Why so many people in the Middle East are suffering from sleep deprivation and disorders

Special Why so many people in the Middle East are suffering from sleep deprivation and disorders
In Saudi Arabia, sleep issues seem to be significantly worse than in many other countries. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 17 March 2023

Why so many people in the Middle East are suffering from sleep deprivation and disorders

Why so many people in the Middle East are suffering from sleep deprivation and disorders
  • On World Sleep Day, doctors in Saudi Arabia and the UAE explain why getting enough quality rest is essential for health
  • Anxiety, excessive screen time, and the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic have all impacted sleep quality

DUBAI: The average person spends almost one-third of their life asleep — a necessary biological function that allows our bodies to rest and recover, support mental wellbeing, restock our immune system, and regulate our metabolism.

However, one of the most common complaints among people of all backgrounds is a persistent feeling of tiredness and a sense we are not getting enough quality sleep, leaving us unable to focus, regulate our emotions, fend off illness, or control our appetite.

For decades, studies on the topic of sleep have confirmed a growing prevalence of sleep disorders, threatening the health and quality of life of at least 45 percent of the world’s population.

On World Sleep Day, marked every year on March 17, experts emphasize the importance of getting at least seven to eight hours of sleep per night. This year, sleep health awareness activities are taking place under the theme “Sleep is essential for health.”

Anxiety, excessive screen time, and more recently the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic have all been cited as common causes of disturbed sleep and sleepless nights.

Dr. Rasha Mahmoud, head of the pulmonology and sleep unit at the Almana Group of Hospitals in Saudi Arabia, told Arab News: “Almost 40 percent of people in the Middle East are affected by sleep disorders, with obstructive sleep apnea syndrome being the most common disorder.”

A study on the global prevalence and burden of OSA, published in June by the US National Library of Medicine, showed that almost 1 billion people worldwide were affected by the sleep condition, with prevalence exceeding 50 percent in some countries.

OSA occurs when the throat muscles intermittently relax and block the airways during sleep, obstructing normal breathing for around 10 seconds before the sufferer jolts awake.

“Symptoms of this disorder include snoring, excessive daytime sleepiness, and morning headaches,” Mahmoud said.

In Saudi Arabia, sleep issues seem to be significantly worse than in many other countries.

According to a 2015 report from the mobile app Sleep Cycle, the Kingdom ranked second only to Japan in its list of the world’s five worst countries for average sleeping hours.

The Saudi Medical Journal confirmed that short sleep duration per night was prevalent in Saudi Arabia and affects one in every three Saudi adults.

“There are multiple factors that impact the quality and duration of sleep, starting with anxiety along with sedentary lifestyle diseases,” Mahmoud added.

Specific jobs that require long or unfixed working hours and night shifts are another factor impacting the quality of sleep among Saudis.

Mahmoud said: “High screen time, be it on social media or even gaming, can also affect the quality of sleep leading to various sleep disorders.”

The Kingdom ranks third globally for smartphone usage, at 24.2 million users, with almost 75 percent of the population using smartphones and more than 95 percent the internet.

Dr. Vishwanath Gowraiah, head of the pediatric sleep medicine department at Danat Al-Emarat Hospital in Abu Dhabi, told Arab News: “Globally, we are seeing a rise in sleep disorders due to several lifestyle changes.

Dr. Rasha Mahmoud, head of the pulmonology and sleep unit at the Almana Group of Hospitals in Saudi Arabia.

“This has come to impact both the quality of sleep that individuals are receiving and quantity.”

He noted that sleeping disorders could affect young children from birth and persist into middle childhood and beyond.

Such disorders include OSA, parasomnias such as teeth grinding and sleepwalking, sleep terrors, confusional arousals known as ‘sleep drunkenness’ and nightmares, as well as delayed sleep-wake phase disorder, which is often seen in adolescents.

Meanwhile, adults generally suffer from sleep disorders such as obesity-related OSA, insomnia, narcolepsy, which makes people very drowsy during the day, shift work disorders and sleep-related movement disorders.

