Doctors say lack of sleep leads to attention disorders, growth problems and behavioural problems among children. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Lack of sleep is dangerous and can lead to a slow death from serious infections and cancers, an expert on sleep disorders said.

“It is not true that you can get by with a few hours of sleep. It is a vital function of your life,” said Dr David Gozal, chairman of paediatrics at the University of Chicago.

He said just as one can die of malnutrition over a period of time if you do not eat properly, or from dehydration if you do not drink enough water, lack of sleep will eventually kill you, he said.

Speaking to Gulf News on the sidelines of the three-day Gulf Thoracic Congress in Dubai that ended yesterday, the doctor said there are many factors that cause sleep disorders, from lifestyle issues, obesity, insomnia, or being traumatised at a young age to adenoids. There's also genetic and environment factors. “One feeds on the other,” he said.

The doctor said parents need to be educated on how obstructive sleep apnea, where the airway collapses or becomes blocked during sleep, can impact negatively on the quality of life of their children.

“If you have to wake up your child in the morning and she does not wake up happy or spontaneously, or has a lack of energy, the child is not getting enough sleep,” he said.

The doctor said a child needs between 10 to 12 of sleep every night and that, unfortunately, because of electronics, the TV and the telephone, children are not sleeping as much, he said.

Doctors in Dubai said lack of sleep leads to attention disorders, growth problems and behavioural problems among children.

Sleep disorders among adults

Dr Lalit Uchil, specialist, internal medicine at Mediclinic, Al Sufouh, said sleep deprivation is common in the UAE. “It all piles up; you become less alert [on the road], blood pressure goes up, you may start to suffer from stress and anxiety and depression,” he said.

He said patients come to him with symptoms such as weakness, lack of concentration, tiredness. “They are too tired even to do the things that gave them pleasure [earlier],” he said.

The specialist said trying to catch up on lost sleep at the weekend does not work as the circadian rhythm (the internal body clock that tells you when to sleep) gets disturbed.

Dr Uchil said obesity is a major factor for sleep disorders among adults in the UAE. Obesity is described as anyone with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 plus. “It causes obstructive sleep apnea,” he said.

Because obese people have shorter necks and snore a lot, their breathing stops abruptly for a few seconds as the airway becomes blocked. “There is no breathing for between 15 to 20 seconds and the cycle repeats.”

Due to this, people suffer from less oxygen and that causes tiredness and other health issues, he said. “You may suffer from headaches, day-time drowsiness and lack of concentration,” he said.