Dubai: Working full time, looking after your family, spending time with friends and finding some personal time for yourself might be leaving you with very little time in a day for sleep. Sleep plays a vital role in good health and well-being, but unfortunately, many people are sleep deprived.
Researchers at the US-based University of Michigan used an app to compare global sleep patterns. The results showed that only the residents of a few countries were getting the recommended eight hours of sleep per night. In the UAE, 90 per cent of people are not getting enough sleep.
What are the effects of sleep deprivation on an individual? Gulf News takes a look.
Click on the topics in the graphic below for more information on each effect.
1. Mental well-being
The most important aspect that many international studies focus on is the negative impact that sleep deprivation has on a person’s mental well-being.
Karen Anne Hope Andrews, a clinical psychologist based in Dubai, explains that while a few bad nights will not cause much physical harm, even a small amount of sleep deprivation on consecutive days can affect our overall happiness levels.
She said: “We may find that our energy levels are lower than usual, we find it hard to get enthusiastic about things and our patience and tolerance is lesser than usual. This may have a ripple effect on our relationships, because we are irritable with others and they in turn respond negatively.”
Sleep deprivation can be very stressful for a person. When we are tired, we lose our ability to focus. We might have trouble making decisions and even our memory is affected.
Andrews said: “With a fast pace of life, it is possible that we need more sleep than before. When we don’t get enough sleep, everyday problems become overwhelming. This can develop into a vicious cycle, when worry and stress make it harder for us to sleep, and lack of sleep makes it harder for us to cope. People who have chronic sleep ‘debt’ are more likely to exhibit signs of mood disorders, such as depression and anxiety.”
Not sleeping enough can even make people less likely to be able to control negative emotions, Andrews explains, meaning they can become aggressive and short-tempered.
Tania Varghese, an Indian engineer based in Dubai, has experienced this personally. Sleeping for only six hours every night, she feels sleep deprived and gets irritated easily.
She said: “It’s quite obvious when I begin to drive. Road rage comes on. It is very difficult to find positivity and you become too sensitive to everything.”
For her, the stress related to work gets dragged home and it is tough to get any peace of mind. Even after work is done, there are other appointments or meetings that need to be dealt with and on the weekend, it’s all about having fun.
She said: “You stretch your fun hours and sleep very late. So it becomes a vicious cycle where you never get enough sleep.”
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2. Productivity levels
Research conducted by the US-based Hult International Business School shows that a lack of sleep can fundamentally hinder an employee’s ability to perform.
Dr John Mathew, an occupational psychologist based in Dubai, referred to the 1943 Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs theory, which highlights the physiological need of sleep and relaxation as a basic need for human beings.
He said: “When you don’t sleep well, your performance at work suffers. For an organisation, the cost of overtime goes high, which in the long run can be a loss as workers take more time to complete a job.”
Imdad Ali Shah, a Pakistani manager of finance based in Dubai, gets only six hours of sleep every night and feels a drastic change in his lifestyle.
He said: “It has a bad effect on my job. The level of work I do requires a lot of focus and decision making. Your mind needs to be fresh. But, I’m unable to give my 100 per cent and my productivity is affected.”
Apart from that, when he wakes up, he already feels tired and is unable to participate in any extracurricular activities after work.
He said: “I used to go to the gym regularly before moving here for work and would be so tired at night that I could sleep. Now, I don’t have the time to go. There’s a lot of stress and health habits are not good.”
So, how can an individual counter these effects? Power naps!
Dr Mathew said: “Power naps can make up for sleep deficits. In fact studies show that apart from improving moods and feelings of sleepiness and fatigue, they can improve abilities like creative problem solving, memory, learning agility and statistical learning and is considered better than caffeine.”
3. Ability to do things
Lack of sleep can affect your ability to perform certain actions, think and to remember and process information, as stated in a paper published by the US-based Cleveland Clinic.
Dr Utpal Kumar Kataky, a school doctor based in Dubai, reiterated this fact when he explained that a person’s performance can be affected in many ways.
