Want to be happy? Sleep well. Here’s how to do it

Healthy sleep habits help lower risk of heart failure
Healthy sleeping habits help lower risk of heart failure. But to sleep well, it requires some basic sleep hygiene, including avoiding heavy meals in the evening. Image Credit: Shutterstock


  • Research shows chronic sleep deprivation leads to all sorts of negative effects on physical and social well-being.
  • Established guidelines advise that healthy adults need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night.
  • One survey shows that only 12 per cent of UAE residents get proper sleep on a regular basis. 
  • Younger people may tolerate just 3 hours of sleep easily, but most people will suffer the consequences in the next day.
  • Sleeplessness and circadian rhythm sleep disorders are treatable.

Dubai: Want to be happy? Sleep well. For at least 7 to 8 hours a day. Take it from experts: Getting enough sleep is key to staying healthy. Why is sleep important? Sleep is as important as nutrition and exercise to maintain a healthy body and mind. It allows the body to repair and recharge, and that helps prevent excess weight gain, heart disease, and increased duration of illness. Sleep also has a direct impact on body functions like metabolism and immunity, besides boosting athletic performance.

Like the body, the mind too benefits enormously from sleep. Good sleep refreshes the mind, allowing a person to be more alert when they wake up. That improves brain functions like problem-solving skills, concentration and memory, in addition to enhancing moods that affect social interaction.

But one survey shows that only 12 per cent of UAE residents get proper sleep on a regular basis. Given that many of us wake up in a city that never sleeps, it’s worth heeding doctors’ advice:

Dr Mohammed Harriss
Image Credit: Supplied / Vijith Pulikkal / Gulf News

Can lack of sleep make you ill?

Inadequate sleep can make a person ill since it affects body metabolism, immune response, inflammations, brain functions and hormone production. Poor sleep can enhance appetite, increasing the risk of obesity, and some studies have linked sleep to heart health and stroke. Lack of sleep has also been associated with Type 2 diabetes. Sleep deprivation can alter moods, resulting in depression and other associated conditions or disorders like insomnia and sleep apnea.

What is the right amount of sleep?

“The amount of sleep you need depends on various factors, especially your age,” Dr. Mohammed Harriss, Pulmonologist at Medcare Hospital Sharjah said. “National Sleep Foundation guidelines advise that healthy adults need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night. Babies, young children, and teens need even more sleep to enable their growth and development. People over 65 should also get 7 to 8 hours per night.”


• Sleep duration varies with time and with age, and, generally, older people sleep less, according to Dr. Rajsheker Garikapati, Neurologist at Aster Hospital-Mankhool.

• The right amount of sleep (in terms of duration, depth, content, and it’s restorative effect) is one in which you fall asleep within a reasonable time after “hitting the sack” — which is not interrupted by frequent awakening for whatever reasons, which is not disturbed by intrusive dreams — and from which you awaken feeling fresh in the morning.

• Older people also have what is called “fragmented sleep”, and they may have partial reversion of their circadian rhythm (that is they stay awake in the night and sleep in the day time) as a physiological change, he said.

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IS 3 HOURS OF SLEEP OK FOR ONE NIGHT? This depends largely on how your body responds to resting this way. Some people can function on only 3 hours very well and perform better after sleeping in bursts. Though many experts do still recommend a minimum of 6 hours a night, with 8 being preferable, said Dr. Mohammed Harriss, Pulmonologist at Medcare Hospital Sharjah.

“One night of sleep which is only 3 hours may be tolerated by the body; sometimes, soldiers go through such phases for many days,” Dr. Rajsheker Garikapati said. “Younger people may tolerate this easily, but most people will suffer the consequences in the next day, in the form of body aches, headache, tiredness, lack of energy, lack of focus, loss of libido, dysphoric mood, etc.”

Does sleeping late matter?

Ideally, people ought to go to bed earlier and wake up in the early morning hours. This pattern matches our biological tendencies to adapt our sleep pattern with that of the sun. But some people are genetically late sleepers and they are supposed to compensate sleep by early morning sleep, said Dr. Harriss.

Dr Garikapati
Image Credit: Vijith Pulikkal / Photo: Supplied

Cancer is listed as one of the effects of lack of sleep. How true is it?

