Consistent behaviour is key to proper sleep during Ramadan
COVID-19’s disruptive effects—working and studying from home, and social distancing, will contribute to changes in sleep patterns and on how Ramadan is practiced this year, says an expert.
Dr Vaishal Shah, sleep medicine specialist at Sleep Disorders Center, Cleveland Clinic, Ohio, US, said regular bedtimes and sufficient amounts of sleep are important to support the immune system and also to regulate appetite control hormones, leptin and ghrelin.
Due to the changes in one’s daily pattern ie, working and studying from home, waking and sleeping hours have become highly flexible. The lack of exercise and increased screen time also have an impact on the quality of sleep. This, in turn, impacts the immune system response. Sleep is an important component in optimizing one’s immune system, and Vaishal added, “Many studies have determined that our immune response is suppressed if we do not get sufficient and consistent quality sleep, making us more susceptible to infections in general, with recovery also taking a longer time.”
During sleep, the immune system releases cytokines that help protect against infection and inflammation, and the lack of sleep thus causes a drop in cytokine levels and infection-fighting antibodies, revealed Vaishal. As mentioned earlier, quality sleep is also important for its appetite modulating function. This is apt during the month of Ramadan and the lack of sleep during this period could make fasting more challenging due to fluctuating appetite hormone levels.
Therefore, in order to obtain enough quality sleep, a person should strive for consistency in his or her sleep schedules. He said: “Whether you are sticking to your regular daytime schedule during Ramadan, or adapting it in accordance with mealtimes, or even staying awake at night and sleeping during the day, it is important to try to go to bed at the same time and wake up at the same time every day.” Regular wake and sleep times will help regulate one’s circadian rhythms and encourage restorative sleep.
He advised those who choose to divide their sleep into a number of sessions a day to ensure there is at least one consistent longer block of continuous sleep that is at least 5 to 6 hours long. Then there are those who invert their schedule, flipping night and day activities during Ramadan. Vaishal advised these people to switch back to the normal routine gradually—at the end of Ramadan—by shifting their sleep and wake times by a few hours every day, so that their body clock can adjust more easily.
Excess screen additional blow to sleep rhythm
Vaishal also touched upon another important factor influencing quality of sleep during this Ramadan, that of excess screen time due to the lockdown and restriction of movement enforced in many countries.
With the lack of social activities and interaction, people turn to electronic devices for entertainment and connection. “Looking at any screen that is backlit—whether it is a television, cellphone or tablet—can disrupt the body’s natural rhythms and suppress the release of sleep-regulating hormone melatonin,” he said.
Children, in particular, should be encouraged to find other forms of relaxing activity at night to minimize screen time. Ideally, Vaishal said, adults and children alike should aim to be detached from their screens or devices an hour before going to bed. To improve one’s sleep quality, a comfortable ambient temperature, dark room and quiet surrounding are also important factors.