He said: “For example, if people are driving or rushing to meet a deadline, without getting minimum hours of sleep, it isn’t good. Anything else you do, students giving an exam for instance, needs rest. They think they have studied the whole night, but the next morning, they wil lose concentration and their memory will be affected.”
A sleep deprived student will not be able to understand or “absorb” the information being taught in class. It may not seem vital, but the long term effects of not sleeping enough on a person are adverse.
“Sleep is very important for all, young or old,” Dr Kataky added.
Mohsin Zameer, a Pakistan health, safety and environment engineer based in Abu Dhabi, has trouble driving to work or meetings in his sleep deprived state.
He said: “I have a hectic job, which requires a lot of driving. I usually feel very sleepy and inactive. This usually happens between 11am and 1pm. I stop my car on the side of the road and rest if it becomes unbearable.”
Even at work, he feels like he needs to take a break and take a power nap because he is unable to focus. To cope with it, he even consumes four cups of tea.
He said: “People feel less sleepy, but after having caffeine, I feel more relaxed and feel like sleeping even more.”
For those of you trying to lose weight, sleep deprivation is bad news. Lack of proper sleep can lead to a decrease in physical activity and an increase in excessive snacking, according to research conducted by US-based University of Chicago.
Saumya Mishra, a nutrionist based in Dubai, explains that when a person doesn’t sleep enough for several days, the amount of stress hormones getting secreted into the body increase, which increases appetite.
She said: “You’ll find yourself hogging more during the day. There are two hormones that affect hunger. One of those signals your brain that it’s time to eat. When there is lack of sleep, the body produces more of these, too. So, you feel hungry more often, while the body is trying to conserve calories.”
In this process, a person gains weight over time. Even if they eat a little, the body starts storing the fat, rather than burn it. And if this pattern of consuming snacks or junk food continues, it could even lead to worse health issues, like obesity, heart disease, diabetes and blood pressure.
Mishra said: “Train your body and yourself to sleep on time and if you can’t, try catching up on sleep during the day. Get enough exercise and try avoiding caffeine or heavy meals before you sleep.”
Mohammad Zuhair, a Jordanian petroleum engineer based in Abu Dhabi, only gets five hours of sleep in a night and this is because before he goes to bed, there is “too much going on”.
He said: “I think our bodies react differently if we don’t sleep enough. Even if you eat less, some people start putting on weight. This happens to me, which is depressing. You have to put in double the effort to lose weight. So, you’re not just paying for the food, but also the gym and personal trainer. I don’t eat on time, no proper meals. It’s a perfect recipe for failure.”
He blames the fast-paced life and amount of stress for this. In his opinion, people used to be happier, but now, the workload has increased, things are changing quite fast and there are new policies in offices very often.
He said: “All of these keep you turning at night, which in turn causes an imbalance in life.”
Sleep exerts a strong influence on a person’s immune functions, as stated in a study published by the US-based National Institutes of Health. Investigations conducted by them showed that immune parameters, like the production of pro-inflammatory proteins, peaks during sleep. So, if you’re not sleeping enough, your levels of immunity will decrease.
Dr Bhoopesh S., a general practitioner based in Dubai, confirmed that an individual can be more susceptible to falling ill if he or she isn’t sleeping enough. But, it isn’t an immediate effect, so if a person doesn’t sleep well one day it will not have much of an impact on his or her immunity. However, continuous sleep deprivation will make things harder.
He said: “The lack of sleep is stressful for our bodies in many ways. You need to have enough rest because it is the best form of recovery.”
Suzy Sobhi, an Egyptian business consultant based in Ras Al Khaimah, has experienced a change in energy levels and even appearance when she doesn’t get to sleep enough.
She said: “Getting enough sleep is always a priority for me. If I haven’t slept enough, it not only affects my eating habits, but also changes my physical appearance. I look pale, feel fatigued and my skins feels less fresh. I know that if you sleep well, it burns calories.”