Cancer and sleep deprivation correlate. Disruptions to the sleep cycle can increase the risk of some cancers, while the disorders that ruin sleep patterns can be side-effects of chemotherapy.

An internal “body clock” regulates the sleep cycle by operating on a 24-hour cycle known as the circadian rhythms. “Disruptions in the body clock may raise the odds of cancers of the breast, colon, ovaries and prostate. Exposure to light while working overnight shifts for several years may reduce levels of melatonin, encouraging cancer to grow,” according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. Cancer treatment can give rise to anxiety, depression, fatigue, pain and other medical conditions that can prevent sleep or keep the patients asleep for long hours, a report in the Johns Hopkins Medicine says.

What is ‘power nap’? Is it good for everyone?

“There are many health benefits associated with taking regular power naps — among them long-term memory improvement, enhanced cognitive function, and increased creativity. Research also shows that naps might be beneficial for heart health,” said Dr Harris. He cited a recent case study who followed Swiss adults who took 1–2 naps per week, and found that over a period of 8 years, these same individuals had a lower risk of heart disease and strokes than those who didn’t nap.


Many cultures – mostly Spanish, who invented the term “siesta” – advocate a few hours of sleeping in the afternoon. Research has shown that there are individual differences in the way people sleep, and roughly about half of people tend to have two periods in the day when their body “wants them to sleep”.

This basically means there are differences in the biological clock, and some people are okay with an average of 6 hours (ranging from 4 to 8 hours) in the night, and don’t need to sleep again till the next night, while others may sleep 5 hours in the night and then one hour in the afternoon, Dr Garikapati said.

“So, one can say, that “power naps” are good for certain people due to differences in their biological clocks,” he added.

Are ‘power naps’ helpful?

Dr. Garikapati agrees that power naps are helpful for some people. “A power nap is a colloquial term of short sleep during the day, usually in the middle of busy schedule, for the person to awaken fresh and energetic. Many famous people claim they derive great benefit from such power naps — and they are right.

“This applies for people who generally have a very busy and tiring schedule. Even a housewife who wakes up early to prepare her children for school, cooks all the food, cleans up the house, and does sundry other things, would benefit from a short nap in the afternoon.”

Signs of sleep deprivation

• The cardinal sign: Day-time sleepiness. This may be preceded by frequent yawning, body aches, desire to stretch, inability to focus or pay attention during work hours and increasing headache.

• “Sleep deprivation may manifest in more sinister ways, such as dyscontrol of blood pressure or blood glucose in patients with hypertension/diabetes, worsening of clinical state in patients with heart failure, or other illnesses, etc.” Dr. Rajsheker Garikapati said.

Signs and Effects of Sleep Deprivation
Image Credit: Dr. Mohammed Harriss / Vijith Pulikkal / Gulf News

How long can you go without sleep before hallucinating?

The longest recorded time without sleep is approximately 264 hours, or just over 11 consecutive days. Although it’s unclear exactly how long humans can survive without sleep, it isn’t long before the effects of sleep deprivation start to show. After only three or four nights without sleep, you can start to hallucinate.

Is it safe to drive if I sleep for only 2 to 3 hours?

No. Drivers getting four or fewer hours in the preceding 24-hour period had the highest risk of single-vehicle crashes, which, according to the US Department of Transport, are more likely to result in injury or death, said Dr. Harris.

Dr. Rajsheker Garikapati warned: “The most dangerous thing to do is to drive in a sleep-deprived condition; you put to risk not only yourself, but other people out there on the roads. Many accidents that happen in the night are due to drivers forced to drive endlessly in the night despite being sleep-deprived.”


Some people are tuned to staying awake late in the night working or for recreational activities; for certain periods of time. For younger people, this may be tolerated by the body. But for older people and as you age, staying up late may come with a cost.

It is always better to be sensitive to and respond to the body’s messages; there is a time in the day, usually in the evening, when the body will send messages to you that it is time to sleep. This may come in the form of lethargy, tiredness, yawning, stretching, losing focus, etc; that would be the right time to sleep, rather than looking at the clock to “call it a day”.

Sleep deprivation UAE
Image Credit: Gulf News/ Jay Hilotin / https://gulfnews.com/1.1994442

What are the effects of sleep deprivation on your body?

