Are you or your kids suffering from sleep disorders? You are not alone.
In the age of COVID-19, hybrid work and remote learning environments, digitization, stress, and anxiety about work continuity or job loss are all factors that individually or combined lead to insomnia or at least restless sleep.
And the consequences are detrimental to our physical and mental health, if not, in some instances, fatal.
Dr. Hady Jerdak is Chief Executive Officer of Harley Street Medical Centre in Abu Dhabi & a Specialist in Internal Medicine, Pulmonary Diseases, and Sleep Disorders.
Since 2012, Dr. Hady has helped thousands of patients of all ages with complex internal medicine conditions. Harley Street Medical Centre, where he works, sees an average of over 150,000 patients per year.
The following is an interview with Dr. Hady about the dangers of sleep disorders and how to protect our Zzzs from all the white noise around us.
A sleep killer
Dr, Hady mentioned 3 types of insomnia: The inability to fall asleep, the inability to maintain good sleep, and old age insomnia with the latter being waking up early and not falling back to sleep.
“The proliferation of smartphones, tablets, and other electronic paraphernalia is a big destroyer of sleep today,” Dr. Hady told AMEinfo.
“The blue wavelength emitted by smartphones inhibits the discharge of Melatonin, a hormone that is secreted by the Pineal Gland from the brain that instructs us to go sleep.”
He said insomnia rates caused by this blue wavelength have increased in an alarming way among adults, students, teenagers, and even 3 to 4-year-olds, as parents hand their babies electronic gadgets instead of try to soothe them.
Inactivity and obesity
Another most common reason for our sleep disorders is increased obesity, which especially took place during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Dr. Hady.
He cited an article in UAE daily The National that said there was an average increase of 8 kgs in general per person following the pandemic.
Dr. Hady explained that being at home increases our food intake because we are easily bored indoors and have easy access to the fridge, snacks, chocolate, potato chips, and popcorn.
“COVID-19 affected us in multiple ways. Staying at home because of lockdowns and social distancing measures has restricted our activity, and this leads to obstructive sleep apnea in many patients,” Dr. Hady explained.
“When we exercise, the brain relaxes. The brain is a pressure cooker and physical activity is the valve that releases that pressure.”
Anxiety and stress
Dr. Hady said that the job market is more challenging nowadays and many people face the risk of losing their employment status.
“During the pandemic, employers had the right to decrease salaries or stop paying employees, and it created uncertainty for families and increased depression among job seekers and the employed. Stress and anxiety are the number one reasons behind insomnia,” Dr. Hady revealed.
Sleep disorders in kids
Dr. Hady disclosed that he had done some work with schools about sleep disorders.
“We conducted a questionnaire with the Lycee Francaise, a school of 2500 students, and many students were having trouble sleeping or waking up and not being able to go back to sleep,” Dr. Hady revealed.
“As a general rule, 20% had sleep problems, another 10% suffered from one type or another of insomnia.”
Habits to follow with kids and adults
Dr. Hadi admitted that electronics are very appealing to young people and prevent youth from spending more time playing or doing activities outdoors.
“Parents need to be proactive in intervening and encouraging their children to do more sports and outdoor activities,” Dr. Hady recommended.
Dr. Hady suggested simple but important rules for everyone:
1-Respecting bedtime and wake-up time. Each person has a biological clock and adults need 8 hours of sleep while children a bit (1-2 hours) more
2-Avoiding taking long naps during the day. 10 to 20-minute power naps are good
3-Keeping the room dark when trying to sleep, but also noise-free, and leaning towards colder rather than warmer
4- Keeping TVs out of the room
5-Reserving the bed and bedroom for sleeping, and not for eating, drinking, studying, and working
6-Keeping the phone and electronics out.
9- Refraining from consuming heavy meals close to sleeping hours
Impact of insomnia on the body and mind
“For kids, it’s catastrophic. The thyroid growth hormones are secreted at night and if not enough are secreted, this negatively affects children’s memory, growth, IQ, and height,” said Dr. Hady.
As for adults, he added that not enough sleep can impact work performance, focus, and can lead to work or life-related accidents and injuries.
He said that anxiety and depression will increase the chances of developing hypertension, diabetes, heart disease even brain CVAs, or cerebral-vascular accidents in the brain, like bleeding, and even, in some instances, sudden cardiac arrest.
“This will have direct and indirect costs. Direct costs are the medications one would need to take to overcome related diseases but when measuring costs in terms of lack of development with children, it’s immeasurable,” said Dr. Hady.
If all else fails with insomnia problems
Physicians prescribe drugs and medicine only after the patients fail to sleep, even when following the above recommendations, according to Dr. Hady.
“We then start medication intervention from the more natural to the least addictive and move on to sleeping pills and hypnotics, if necessary, but all with the purpose of adjusting patients to normal sleeping hours,” explained Dr. Hady.
“As for patients who are depressed, stressed, or anxious, we need to address those issues before anything else.”
But Dr. Hady leaves us with an optimistic view of a post-COVID era.
“The more we go back to normal life, the better we will sleep. In the UAE, life is going back to normality in a big way. This will help reverse most of the effects of COVID on kids and adults.”