Gowraiah said: “Sleep helps the body undertake restorative measures to help us feel better, more alert, energetic, and awake.

“It helps us perform our day-to-day tasks and protects us from potential mental health triggers and allows the body to undergo vital maintenance to repair and regrow tissue, build bone and muscle, while also restoring the immune system.”

In fact, deep sleep has proven to support the release of growth hormones, to repair damage in the body, and to allow various systems to recover.

A lack of sleep, meanwhile, affects everything from memory, learning and performance to appetite and the ability to think clearly.

“If a person is chronically sleep-deprived, they may even experience neurological issues like mood swings and hallucinations,” Gowraiah added.


Regulating your sleep schedule: Try going to bed and waking up at the same time even on the weekends. This consistency will help your body develop a sleep-wake cycle.

Eating habits: Avoid heavy meals a few hours before your scheduled bedtime. Stimulants including nicotine, caffeine, and alcohol can also interfere with your sleep.

Create a peaceful setting: Calming yourself down before bed will help you deepen your sleep. Avoid the use of light-emitting screens just before bedtime. Include calming activities such as taking a bath or reading.

Physical activity during the day: Regular physical activity can promote better sleep. Stress management: Attempt to settle any of your worries or stresses before bedtime by getting organized or setting your daily priorities.

Source: Dr. Rasha Mahmoud, head of the pulmonology and sleep unit at the Almana Group of Hospitals in Saudi Arabia

Additionally, there is a higher risk of developing various health conditions or chronic health problems including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, or sleep apnea.

“Some studies have shown that deprived rapid eye movement stage shortens lifespan and decreases immune function,” he said.

REM is one of several stages in the architecture of sleep. It happens about one hour after falling asleep and is when we tend to have our most vivid dreams. If the architecture of REM and non-REM sleep is disrupted, we can wake up feeling poorly rested.

As sleep problems are becoming more common among adults, experts are keen to develop better public understanding of the causes of disrupted sleep, and greater awareness of the available remedies can help reduce the burden of sleep disorders on society.

Dr. Vishwanath Gowraiah, head of the pediatric sleep medicine department at Danat Al-Emarat Hospital in Abu Dhabi.

A study published by the American Journal of Managed Care in 2007 estimated the annual costs of insomnia to be between $92.5 billion and $107.5 billion. This figure is likely to be far higher today.

Another study published by the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine in 2010, based on staff questionnaires at four US corporations, said that fatigue-related productivity losses resulting from bad sleep were estimated to cost $1,967 per employee per year.

So why do so many people still underestimate the power of sleep and the impact it has on their well-being and quality of life?

Dr. Saliha Afridi, managing director of The LightHouse Arabia, a Dubai-based mental health and wellness clinic, told Arab News: “They think of sleep as rest, but they don’t realize that poor sleep impacts every part of your physical and mental health, even on a cellular level.”

Most people were operating “from a place of sleep debt,” she said, while also failing to understand that learning how to get a good night’s sleep was an important stress management and life skill.

“Sleep is done at night but is created in the day. Everything you do from the moment you wake up to the time it is time to lay in bed will impact how deeply you will rest that night.”

Afridi pointed out that a person’s risk of heart disease increased by 45 percent if they were sleep deprived, while those who slept six hours a night or less were five times more likely to suffer a heart attack than those who slept a full eight hours.

The same increased risk applies to conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, cancer, and hyperglycemia.

“Not all sleep is created equal. You require sufficient levels of deep sleep at night for your body to recover as well as for learning to consolidate,” Afridi added.

Healthy adults should get between seven and eight hours of sleep every night between the hours of 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., she said. “If they wake up in the middle of the night, they should be able to go back to sleep in 20 minutes or so.”

Dr Saliha Afridi.

Daytime naps are not recommended for those who are trying to regulate their sleep, she added.

Achieving the required hours of sleep was a particular challenge for many people during the pandemic. In fact, experts coined the term “COVID-somnia” in 2020 to describe difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep due to pandemic-related stressors or worries.

