCC nationals and expatriates found that around 68 per cent of them fail to get a decent night's sleep. "Much of this is due to the way we live during our waking hours," Dr Hassan Al Hariri, a sleep medicine consultant at Rashid Hospital in Dubai, announced on publication of the study. Al Hariri pointed out that long working hours, poor diet and a frenetic lifestyle robs residents of the Emirates of the quality sleep they need.

While many sleeplessness sufferers are victims of snoring disorders, such as sleep apnoea, many more are simply victims of their own bad habits. Not giving themselves the quality recovery they need, starving themselves of sleep to socialise or work late then mistakenly trying to catch up by having a lie-in has been found to raise a person's risk of problems linked to sleep deprivation including car accidents, job sackings as well as ailments such as heart disease, hypertension and diabetes.

Nick Littlehales, a sleep specialist in the UK who works with athletes and top sports teams, insists that the demands of modern living need not disrupt your sleep in ways that would harm your health if you learn to take yourself into a sleep zone. "I train people to get into a sleep routine which prepares both their body and mind for sleep," says Littlehales, who lists both the England national football team and Manchester United among the recipients of his sleep coaching.

"I encourage athletes to sleep according to their body clocks, to gradually wind down in the evening, to have a set bed time, to understand that we sleep in rough five 90-minutes cycles through the night," he says.

Littlehales is just one of many sleep mentors applying science to help clients sleep more easily. Though the methods of the experts may vary, there are some common tips that may come as some relief to the residents of Emirati cities who never seem to sleep.

Turning the bedroom into a shrine devoted to sleep is a good start. Experts, including Al Hariri, point to the fact that too many of us never switch off from the working day. Looking at TV screens, iPads or mobile phone screens in bed does nothing to relax the brain and are considered to be bad sleep hygiene by the sleep specialists. "Electrical gadgets stimulate the brain and emit bright light into the eyes that serve to disturb our ability to wind down into a state where we can sleep soundly," says Littlehales.

Instead, keep the influence of electrical equipment in your bedroom to a minimum if you really want deep, quality, sleep. Even alarm clocks should be covered or their glare at least kept from shining near your eyes. "Keep the temperature of the room cool and constant," says Littlehales. According to the sleep laboratory, you're aiming to get around seven and a half hours' quality sleep a night and this will be aided if the bedroom is kept at a steady temperature of around 18¿C.

Having a sleep routine is, according to the experts, essential too. For some this can be helped by showering before getting into bed, helping to set the body's temperature. For others it's reading or listening to music that can set you into doze mode, too. Your sleep routine is unique to you. "Though currently many insomniacs are engaged in the complete opposite before bed time," warns Al Hariri. "Drinking coffee or else the 'shisha culture' - where tobacco water-pipes and coffee or tea are part of socialising - doesn't help." Shisha and caffeine have stimulants that make it difficult to sleep.

The most recent data on the state of insomnia in the Arab states suggests that up to 40 per cent of UAE residents have suffered from a sleep disorder at some point in their life. "If left untreated, people can fall into chronic long-term insomnia," warns Al Hariri. At this point sleeplessness starts to seriously affect your health. "Being habitually short of sleep, or incurring 'sleep debt' leads to physical problems such as obesity, the metabolic syndrome ('glucose intolerance'), and maybe even diabetes," says Jim Horne, a professor of sleep research at the Loughborough University in the UK.

In the UAE, where adult diabetes levels are reported to be among the highest on the planet, the risk factors of sleep debt and the results of failing to get a sound night's rest are becoming increasingly apparent.