Sleep deprivation
Not sleeping enough can be dangerous, especially if you drive Image Credit: Getty

Abu Dhabi: For most Muslims around the world, Ramadan means regular sleeping habits go for a toss with a focus on staying awake late in the night for prayer and spending time with family and friends. In the Gulf, the appealing venues for dining and socialisation simply means many people get limited or no sleep at all.

But doctors are cautioning against the practice, saying that it not only wreaks havoc on people’s circadian rhythms but also leaves residents prone to major road accidents.

“Because of the high prevalence of obesity here, there are already a large number of patients with sleeping disorders. But in Ramadan, the number of people with sleeping-related concerns almost doubles,” said Jassem Abdou, consultant pulmonologist and head of respiratory and sleep medicine at Healthpoint, a private multispecialty hospital in the capital.

“Unfortunately, social traditions mean that people focus very less on their sleep in Ramadan, yet six to eight hours of healthy sleep are just as necessary for an adult’s overall wellbeing,” he told Gulf News.

While the benefits and processes of sleep are not yet fully understood, doctors agree that sleep is essential to help the body rejuvenate itself. Proper sleep also strengthens the immune system while boosting mood, alertness and appetite control.

In Ramadan, residents often cannot find time for uninterrupted nighttime sleep: after lengthy nightly prayers, they must also make time for the pre-dawn meals. As a result, many choose not to go to bed at all, and instead spend the time socialising or watching Ramadan television shows.

But Dr Abdou warned that this is dangerous, especially as about 15 to 20 per cent of adult men in the UAE, and up to 15 per cent of adult women, are known to suffer from sleep apnoea, a disorder that prevents patients from getting deep, quality sleep.

Insufficient sleep can also worsen overall health, reminded Dr Trilok Chand, head of department for pulmonary medicine at Burjeel Hospital.

“We know about the overwhelming prevalence of lifestyle conditions like obesity, hypertension and diabetes. Sleep is important to manage these. For instance, sleep helps to reduce blood pressure. The deep, slow-wave part of sleep also helps decrease blood glucose levels, while also regulating hormones that control appetite and prevent overeating,” he explained.

“It is important to get a few hours of sleep before suhour, and at least an hour or two afterwards. And in the daytime, residents should try to get a 40-minute to an hourlong nap after work. Altogether, they should aim to at least get the minimum six hours required for proper functioning,” Dr Abdou recommended.

“And if one wants to socialise, one should try to do it over the weekend, and then catch up on the sleep before the start of the work week,” he added.

Dr Chand also stressed on the importance of healthy diet for quality sleep. “Fried, sugary foods and too much caffeine are just as bad for sleep as they are for digestion and hydration, so they are best avoided,” he said.

Ramadan sleep patterns

Dr Vaishal Shah, sleep medicine specialist at United States-based Cleveland Clinic, elaborated on common Ramadan sleep patterns.

1. Sticking to the daily routine, but interrupting sleep for suhour and fajr

This person will find it easiest to readjust after Ramadan. They will probably get [a few] hours of uninterrupted sleep and supplement this with a quick nap after fajr. It is also good in establishing a routine, as the person will consistently wake up at almost the same time every day, as opposed to sleeping in on weekends.

2. Using reduced working hours to nap before iftar

As Ramadan is a limited time period, there is no need to worry about the long-term effects of this sleep pattern; however, it is essential to be consistent. And even though you might nap in the afternoon, go to bed early enough to get a sufficient block of solid sleep.

3. Turning night into day

For people who don’t work or are able to work at night instead of the daytime, this might be the preferred option. However, it will make the adjustment period after Ramadan difficult for about two weeks. They can ease the process by adjusting their sleeping hours back to normal by a little each day, rather than a drastic change.