Afridi said: “The uncertainty and volatility that people experienced during the pandemic has continued since then and has impacted people’s mental health.”

She noted that nearly every mental health diagnosis had a sleep component to it, meaning a person’s psychology had a big impact on their sleep.

She also pointed to compromised physical health caused by long COVID or the after-effects of the virus, workplace stress due to hybrid working, and burnout for caregivers and essential workers who overextend themselves during the pandemic, all of which impacted the quality and quantity of sleep many were getting.

“We also see many people suffering with poor sleep due to mental health issues like anxiety and depression.

“Sleep is not just rest. It is the single most effective thing you can do for your brain and your body,” Afridi added.

It’s no joke: club helps Jordanians win comedy gold

It’s no joke: club helps Jordanians win comedy gold
Updated 55 min 20 sec ago

It’s no joke: club helps Jordanians win comedy gold

It’s no joke: club helps Jordanians win comedy gold
  • Since its 2019 inception, Amman Comedy Club has trained people in stand-up comedy, sketch shows, satirical writing

AMMAN: When life gave them lemons, two Jordanians launched a club to train people in the art of comedy in a country where years of economic woes have left little to laugh about.

Since being founded in 2019, the Amman Comedy Club has been training aspiring comics, offering free, three- to four-month workshops in stand-up, improv, comedy sketches and satire writing.

Aided by foreign institutions such as the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, and with the help of Chicago-based comedy club The Second City, the club has already trained more than 140 people.

The new comedians hoping to put a smile on Jordanian faces range in age between 18 to 40 and include students, doctors and lawyers among others, keen to learn the art of comic timing and delivery.

“Comedy is a message, and our message is to make people laugh,” said Moeen Masoud, one of the club’s co-founders. “If you come to this place and spend two hours laughing and forget about your problems and worries, this means I have fulfilled my message.”

It is part of the founders’ broader social mission. “In our daily lives, we face a lot of economic, social and psychological pressures, and the best way to relieve these worries is to laugh,” the other co-founder Yazan Abu Al-Rous added.

Jordan’s deep economic difficulties were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to official figures, unemployment rose in 2021 to about 25 percent — and up to 50 percent among young people.

With public debt exceeding $47 billion, or more than 106 percent of the gross domestic product, the poverty rate also increased to an unprecedented 24 percent that year.

Shining a light on social issues through comedy could also help the country as societies need criticism “in order to grow and be able to fix their defects,” added Abu Al-Rous.

Masoud lamented that “comedy did not get the attention it deserves in Jordan.” “We have great ambitions, beyond Jordan. We aspire to have a tour in the Arab world and the wider world for Jordanian comedians and hope to train many people around the world.”

The duo has also spearheaded efforts to dispel one lingering notion about their compatriots.

“There is a stereotype that Jordanians do not laugh,” said Abu Al-Rous, who has a master’s degree in business administration.

“We at ACC wanted to challenge this idea and prove the opposite to the world, that we love laughter and jokes.”

So far, the club graduates have performed shows across Jordan and are also training students at private schools in stand-up comedy.

The club also runs psychological support courses for children in areas that host Syrian refugees.

Among the club’s graduates are now well-known comedians, who have amassed hundreds of thousands of followers on social media and perform weekly shows in Amman.

Graduate Abdullah Sobeih, 25, said his training taught him “how to choose topics that affect people’s lives, how a comic story is built.”

With over 340,000 followers on Instagram, the business graduate hopes his new career can help fellow Jordanians “make them forget their worries.”

“We know that people suffer from problems and pressures ... we are trying to bring them to this place in order to offer some relief,” Sobeih said.

He is among four of the club’s better-known alumni, alongside Kamal Sailos, Abdulrahman Mamdouh, and Yusef Bataineh, who are slowly establishing themselves as household names in Jordan.

In the 350-seat Al-Shams Theatre, the trio perform separate stand-ups to an audience of mostly young men and women.

