After a few days of fasting, disrupted sleep patterns can take their toll. Dr Emad Kowatli, Intensivist and Pulmonologist, American Hospital Dubai, shares tips and changes to improve sleep and energy levels
Fasting is a very healthy thing to do and has a good effect on the body,” says Dr Emad Kowatli, Intensivist and Pulmonologist, American Hospital Dubai. “Studies have shown that it can decrease cancer, such as lung cancer and improve your immune system.” However, Dr Kowatli says the purpose of the fast is lost when we eat a lot during iftar and suhour. “What we are practising nowadays is not real fasting,” says Dr Kowatli. “Ramadan fasting should help you lose and not gain weight and that’s why we need to regulate our meals. Fasting by itself is not just for you to work less hours or to sleep throughout the day and stay awake throughout the night. We need to reap the benefits of doing it.” Dr Kowatli says people need to eat enough to feel satiated but not completely full. “Eat dates to end the fast, then pray so your body gets a little rest,” he advises. “After that, drink a little water and continue with your meal. If you don’t overeat you will not get acid reflux and other problems.”
Getting enough hours of shut-eye at night during Ramadan is a struggle for many who continue to work or study while fasting. According to Dr Kowatli, due to the unique nature of Ramadan, many people have irregular sleeping times during the day because they stay awake late at night. He says establishing and maintaining regular eating and sleeping patterns throughout the month is an important part of a successful Ramadan. This is particularly important for those who have experienced sleep deprivation or poor-quality sleep in the past. “If we eat too much, acidity can occur and that’s what disturbs sleep,” says Dr Kowatli. “And it will affect the energy of the person. If the acidity goes up to the throat then you have aspiration and cough. Drinking too much water doesn’t work either because you will need to relieve yourself and that will disturb your sleep.” There are many things we do wrong that can end up disrupting our sleep patterns. “One is staying awake late night to watch TV or socialise, or staying in bright light, and this will reflect on your work during the day time,” says Dr Kowatli. “If you get exposed to a lot of light the eyes will sense light. The signals from the eyes go to the midbrain immediately to secret a hormone called melatonin. This will make people sleep after two to three hours. We are disturbing what we call as the circadian rhythm by this exposure to light at night.” Fragmented sleep will cause high blood pressure and you will also gain weight, adding to the risk for cardiac diseases and other problems, Dr Kowatli stresses. “Napping during the day is not bad, but it should not be more than 45 minutes and not after 4pm,” he explains. “Taking caffeine containing drinks such as tea or coffee after iftar will also disturb sleep pattern and cause fragmented sleep and this may affect the individual’s daytime performance. Dr Kowatli says Ramadan is also a good time for a person to quit smoking and force himself to cut down the habit. “The government is spending a lot of money to treat smokers and this is the best time for us to help the community,” he says. “A lot of people may have withdrawal symptoms of nicotine causing them to be a little irritable. There is medication that will help them pass this period. By the end of the month they can turn into non-smokers.”
In terms of fasting, people with respiratory issues such as asthma usually have
no problems. “You can fast if you have asthma,” says Dr Kowatli. “There are inhalers now that are long-acting and work for 24 hours. You need to avoid things that will trigger asthma such as being around people who are smoking cigarettes or shisha because that can trigger any respiratory disease. If somebody smokes and goes to sleep, nicotine is an alerting agent so they won’t be able to sleep.