Dr Harris said: “Some of the most serious potential problems associated with chronic sleep deprivation are high blood pressure, diabetes, heart attack, heart failure or stroke. Other potential problems include obesity, depression, impairment in immunity and lower sex drive. Chronic sleep deprivation can even affect your appearance.”


Some doctors see cognitive behavioural therapy as the best treatment for sleep deprivation. Some of these strategies include sleeping on a regular schedule and getting no more than eight hours of sleep.

As a general advice, Dr Harriss said: “Despite the significant toll sleep loss places on public health, it is not often addressed by clinicians. To date, there are no formal treatment guidelines. However, there are many effective ways to treat sleep loss.”

Treatment for sleep consists of three general approaches:

• Behavioural modification/improving sleep hygiene

• Treating causative medical and psychiatric conditions

• Pharmacotherapy

What is sleep hygiene?

The most important thing for a good night’s sleep is something called “sleep hygiene”. This involves the following:

  • Avoiding heavy meals in the evening
  • Keeping a gap of at least an hour between dinner and bedtime
  • Taking a walk just before you sleep
  • Avoiding stimulating TV shows or reading
  • Creating the ambience (eg., excluding light and sound, drawing the curtains, etc).
  • Sleep is a basic function, not a learned activity; that’s why we say, “sleep like a baby.”

The single-most common cause for sleep disturbance is the psychology, lifestyle, stress in one’s life, attitudes, etc Sometimes, it can be related to one’s social situation, said Dr. Rajsheker Garikapati, Neurologist at Aster Hospital-Mankhool.

Avoiding heavy meals in the evening

Healthy sleeping habits help lower risk of heart failure. But to sleep well, it requires some basic sleep hygiene, including Avoiding heavy meals in the evening.

What are the most common causes of of sleep disturbance?

“As an adult, we don’t need to be taught to sleep,” said Dr. Garikapati. “Rather, the problems which deprive us of sleep have to be identified and solved. The single-most common cause for sleep disturbance is the psychology, lifestyle, stress in one’s life, attitudes, etc Sometimes, it can be related to one’s social situation.”

Occasionally, he said, it is due to another medical illness, for example a heart condition, a painful illness such as cancer of broken bones, or even a psychiatric illness; obviously, the focus here would be to treat the underlying cause.

In those situations where sleep is disturbed due to the psychological or social situations – which form the bulk of the problem in the population – medication, used judiciously, may benefit for short periods of time. The danger lies in over-reliance on these medications, which is why there is an emphasis on “judicious use” which your doctor will explain.

There are those people consuming recreational drugs and have now become addicted to following up their stimulant with an anti-depressant or even a sedative medication. Here the basic problem – the addiction – has to be treated, and it can be treated.


• Ensure your sleep environment is quiet and dark to get quality sleep without distracting factors.

• Earplugs and eye masks work wonders for getting into and staying in a deep sleep.

• Stay away from gadgets like mobile phones and laptops, which is proven to improve sleep as light signals the brain to remain awake and alert.

• Do not consume heavy, calorie-loaded and sugar-rich foods at iftar, it can affect the quality of your sleep.

• Avoid very spicy foods and fried foods.

• Avoid coffee and caffeine-containing products, as there are stimulants and can interfere with sleep.

• Avoid processed and salty foods, which are high in sodium as they will cause dehydration.

• Stay hydrated

• For a 20-minute power nap, when needed, find a quiet place away from the work station, such as your car.

Why circadian rhythms matter?

Circadian rhythms play a massive part in sleep patterns. It decides the changes in the body during a 24-hour cycle by setting the body clock for sleep and waking up. These rhythms regulate sleep patterns, body temperature, blood pressure and other functions besides deciding on hormone release and metabolism. When it gets dark, the body releases melatonin to prepare the body for sleep. At daybreak, the body temperature is raised, and cortisol is released to make the body alert.

When the circadian rhythm is disrupted by travel (jet lag), working in day and night shifts, insomnia and other sleep disorders can set in. In the long run, it can lead to an increased risk for several ailments, including heart disease, diabetes, cancer, obesity, depression, and bipolar disorder, according to a report on the website of the Society for Research on Biological Rhythms