“Our country is the only country in the world that when you google its name the results would show Michael Jordan,” said Yusef Bataineh to roars of laughter at the comparison of the Hashemite kingdom with the legendary US basketball player

Sudan coup leader urges troops to back democratic transition

Sudan coup leader urges troops  to back democratic transition
Updated 27 March 2023

Sudan coup leader urges troops to back democratic transition

Sudan coup leader urges troops  to back democratic transition
  • Army has a long history of staging takeovers and has amassed substantial economic holdings

KHARTOUM: Sudan’s army chief Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan called on troops on Sunday to “end” support for authoritarian leaders as talks begin on military reforms, part of a prolonged transition to civilian rule.

Burhan seized power in a 2021 coup that had derailed a short-lived democratic transition following the 2019 ouster of Gen. Omar Bashir.

“During our history, the armed forces have supported dictatorial governments, and we want to put an end to that,” Burhan, a career soldier during Bashir’s three-decade rule, said in a speech to soldiers.

Reform of the security forces in a key point of tension in discussions on a two-phase political process launched in December, envisaging generals’ exit from politics once a civilian government is installed.

Critics have decried the deal, agreed by Burhan with multiple factions including a key civilian bloc, as “vague.”

The proposed reforms include the integration into the regular army of the powerful paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, led by Burhan’s deputy Mohamed Hamdan Daglo.

Created in 2013, RSF emerged from the Janjaweed militia that Bashir unleashed a decade earlier in the western region of Darfur against non-Arab rebels, where it was accused of war crimes by rights groups.

While experts have pointed to worrying rivalries between Burhan and Daglo, the two men took turns speaking on Sunday in the capital Khartoum, pleading for a successful integration.

Daglo said he wanted “a unified army,” while Burhan called for “a professional army that stays away from politics.”

The December deal came after near-weekly protests since Burhan’s October 2021 takeover, which had also triggered international aid cuts, adding to the deepening political and economic troubles in one of the world’s poorest countries.

Daglo, the RSF commander also known as Hemeti, said earlier this month he was against “anyone who wants to become a dictator,” and that he opposed those “clinging on to power.”

He said the latest coup had “failed” because it had not brought change but rather the return of the “old regime” of Bashir loyalists.

The talks this week follow a framework deal agreed in December between the military and the civilian Forces for Freedom and Change alliance, which aims to turn the page the coup which led to mass protests and cut Sudan off from much international financial support. 

Sudan’s army has a long history of staging military takeovers and has amassed substantial economic holdings. It wants to see the RSF, which by some estimates has up to 100,000 fighters, integrated under its control.

The two sides are expected to formally adopt the deal on April 6 and launch a new civilian government on April 11.

The agreement had left several sensitive issues, including the security reform and transitional justice, for further discussion.

Power jostling between Dagalo and Burhan, along with uncertainty over how and when the RSF could be merged with the army, has been a source of recent tension.

Dagalo has put himself at the forefront of the planned transition toward democracy, unsettling fellow military rulers and triggering a mobilization of troops in the capital Khartoum in recent weeks.

Burhan asserted on Sunday that the country’s army would be brought under the leadership of a new civilian government, restating pledges that it would withdraw from politics.

“The process of security and military reform is a long and complicated process and one that cannot be bypassed,” he said.

Child marriages in Jordan down 27.5% in 2022

Child marriages in Jordan down 27.5% in 2022
Updated 26 March 2023

Child marriages in Jordan down 27.5% in 2022

Child marriages in Jordan down 27.5% in 2022
  • Total number of marriages in kingdom down 15.2% compared to 2021
  • Economic conditions cited as a reason for the unwillingness to marry

AMMAN: The number of child marriages in Jordan decreased by 27.5 percent last year compared to 2021, Roya News reported on Sunday, citing the Sisterhood is Global Institute.

Last year, the number of child marriages decreased to 5,824 from 8,039 in 2021. 

According to a report released by Jordan’s Supreme Judge Department, there was a 15.2 percent decrease in the total number of marriage contracts last year, with 63,834 contracts compared to 75,360 in 2021. 

SIGI cited Jordan’s economic conditions as one of the reasons for the unwillingness to marry. 

It added that the same economic conditions limited women’s labor-force participation and increased their unemployment rates, Roya News reported. SIGI said child marriage is a form of abuse that must be stopped.

Quake-hit Syrians get electric wheelchairs from Emirates Red Crescent

Quake-hit Syrians get electric wheelchairs from Emirates Red Crescent
Updated 26 March 2023

Quake-hit Syrians get electric wheelchairs from Emirates Red Crescent

Quake-hit Syrians get electric wheelchairs from Emirates Red Crescent
  • ERC also distributed medicines and provided psychological support

DUBAI: The Emirates Red Crescent is distributing medical aid including electric wheelchairs to people affected by the February earthquakes in Syria.

The Emirates News Agency said aid included medicines and nutritional supplements for people in homes for the elderly, and “psychological and material assistance” to a number of families. 

All programs were conducted in coordination with the ERC’s Syrian counterparts.

The wheelchairs were distributed in the Latakia Governorate. Beneficiaries expressed their gratitude for the UAE’s efforts to alleviate the suffering of Syrian people.

“This wheelchair is like two new feet to me,” Zain Al-Abidin said. “It helps me go wherever I want and move faster. Thank you to the United Arab Emirates and to the Emirates Red Crescent.”


Protests erupt after Israel’s Netanyahu fires defense minister Yoav Gallant

Protests erupt after Israel’s Netanyahu fires defense minister Yoav Gallant
Updated 26 March 2023

Protests erupt after Israel’s Netanyahu fires defense minister Yoav Gallant

Protests erupt after Israel’s Netanyahu fires defense minister Yoav Gallant
  • Tens of thousands of Israelis poured into the streets in protest after Netanyahu’s announcement
  • Netanyahu’s government pushing ahead for parliamentary vote on centerpiece of judicial overhaul

JERUSALEM: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu abruptly fired his defense minister on Sunday, a day after he called on the Israeli leader to halt a planned judicial overhaul that has fiercely divided the country and prompted growing discontent within the ranks of the military. Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets of Tel Aviv, blocking a main highway, following the announcement.
The dismissal signaled that Netanyahu will move ahead this week with the overhaul plan, which has sparked mass protests, angered military and business leaders and raised concerns among Israel’s allies. Defense Minister Yoav Gallant had been the first senior member of the ruling Likud party to speak out against the plan.
In a brief statement, Netanyahu’s office said the prime minister had dismissed Gallant. Netanyahu later tweeted “we must all stand strong against refusal.”
Tens of thousands of Israelis poured into the streets in protest after Netanyahu’s announcement, blocking Tel Aviv’s main artery, transforming the Ayalon highway into a sea of blue-and-white Israeli flags and lighting a large bonfire in the middle of the road. Demonstrations took place in Beersheba, Haifa and Jerusalem, where thousands of people gathered outside Netanyahu’s private residence.

Israel’s consul-general in New York said he was resigning on Sunday in protest after the firing. “I can no longer continue representing this Government,” Asaf Zamir said on Twitter. “I believe it is my duty to ensure that Israel remains a beacon of democracy and freedom in the world.”

The decision came less than a day after Gallant, a former senior general, called for a pause in the controversial legislation until after next month’s Independence Day holidays, citing the turmoil in the ranks of the military over the plan.
Gallant had voiced concerns that the divisions in society were hurting morale in the military and emboldening Israel’s enemies across the region. “I see how the source of our strength is being eroded,” Gallant said.
While several other Likud members had indicated they might follow Gallant, the party quickly closed ranks on Sunday, clearing the way for his dismissal.
Galit Distal Atbaryan, Netanyahu’s public diplomacy minister, said that Netanyahu summoned Gallant to his office and told him “that he doesn’t have any faith in him anymore and therefore he is fired.”
Gallant tweeted shortly after the announcement that “the security of the state of Israel always was and will always remain my life mission.”
Opposition leader Yair Lapid said that Gallant’s dismissal “harms national security and ignores warnings of all defense officials.”
“The prime minister of Israel is a threat to the security of the state of Israel,” Lapid wrote on Twitter.
Avi Dichter, a former chief of the Shin Bet security agency, is expected to replace him. Dichter had reportedly flirted with joining Gallant but instead announced Sunday he was backing the prime minister.
Netanyahu’s government is pushing ahead for a parliamentary vote this week on a centerpiece of the overhaul — a law that would give the governing coalition the final say over all judicial appointments. It also seeks to pass laws that would grant parliament the authority to override Supreme Court decisions with a basic majority and limit judicial review of laws.
Netanyahu and his allies say the plan will restore a balance between the judicial and executive branches and rein in what they see as an interventionist court with liberal sympathies.
But critics say the constellation of laws will remove the checks and balances in Israel’s democratic system and concentrate power in the hands of the governing coalition. They also say that Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption charges, has a conflict of interest.
Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets over the past three months to demonstrate against the plan in the largest demonstrations in the country’s 75-year history.
Leaders of Israel’s vibrant high-tech industry have said the changes will scare away investors, former top security officials have spoken out against the plan and key allies, including the United States and Germany, have voiced concerns.
In recent weeks discontent has even surged from within Israel’s army – the most popular and respected institution among Israel’s Jewish majority. A growing number of Israeli reservists, including fighter pilots, have threatened to withdraw from voluntary duty in the past weeks.
Israel’s military is facing a surge in fighting in the occupied West Bank, threats from Lebanon’s Hezbollah militant group and concerns that archenemy Iran is close to developing a nuclear-weapons capability.
Violence both in Israel and the occupied West Bank has escalated over the past few weeks to heights unseen in years.
Manuel Trajtenberg, head of an influential Israeli think tank, the Institute for National Security Studies, said that “Netanyahu can dismiss his defense minister, he cannot dismiss the warnings he heard from Gallant.”
Meanwhile, an Israeli good governance group on Sunday asked the country’s Supreme Court to punish Netanyahu for allegedly violating a conflict of interest agreement meant to prevent him from dealing with the country’s judiciary while he is on trial for corruption.
The Movement for Quality Government in Israel, a fierce opponent of the overhaul, asked the court to force Netanyahu to obey the law and sanction him either with a fine or prison time for not doing so. It said he was not above the law.
“A prime minister who doesn’t obey the court and the provisions of the law is privileged and an anarchist,” said Eliad Shraga, the head of the group, echoing language used by Netanyahu and his allies against protesters opposed to the overhaul. “The prime minister will be forced to bow his head before the law and comply with the provisions of the law.”
The prime minister responded saying the appeal should be dismissed and said that the Supreme Court didn’t have grounds to intervene.
Netanyahu is barred by the country’s attorney general from directly dealing with his government’s plan to overhaul the judiciary, based on a conflict of interest agreement he is bound to, and which the Supreme Court acknowledged in a ruling over Netanyahu’s fitness to serve while on trial for corruption. Instead, Justice Minister Yariv Levin, a close confidant of Netanyahu, is spearheading the overhaul.
But on Thursday, after parliament passed a law making it harder to remove a sitting prime minister, Netanyahu said he was unshackled from the attorney general’s decision and vowed to wade into the crisis and “mend the rift” in the nation. That declaration prompted the attorney general, Gali Baharav-Miara, to warn that Netanyahu was breaking his conflict of interest agreement by entering the fray.
The fast-paced legal and political developments have catapulted Israel into uncharted territory and toward a burgeoning constitutional crisis, said Guy Lurie, a research fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute, a Jerusalem think tank.
“We are at the start of a constitutional crisis in the sense that there is a disagreement over the source of authority and legitimacy of different governing bodies,” he said.
Netanyahu is on trial for charges of fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes in three separate affairs involving wealthy associates and powerful media moguls. He denies wrongdoing and dismisses critics who say he will try to seek an escape route from the charges through the legal overhaul. — — Associated Press journalist Tia Goldenberg contributed from Tel Aviv.